Mark Koulianos

Mark Koulianos

Mark is the Director of the USF Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education and a 20-plus-year veteran of the corporate world. His passions are workforce development and leadership.

More from Mark Koulianos

Trades and Apprenticeships as Proven Career Pathways

In my last few blog entries I’ve offered some perspectives regarding routes into the workforce in hopes of sustaining a long, successful career. Access through a four-year college degree and certificate-based programming have already been explored. As a society, though, it’s rather important we understand there are multiple avenues to professional achievement. The notion that traditional higher education is the only way to fulfillment is untrue. I’ll finish up the series by presenting a case for trades and their corresponding apprenticeship models.

Traditional College Degree Still Opens Career Doors

Most US adults end up working 40-plus years. That’s a long time, which means it’s critical to navigate a course for a fulfilling career. At USF, we like to talk about our Lifetime Learning Affinity Model and its benefits—academic, professional, and personal—for the duration of an individual’s life. Here, I’d like to specifically speak to its potential application for those with a traditional college degree or those who wish to pursue one. In future blog entries, I’ll address two other routes for careers, programs for “new collar” work, as well as manual trades.

Quality Youth Experiences for a Bright Future

If you’re the parent of school-aged children it’s not too early to begin planning their summer schedule now. Wait, I know what you’re thinking! Didn’t we ring in 2023 only a few weeks ago? The end of the school year is only a handful of months away…and that means youth summer camps are just around the corner! I want to highlight the front end of the lifelong affinity education model, where individuals are geared to educational opportunities at virtually every phase of the lifecycle from a centralized institution such as the University of South Florida.

Much to Be Thankful For

I love Thanksgiving! Isn’t it awesome that our nation designates a day for us to collectively count our blessings? And the traditions that come with it—turkey and trimmings, football, and a nice nap on the couch (I’m not the only one, am I?)—are more than okay with me. In the spirit of the season, I find myself reflecting on the people and events for which I’m grateful. In many ways, 2022 felt more normal—a return to pre-pandemic conditions. I'm so thankful for the invaluable opportunity I had to reconnect with my heritage. 

Making Employee Engagement a Priority

It’s no secret that Tampa Bay has become a destination for relocating technology firms and investors. Favorable tax structures and pro-business policies are attracting these companies along with skilled employees. The region is a blossoming tech hub. And this is a boon for our area—especially in this post-pandemic environment. Regardless of the work sector, companies have had to take a long, hard look in the mirror to reassess what it takes to remain competitive—and successful—in a decidedly altered landscape.

Test Prep Provides Tools for Success

It’s back to school! Here at the University of South Florida, the fall semester is already in full swing. I had the privilege of attending the recent Town Hall gathering at the Tampa campus. There, our leadership team presented some very compelling data. USF has just welcomed its largest-ever and best-qualified class of first-year students. Sixty-five thousand applications were received—an increase of 15% from last year. The average SAT score of applicants? An impressive 1309. Our new students have arrived prepared to succeed.

Retire from Work? Yes! Retire from Learning and Developing? Never!

Introducing OLLI!

Those of you familiar with my blog entries know I frequently beat the drum for lifelong learning, usually to promote professional training that leads to career and workforce development. This time I will call your attention to the importance of education and progress when the job-related phase of life has ended and, in doing so, highlight the important work of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at USF. As one of 125 national OLLI units, the USF division offers quality, budget-friendly, non-credit programming to Tampa Bay’s 50+ demographic.

The High Priority of Project Management

What do a dinner party, family vacation, and new advertising campaign have in common? They’re all examples of projects. And while those endeavors have very different purposes, similar applications can be applied to define, prepare for, and see each one through—successfully! There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already served in the role of project manager but didn’t stop to think of yourself as one. Even if you don’t have the official title, you’ve likely supervised any number of temporary, multi-stepped tasks. Am I right?

Career Path: Getting Ahead of the Curve with Lifelong Affinity Education

In my last blog entry, I conveyed my vision for a lifelong affinity education model—one where institutes of higher learning serve as local hubs, offering a range of programming to engage populations at virtually every phase of the life cycle. At the University of South Florida, there is already infrastructure toward this end—even as there is unlimited potential for future development. In the Information Age, such a concept is a benefit to society. We want you to find something compelling here—whether your age is five or 85.


The Model of Lifelong Learning

Embedded within my position as director of University of South Florida’s Corporate Training and Professional Education is a broader, encompassing philosophy that advocates for ongoing learning. My vision is one where institutes of higher learning become the go-to hubs of a lifelong affinity education model. This becomes critical as fields of knowledge rapidly increase due to the exponential growth of technological capacity and its access.

