Devon Leslie picked an interesting time to graduate early.
In May, Leslie will graduate from Stevens Institute of Technology at the top of her class, accomplishing the feat in just three years. And while she had planned to take a gap year to explore both the world and her professional curiosity, COVID-19 has put itineraries for global adventures on hold.
She may be disappointed, but you’d never know it from talking to her.
“We’re all learning to be more flexible,” she said. “And I still feel like I have a year to try some new things. You kind of feel that pressure, after four years, that you have to get the right job right off the bat. I’m trying to give myself that freedom to figure out exactly what I want to do.”
That adaptability in the face of adversity is something that actually brought her to the School of Business at Stevens in the first place.
“Technology was actually very intimidating to me,” she said of her decision to enroll. “But that’s why I chose it. I could see that’s the way businesses was heading, and graduating now, I’m really happy with my decision. Compared to some of my friends, who studied business elsewhere, I feel like I can make an impact right away when I start work.”
Late start, early finish
If you were predicting which student would graduate early, you would probably not choose Leslie, who didn’t accept her admission offer until 10 minutes before the May 1 deadline.
“It was a little stressful at home,” she said with a laugh.
She got help from a high school teacher, “who told me, ‘You’re not picking a school, you’re picking a home,’” she said. “When I was in Hoboken, I felt the most at ease, and when I was on campus, I felt that these were the people I wanted to live with and be around.”
She’s certainly made Stevens her home, even in her shorter stay. She was accepted as a Pinnacle scholar, an honor reserved for top students; is a student ambassador to the School of Business; serves on the Beta Gamma Sigma and Gear & Triangle honors societies; works on the Entertainment Committee; and is a brother in the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She also lived in the Lore-El Center for Women’s Leadership and works as a marketing coordinator and peer consultant in the Writing and Communications Center, and did a summer service internship abroad with the Re-Food charity in Lisbon, Portugal.
Of course, you can’t excel at a technology-centric university like Stevens without becoming a tech expert. Leslie, a Marketing Innovation & Analytics major with minors in Economics and Information Systems, said she appreciates how data and analytics reinforced her creativity, in class and during an internship with Ketchum, a global public relations firm in New York.
“The data and analytical component helps justify my ideas, especially during a presentation,” she said. “You can better make your case, because you have real data points to back you up. And once your idea goes into action, you can use that same data and those metrics to report back and say ‘it worked,’ or ‘we need to pivot.’”
At Ketchum, she enjoyed a full-service PR experience, including looking for ways to get Fidelity Investment’s experts exposure on a variety of media platforms and the development of a creative earned-media campaign for Target — the latter a competition among interns; Leslie’s team took second place.
Putting small class sizes to work
Learning how to work effectively in teams was a key takeaway from Leslie’s education, which emphasizes group project work that prepares students for the kinds of challenges they’ll face at work. She attributes her success in class to working with great teammates — easy to find because of small class sizes.
“They’re people I can bounce ideas off of,” she said of her classmates. “We respect each other, we can lean into each others’ strengths, challenge each other and communicate effectively.”
Stevens faculty have also been supportive of her journey, she said, recalling her first day of classes in an accounting class with Dr. Jim Biagi.
“I was the only freshman in the class,” Leslie said. “I was so intimidated being in that room. And he could see that and just said to me, ‘Hey, no big deal. It’s your first day, well, it’s my first day, too.’ He’s the type of leader I want to be one day — he commands a room not because he’s strict, but because he’s passionate and caring.”
Dr. Biagi is helping Leslie as she explores options to pursue an MBA, another avenue she’s considering for the future. He called her “kind and caring toward her fellow students” in addition to being a standout academically.
“She excelled in class and was always the first to engage in discussions,” Dr. Biagi said. “As I have watched her grow over the course of her career at Stevens, I continue to admire the person she has become and the achievements she has earned.”
Leslie said she’s changed completely since first arriving on Castle Point three years ago.
“I tended to be a more shy, reserved person,” she said. “During my time here, I’ve become a little bit bolder and more comfortable relying on people. I’m still an independent person, but I’ve learned when it’s OK to depend on somebody, and when it’s OK to ask for help. And going forward, I hope what I’ve learned at Stevens helps me to continue to advocate for myself and my ideas.”