Coffee grounds, and breaking new ground, were highlights of the Fall 2021 semester for University of Pittsburgh undergraduate business students Angel Albright-Sexton (’24) and Ceari Robinson (’22).
With the new Saxbys cafes opening in the Cathedral of Learning and Hillman Library, the College of Business Administration students were hired as the first-ever Student Café Executive Officers (SCEOs) at the University. Each managed about 40 students along with all aspects of their café, including team development, community outreach, and financial reports for six months.
With a newly opened café, the experience “can be quite intimidating because you are doing everything from hiring your team, designing your café, and fielding your guests tastes and preferences from scratch,” Robinson said. “The hill is a lot steeper to climb then others that are walking into a café that has been established for years. But you are also able to set a foundation for the future of the café.”
Robinson is a senior marketing and Italian major from Pittsburgh. Albright-Sexton is a sophomore finance and human resources management major from Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Both students found their SCEO roles to be very rewarding and talk about the personal and professional lessons they learned in this question-and-answer exchange:
How would you describe your experience as SCEO?
Albright-Sexton: My time as SCEO was full of learning. There was always something new that came up, which was great for enhancing my power skills.
Robinson: While this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it was also one of the most rewarding. I learned a lot about myself, the good and the bad. I not only wanted to get successful professional development but personal as well. When you work 70-80 hours for weeks in a row, it takes everything into you to choose to walk into work with a smile, to be patient with a struggling team member or efficiently de-escalate a difficult guest. Having to make that choice every day, wanting to make the choice every day and not be that grumpy or unapproachable boss, really helped me grow as an individual.
How did you build a café culture based on your leadership style?
Albright-Sexton: Building cafe culture at a brand-new cafe was fulfilling. I tried to create a safe space for my team through open communication and surveys.
Robinson: My sister and I decided a long time ago I was going to fill the “cool aunt” role in our family. It became a joke the older we got but still stuck around. The cool aunt role really inspired my leadership style because I wanted my team members to feel confident being able to ask for help, reach out about their concerns or issues, but also share any tips and ideas they had for improving our space. Yes, I was running the café, but it was our space together.
What was the most rewarding aspect?
Albright-Sexton: The most rewarding part of being SCEO was seeing my team grow and develop into amazing team members. Seeing the team successfully steam milk for guests gave them so much confidence!
Robinson: The most rewarding aspect for me was knowing I developed a safe and inclusive team and café environment. I got so lucky with the team members the Saxbys recruiting team and I worked together to find.
What was a major obstacle you had to overcome?
Albright-Sexton: The biggest challenge I faced was creating a work-life balance. With the cafe being open seven days a week, it was difficult for me to separate myself from the cafe.
Robinson: Not letting my own exhaustion, frustrations, or personal life, work its way into my café. Even on my worst day I had to find a way to come in with a smile and not project those outside stressors onto my team or guests. Being able to manage my emotions in a productive way was not only going to help during these six months, but forever.
What advice would you give a new SCEO?
Albright-Sexton: Be yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in the internship, but always remember who you are and have fun with it!
Robinson: Please, please, be patient with yourself. It will go a long way. If you are someone that thinks you can do everything by yourself, I encourage you to change that mindset as soon as your first day of training starts.
After working as SCEO, how did the experience influence your career plans?
Albright-Sexton: I’m still a sophomore, so I haven’t decided which career path I’d like to follow. I’m leaning towards human resources, though.
Robinson: This opportunity really solidified my marketing strengths for me. Right now, I am starting to look into marketing consulting or even perusing some DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work. There is an unfortunate undersupply of diversity in every aspect of the business world and I want to work to fix that. I also have an interest in working in fashion after a great experience with an American Eagle networking event last semester.
Coming Up Next
For the Spring 2022 semester, the Saxbys SCEOs will be students Meghna Hingorani and Nishanth Abdullah as part of the College of Business Administration’s emphasis on experiential learning. The Cathedral café hours will be 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Hillman café will be open 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and then 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Read more: New Student CEOs Ready to Lead