Thankful at Every Level

Another calendar year heads into the home stretch. Before you know it, 2022 will be here. At the present, though, my thoughts turn to the Thanksgiving season—and the significance of its commemoration. As Director of USF Corporate Training and Professional Education, I continue to live out a dream. I am privileged to hold a position that allows me to pursue my career passion for lifelong learning and workforce development. I would like to recognize a collection of people that, throughout the year, works diligently toward our office’s mission.    

Corporate Partnerships That Go the Distance

As a board member of the National Council for Continuing Education & Training, I recently had the privilege to sit for an interview with The EvoLLLution, a publication devoted to advancing higher education. I offered a philosophical track that continuing education units can take to establish long-term training agreements. I would like to summarize the interview to offer a peek into the mindset of USF Corporate Training and Professional Education as we form corporate partnerships to upskill and reskill the modern workforce.

My Turn as a Mentor

I recently received a letter from a former associate. In it, she expressed immense gratitude for my role in both her professional and personal development. She said that I helped her to identify her strengths, which allowed her to confidently advance in, what remains, a successful career. In conclusion, she added, I had been a gracious mentor and would always be considered a friend. Suffice to say, I was touched. To be acknowledged in such a way — to realize the positive impact you can have on someone — is incredibly rewarding.


Continuing Education in Times of Change

As Executive Director of USF Corporate Training and Professional Education, I customarily use this blog space to offer my take on leadership in the workforce. This time around, I’d like to speak to my recent interview with The EvoLLLution, an online newspaper devoted to the advancement of higher education. The conversation took place shortly after my appointment as a board member to the National Council for Continuing Education & Training (NCCET). I was grateful for the opportunity to speak candidly about topics that are very important to me.

Letter From the Director: Recharge With a Summer Vacation

I love summer! There’s the feel of beach sand between your toes. There’s the smell of burgers on the grill. There’s the chorus of oohs and aahs during a fireworks display. And, lest I forget, it’s when baseball season kicks into high gear! With schools on break, sunny weather, and numberless options for fun, summer is the quintessential season for a vacation. This means it may be an opportunity to step away from your work for some needed relaxation.

A Message to Graduates: Your Learning Has Just Commenced

Congratulations to the Class of 2021! The University of South Florida, as well as many other institutions of higher education, held its spring commencement earlier this month. Graduation day is always a noteworthy, celebratory occasion—especially as in-person ceremonies resumed this year. It’s a time for a lot of hugs, speeches, snapping cameras, and flying mortarboards. It’s also a time to appreciate a momentous achievement that signals a major life transition from full-time student to full-time professional.

Remote Hiring and Onboarding Now in Play

In continuing upon the theme of employee engagement from my last few blog entries, I will offer a perspective around remote hiring and onboarding. I’m prompted by the peculiar circumstances many of us find ourselves in. While the economy recovers and—as a result—hiring numbers increase, social-distancing efforts remain in place in many work settings to mitigate the pandemic’s infection rate. Large numbers of employees—used to the usual Monday-Friday office routine—operate, for now, from home.

Employee Engagement—Getting It Right From the Start

There’s an old golf adage that says you don’t win a tournament on the first day but you can lose it. The first point implies a good opening round doesn’t guarantee a player’s success for the remaining ones; the second that a less-than-auspicious opening will prove difficult to overcome. My last blog entry dealt with a leader’s ability to personally connect as a key to employee engagement. It occurred to me, though—backtracking to the importance of the onboarding process would be an appropriate prequel of sorts.

Employee Engagement Past and Present: More in Common Than Different

“Any plans this weekend?” “That was some game last night!” The concept of “water-cooler talk” serves a beneficial purpose. Of course, I’m speaking of those friendly, non-job-related conversations that spring up at work. Some of my most-treasured memories have been impromptu talks with co-workers in the hallway—or in the break room as I waited for my food to come out of the microwave. These types of experiences go a long way toward employee engagement—an important benchmark for a leader to fulfill.

Continuing Education as an Investment in Yourself

The belief that our days in the classroom come to a close following high school, trade school, or college is, undoubtedly, a thing of the past. Here’s what Peter Drucker, the managerial expert whose ideas helped shape modern business concepts, said: “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.” And because change is certain, it’s necessary to instill a mindset of perpetual learning—seeing it as an open-ended process—to capably adapt as your career goes forward.

Resilience in 2021, Resilience Always

If you’re familiar with the plot of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, you know its protagonist, Odysseus, is a compelling character. Enduring storms, monsters, and other formidable obstacles, he manages to steer himself and his fleet back home to Ithaca after the Greek victory in the Trojan War. His successful return isn’t possible without a number of shrewd dealings and fortunate interventions. The perilous voyage takes 10 years to complete! Odysseus is nothing if not resilient.

A Reminder to Be Thankful—Even in 2020!

