Alyssa Hall came to Cal Poly Pomona determined to be successful.
And when she crosses the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in management and human resources Saturday, June 11, Hall will leave the university a winner in more ways than one.
“I told myself that I wanted to get involved with something that would make me a better business professional,” Hall says. “Growing up I had a speech problem, so I wanted to develop good habits to improve my presentation skills.”
As captain of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), Hall and her team won the organization’s West Region competition in May, earning the group a paid trip to a national conference in Washington, D.C., where they will be recognized by thousands of human resources professionals.
The Arcadia native credits the support of College of Business Administration Interim Dean Cheryl Wyrick with helping her to accomplish her goal of winning the competition.
“Dr. Wyrick helped sparked my passion for HR — I believe she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Hall says. “She would see how hard I was struggling to present and being hard on myself, but she continued to work with me.”
Hall almost didn’t make the team. She was told that although she was welcome to join the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) regardless of major or status, members of its SHRM competition team were required to finish an intro to HR class, which she hadn’t.
Wyrick, a professor at the time, was the PIHRA advisor, and her no-nonsense approach to training students for the annual competition had already resulted in a 2011 SHRM win.
“I was going to make her leave,” Wyrick says. “I don’t usually listen to requests to be made an exception, but there was something about Alyssa that I gave her the chance.”
Hall was invited to participate in weekly training exercises where Wyrick would post case studies online. The team would have four hours to identify, solve and justify a variety of organizational issues before the page for submissions went offline.
Every Tuesday at 5 p.m., Hall would present and take notes of areas that needed improvement. By the end of fall quarter, her progress was rewarded with a promotion to official team member.
Wyrick says she took on a tough persona while Hall and the team delivered its findings verbally. She’d sit stone-faced during the presentation and then be highly critical of Hall and her team members’ conclusions.
“She would just nitpick our presentation to make sure we were learning the concepts and really growing throughout the year,” Hall says. “The first year I competed it was a great experience, except we came in second-to-last place.”
Hall already planned on returning the next year to avenge the loss when she was offered the position of team captain. Her intensity went into overdrive as she began combing PIHRA meetings and visiting HR classes to recruit members.
As captain, Hall wanted to maintain a tight focus on the verbal portion of the competition. It was during a practice when Wyrick realized she was witnessing something special.
“Alyssa and her team members did a presentation that was so unbelievably perfect,” Wyrick says. “I couldn’t think of anything negative to say and they were shocked.”
Confidence was high headed into the 2015 SHRM competition when efforts were derailed by a team of older undergraduate students with decades of HR experience. The talent disparity warranted a rule change requiring future teams with any members 26 or older to compete in the graduate school division.
Few HR students participate in a single SHRM competition and even fewer do it twice. Hall says she felt an obligation to return for a third year after realizing she was the only one left qualified for the position. The team would face new challenges though.
Wyrick says one of the hardest parts of accepting the position of interim dean for the College of Business Administration for the 2015-2016 academic year was giving up coaching the SHRM team, something she had been doing for more than 15 years.
HR Professor Steve Guo took over coaching duties in Wyrick’s absence. He says Hall was already well-trained and he didn’t spend much time coaching her. Meanwhile, she continued to learn from previous competitions and began videoing practices in an effort to improve.
The 2016 SHRM competition took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wyrick was expecting to attend until an important alumni event thwarted the plan. She still tried to be there for the team when needs arose.
“Part of me felt defeated already competing against grad students, but in a meeting with Dr. Wyrick, she told us that she believed that we had a shot to win,” Hall says. “That was all I needed to hear.”
Third time was a charm for Hall and, not only did the team win the 2016 competition, it did so while competing against those teams of master’s degree students from San Diego State University and Boise State.
Within minutes of receiving the good news, Hall let Wyrick know via email. Wyrick says she screamed and cheered as she read the message in her car outside an alumni event.
“The difference between the people who are successful and the people who aren’t is the people who really take what they’re doing seriously and commit to being the best they can possibly be,” Wyrick says. “Alyssa is one of those people. She’s even better than I expected her to be that first day when she told me she had never finished an HR class and she wanted to represent Cal Poly Pomona. That was gutsy.”
As Hall prepares to begin a new chapter in her life, she’s doing it with optimism and a sense of fulfilment.
“Whether we won or lost, I wanted to leave Cal Poly Pomona knowing that I did everything I could to win the competition,” Hall says. “I am 100-percent confident with public speaking. Now that I am about to graduate, I feel like the sky is the limit.”