Last month, the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics partnered with WVU’s Extension Service 4-H unit to host 20 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from around the West Virginia and the local region at the inaugural Summer Youth Business Camp.
Throughout the week-long camp, the future business leaders had the full college experience. They resided in WVU dorms, made new friends and participated in local on- and off-campus activities.
“For many of these students, this experience provides them the first opportunity to come to Morgantown or to see WVU beyond an athletic event. Youth learn independence and have the opportunity to master new skills. They gain experiences outside of their local communities,” said Brent Clark, WVU 4-H Development Program Coordinator. “They have the chance to form positive relationships with peers who have similar educational interests as well as positive adult role models who can encourage them to pursue their goals and interests. It allows them the opportunity to know that they can make our state a better place.”
For the students, the major event of the jam-packed week was to work in teams to solve a business case study. Prior to starting their case studies, the students met with local businesses throughout Morgantown similar to those in their cases to get a real feel for the operational side. They also received crash courses on different areas of business, including human resources, finance, marketing and management. The courses helped to prepare them as they dove into their businesses and found solutions to help the businesses prosper. It also gave the students a chance to test out the different business majors in B&E.
“What I told them on opening day is that, I wanted them to be able to try on some different parts of business to see if any of these areas might be the kind of major they would want to choose when they come to college. Maybe they didn't know anything about it. Maybe never even heard what human resources was before or marketing was before. But you get to try it on for the week and see if it fits,” Dr. Suzanne Kitchen, camp faculty champion, and assistant chair and teaching associate professor of management at B&E. “Isn't that a good lesson to learn when you're 15 or 16 years old, as opposed to making that decision when you're 19 or 20, and you've gone through a couple of majors, and you've still not found the right one that fits you. I feel like that, to me, that should be a goal of this camp to let students explore the business world and majors.”
And as the week went on, Kitchen said she could see a change in the students, a transformation as they were stepping out of their comfort zones.
“They were in their third mini-lesson in the business core, and I saw a light bulb go. They started seeing how a decision here affects something there. Or how when you think about this, you have to think about that. We're trying to explain it in that business, it doesn't go down in silos, even though we name them like that. We name it HR, or we name it strategy, or we name it finance but all these things affect all the other things,” she said.
As the camp drew to a close, the future business leaders wrapped up their cases and each team presented their findings and solutions to a mock investment group and were scored. The group with the highest score earned first prize, which was the printing press group consisting of Ella Flowers, a junior at Bridgeport High School; Nathaniel Friend, a freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College; Lauren Moore, a junior at South Harrison High School and Amy Slagel, a senior at Morgantown High School.
Flowers said their success came from performing a SWOT analysis on the printing press company in their case study.
“It's a very unique approach and we actually took classes on how to do it and we were assigned roles. There was a strategy, an accounting and a human resources person. And my job was human resources and I learned how human resources works. And I think that's actually what I think I want to do. When we the job interviews and they assigned us the jobs, I think they assigned me the right job because that's really where I enjoyed doing,” she said.
The Summer Youth Business Camp also highlights the College of B&E’s recent reinvigoration of its K-12 initiative, which is part of the mission to educating and transforming our students, the state of West Virginia and the economy for their future. And with primary and secondary schools doing away with business education, it is the College’s duty to ensure young people know of the opportunities in business.
“The K-12 initiative, I feel like for our college, that we're going to have to make up for whatever gap shows up for kids not having those exposures to careers if they're not in classrooms because if the education programs are going away or dwindling down to where there's only one teacher. Or If there's not JA or DECA, then where are they going to get exposure? How are they even going to know that there is a career in marketing or a career in finance?" Kitchen said. "Our K-12 initiative should probably focus on reaching those kids who have very limited exposure in the counties where that stuff might already be gone.”
Nathaniel Friend, now a current freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College, previously attended the West Virginia Governor's School of Entrepreneurship and was a participant this year in the inaugural business camp. His mother, Brenda Friend of Buckhannon, West Virginia, said she knew her son was heading toward the business world and believed sending him to the Summer Youth Business Camp would give him the extra boost to make his dreams come true. And with the downturn in the state’s economy, she knows he will be the next wave of business leaders to take the West Virginia in a new direction.
“In order to keep our youth in West Virginia, we have to develop something new. And I think young people, such as my son, are a great example of how we can make that happen. But we have to change our mindset, from where we're sending our children through the education department, in public schools and even in the smaller private schools around the state, to help them to grow West Virginia,” she said. “Nathaniel can start a business, and maybe move that town to town, or maybe franchise from town to town. Perhaps he can be one of the [people] that uplifts different communities, and hopefully someday there will be others that are following. There is a remarkable group of students here that definitely have that push. So, if we get the word out, and get people who are willing to help these students, then West Virginia will become a better state with more economic base.”
To describe the week-long business camp, Kitchen said, “it takes a village.” Both 4-H and B&E folks played integral roles in ensuring the inaugural Summer Youth Business Camp went off without a hitch. But what the most impressive part – the young, brilliant minds that took time out of their summer breaks to essentially go to school.
“First of all, we're telling them that education is pretty important because these kids came to camp but they really came to school. So, we're telling them that we value them and they're not even really our students. They're not college students yet. They might be someday, but this is important now to start building that foundation,” Kitchen said. “Every business case they worked on had a little bit of flavor to keeping stuff going on in our state, keeping jobs in our state, working to, build more jobs in our state. Or educating or training people to do more things in our industries already. They really picked up on that during the camp.”
And “going to school” during the summer did not disappoint for these young minds. They discovered or honed a true love for the business world.
“I chose to come to a business camp because I've been interested in business. I joined DECA Club last year as a sophomore year, and I competed in Anaheim, California at the national DECA Competition. So, that was my realization that I understood that business is my true passion and I really love business,” Flowers said. “And last year, I came to an engineering camp here at the WVU and I really enjoyed making new friends. So, I like the idea of learning business but also making new friends at the same time.”