In composing this year’s annual Thanksgiving blog, I’ve been reflecting upon the historic events of the past 11 months. Mutually, our country has gone through the wringer. Spring brought the ongoing pandemic along with many life-altering modifications. Then, summer saw social divisions resurface and escalate. And fall culminated in a contentious election season. Emotions have been running high. Despite its challenging nature, however, 2020 has reminded me of the blessings I’m thankful for.

Leaders Act the Part

My favorite actor is Academy Award winner Russell Crowe. He’s performed marvelously in a variety of roles in memorable movies such as Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and L.A. Confidential. Like many of the greats of the profession, Crowe brings a plausibility to his craft that makes you forget—for a few hours, anyway—he’s acting the part of his character. But “acting the part” isn’t only for those who tread the boards. Behaving in a way proper to a particular role or given situation is appropriate for anyone in a position of responsibility.

Anticipate, Prepare, and Decide

The best leaders constantly strive for peak performance and efficiency. But those ideals are usually held under the premise of “normal” circumstances. What happens when things go sideways? I’m reminded of this gem from Maj. Richard Winters: Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind. In the last six months, this principle became particularly meaningful for USF Corporate Training and Professional Education. A new way to conduct business was in order.

Leaders Earn the Respect of Their Teams, Part II

The key to a successful leader is to earn respect—not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character. I used this precept from U.S. Army Major Richard Winters’ memoirs as a jumping-off point to write last month on the importance of leaders earning the respect of their people. In summary, I noted three particular behaviors leaders should either avoid or exhibit. First, leaders do not seek credit when their teams succeed. Second, leaders are accountable for their team’s function. Lastly, leaders should be able to deliver difficult news.

Leaders Earn the Respect of Their Teams

Respect. Aretha Franklin famously asked for it in song. Rodney Dangerfield went to hilarious lengths to claim he got none. Actually, respect is a big deal. If you’re a manager in any workplace, respect from your team signifies its trust in you. As one of my aforementioned role models, U.S Army Major Richard Winters, wrote in his memoirs, “The key to a successful leader is to earn respect—not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.” Here are some of my thoughts on earning your team’s respect through leadership.

Teamwork: Contribute Together, Win Together

As a country, we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic and, in more-recent events, listen to voices calling for civil justice. Both are topics of immense, historic importance and deserving of our attention. I would also remind my audience that this month marked the 76th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, France to undertake one of the most pivotal military campaigns of World War II. That massive operation required teamwork—thousands of personnel carrying out roles to help save the world.

Connecting With Your People Outside of Work Roles

Not long after our office began working exclusively from home 11 weeks ago, we initiated a weekly “coffee” video chat for the purpose of connecting socially with one another. The only hard-and-fast rule of the meeting is no one is allowed to talk shop. For example, we’ve described our first cars, named favorite vacation spots, and exchanged Netflix suggestions. It’s also been an opportunity to share our experiences, both positive and negative, of spending so much time cloistered in our homes.

Leadership During Crisis

Growing up in Tarpon Springs, Florida, I would hear stories about the sponge boat crews working the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Out on the water—sometimes for weeks at a time—the best crews were able to navigate daunting challenges: equipment failures, illness, and stormy weather, to name but a few. Skilled leadership was necessary. “A good captain is not made from calm seas,” one veteran sponger liked to say. And with the “rough seas” we’re having as of late, that old sailing adage has been on my mind.

Letter From the Director: Thoughts on the Covid-19 Outbreak

The current Covid-19 pandemic has forcefully come to the forefront of the nation’s psyche in relatively little time, rapidly—and radically—altering the rhythm of our lives. In less than two weeks, our work, school, and social schedules have been turned upside-down. Terms that were unheard of such as “social distancing” and “shelter in place” are now on everyone’s lips. Many of us are now living with the reality of remote work and school. My office’s function has now moved entirely to an online format. Everyone is making significant adjustments.  

Take Control of Your Career

Part One: Learning When to Pivot

Playing organized basketball as a young boy, I discovered the importance of pivoting. When defensive pressure forces the player dribbling the ball to stop the advance up the court, that player can ‘pivot’ by keeping one foot stationary while the other can move. This allows the ball-handler an opportunity to reposition, to determine whether a pass to a teammate or taking a shot is the best option. Sometimes, a well-executed pivot can be the catalyst for a great, but unexpected, play.

Resolve to Learn, Grow, and Improve

What’s your take on New Year’s resolutions? Do you find them a) helpful, b) useless, or c) a harmless annual ritual? Wherever you fall on the question, millions of people determine that some life aspect requires improvement and the time for action will take place when the calendar flips to January. You’re familiar with some of the popular ones: to exercise regularly, pay off debt, get organized, and to make more time for family and friends. New year, new you—right? 

2019 Retrospective: Learning to Be Grateful

With Thanksgiving approaching, I’d like to share how grateful I am for the 2019 journey of USF Corporate Training and Professional Education. If you’ve previously read this blog, you know I sometimes draw from the well of sports for inspiration. (Spoiler alert: I’m about to do it again!) What follows is how our office borrowed a storied basketball team’s 36-year-old rallying cry to help us press on when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

Creating a Culture of Excellence (Part 2)

Last month I began an installment of the Essentials of Modern Leadership series by speaking about the importance of culture in the workplace. It was predicated upon how lasting success comes through leadership’s pursuit of excellence by adherence to guiding principles and the critical element of buy-in from the team. I’ll now elaborate further with three concluding strategies that, as I’ve found from experience, play key roles in creating a culture of excellence.     

Creating a Culture of Excellence (Part 1)

My family and friends know me to be an avid student of military history. Over the years, I’ve read countless works on the world’s major battles—from periods of antiquity through the modern era. Mind you, my interest in the subject isn’t to romanticize war. Rather, it’s spurred by a desire to better understand the prevailing conditions leading to a conflict and the geopolitical ramifications of its aftermath. A collateral benefit of my reading is I’ve learned the stories of exceptional figures that emerged from that realm.    

Keeping Good Employees Takes Thought and Effort

Think of the excitement you felt when you made that perfect hire. There was the outstanding résumé, the impressive interview. You felt, almost immediately, that this individual is a perfect fit for the position, and you were right. The first few years proved the decision was a good one. Now there’s another important matter to be addressed: You want this employee for the long haul. As a hiring manager or a business owner, don’t just assume they’ll stay. Keeping good employees takes thought and effort.

The Best Negotiators Don’t Trade Integrity for a Good Deal

Throughout life, there are countless scenarios where good negotiating skills are useful. Maybe it’s time to renew a valued customer’s contract with your corporation. Perhaps you’d like to speak to the boss about that well-deserved raise. Or maybe the cable company has hiked its fee and you’ll be giving them a call to see whether you have any recourse. It really doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living, there will be times that call for negotiation. Embrace the challenge and try for a win, but never forget that the best negotiators don’t trade integrity for a good deal.

Job Security in an Automated Age

One of my all-time favorite television commercials is the Monster “When I Grow Up” spot that debuted during Super Bowl XXXIII. The ad was effective because it depicted the very opposite of what we aspire to during our formative years. Children in the ad speak as jaded adults with less-than-optimistic expectations for their work futures. Toward its end, the ad poignantly asks, “What did you want to be?” It offers hope, though, in its final frame: “There’s a better job out there.” The ad ran in 1999, but it’s even more relevant now because of the growing challenges of job security in an automated age.

Building the Perfect Team

Part 5 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

The previous installment in this series on the essentials of modern leadership, “Playing the Cards You’re Dealt,” is based on a manager’s ability to keenly assess inherited personnel and procedures while moving toward maximum productivity. Let’s now envision a situation where you’re assembling a staff from scratch. You “hold all the cards” and can recruit employees who will best fulfill your workplace objectives. How do you go about building the perfect team?

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

Part 4 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

I’m not the world’s most avid card player, but I enjoy a few games every now and then. Because of the limitless variability, card games give my noggin a good workout, and I like that. Though luck plays a role, winning consistently requires an aptitude for assessing randomly distributed sets of cards and strategizing accordingly. Do it right, and even when the cards you receive aren’t ideal, a win is possible. It’s up to you, though, to determine the best possible actions when playing the cards you’re dealt.

Trust Is the Foundation of Leadership

Part 3 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

The late motivational speaker Stephen Covey once said, “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.” For those of us in positions of leadership, gaining the trust of our people is a fundamental component of a healthy workplace environment. When managers establish this type of confidence, emotional security and job satisfaction can increase exponentially. Trust is the foundation of effective leadership, and it isn’t developed overnight. It comes through conscious behavior consistently exhibited.

Knowing Your People Enables Leadership

Part 2 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

Shortly after his New York Giants defeated the heavily favored Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, NFL coaching legend Bill Parcells was asked, “How did you do that?” Indeed, not many people had given the Giants a chance. “I have to be a master motivator,” he responded. “I treat everyone fairly; I don’t treat them the same.” Parcells understood that a team is made up of individuals of differing personalities and talents and that a one-size-fits-all management style isn’t the way to build a championship team. The coach’s secret: Knowing your people is the heart of leadership.

Self-Awareness Drives Good Leadership

Part 1 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

Benjamin Franklin, one of the more extraordinarily versatile and prolific figures of our great country, wrote this for the 1750 publication of his Poor Richard’s Almanack: “There are three Things extreamly hard: Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”