December 26, 2004

College of Charleston hosts new programs, supports entrepreneurial education

Sarah Moise  /  CRBJ

Twenty "at-risk" seniors from West Ashley High School visited the College of Charleston's Tate Center for Entrepreneurship to learn how the classes they take in school today will help them in wealth creation in the future.

College of Charleston business majors and entrepreneurs also participated to discuss the high school students entrepreneurship projects. The college has hosted two organizations that help students at both the college and high school levels.

The first, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), enabled 20 teachers from the tri-county area to take NFTE courses over the summer for training and scholarships. Those teachers began teaching entrepreneurship in their classrooms in the fall, and now College of Charleston's own student organization, Students in Free Enterprise, will collaborate with the teachers for student mentoring and assistance. "The vast majority of teachers have implemented their NFTE knowledge in their classrooms," says Dr. John Clarkin, director of the Tate Center. "Several have an outstanding track record.

Donna Long, a teacher at Trident Academy, had students making blankets and selling them at football games. With the proceeds, they made more blankets and donated them to the needy to demonstrate how entrepreneurs can create wealth and give back to the community."

Since 1987 NFTE has reached over 100,000 young people by creating innovative, experiential curricula for educators in universities and schools–-training more than 3,200 certified entrepreneurship teachers.

One business education teacher at West Ashley High School, Amy Brunson, took the NFTE program this summer. She teaches marketing, business law, international business and entrepreneurship to grades nine through 12. "NFTE reaches at-risk kids –- kids that are not your typical honor roll students," she says. "A lot of these kids have great people skills and can become successful business owners."

The intensive training program gave her the knowledge to teach them about starting and owning a business. "The whole concept is that starting a successful business can be so easy if you have the skills. We teach them about putting together a business plan, which is the biggest thing, and ways to find funding and get organized and implement their business program," says Brunson.

Some West Ashley High School students started their own individual businesses outside of school. One student learned how to increase his existing lawn business through brochures and marketing. Other projects included hair braiding, jewelry design and car detailing. Brunson adds, "The star of the class started a web program for computerized gaming. He does the programming, so he started a web site to host the games he makes."

Classroom activities have involved a number of hands-on, creative team projects, such as creating a new product targeting teens for Hershey Products Corp. To help them decide what kinds of businesses they would want to operate, students do a lot of job shadowing, and the school has hosted local entrepreneurs to talk about their experiences. "The kids had to make a poster about their favorite hometown entrepreneur," says Brunson. "They had to interview that person, take a picture and make their poster as creative as possible."

West Ashley High School's visit to the College of Charleston was an introduction to the student organization, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). "SIFE is the largest student organization in the world, with a presence on 1,700 campuses in 40 countries. Their mission, quite humbly, is to change the world," Clarkin says.

SIFE is a global, nonprofit organization that develops students' leadership, teamwork and communication skills through learning, practicing and teaching the principles of free enterprise. The organization's teams teach important concepts through educational outreach projects, including market economics, entrepreneurship, personal and financial success and business ethics to better themselves, their communities and their countries. Serving as an intermediary between schools and the national foundation, SIFE helps the mission of NFTE, which has taken information from university and business school textbooks and consolidated it into course material relevant to high school classrooms. "The SIFE students see how well the textbooks are working. They will also serve as mentors and help some of the teachers with projects in the classrooms," adds Clarkin.

Joshua Broome, a graduating business major at the College of Charleston, gave some words of advice to the visiting students. "I read the Wall Street Journal every day so I know what's going on in the business world and in politics, and so I have talking points when I meet someone and can join in a conversation. I encourage all of you to be aware of what's going on around you when you travel. Learn how business is done in other parts of the world."

He also encouraged the students to begin organizing their days and using good time management. Brunson says seeing college students like Broome is highly beneficial to her class. "These SIFE kids are successful. They're ambitious, and they're interested in their own entrepreneurship program. Mentoring in our classroom is a perfect opportunity, because my students can have a positive young role model."

Clarkin says one of the most important facets of the NFTE/SIFE collaboration is the opportunity to show how entrepreneurship can give back to the community. "There are tremendous opportunities for schools to teach innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. There are ways for all majors–-science, art, math–-to have a more entrepreneurial spin. While much of the educational focus may be on the science and technical aspects of a course, teachers can demonstrate how an innovation can be used for the betterment of society," he says.

Brunson is emphasizing ethics and corporate responsibility in her classroom. "We look at how entrepreneurs are socially responsible and ways they give back to the community," she says. Her students implemented a toy drive for a rural school in Ravenel based on what they've studied. "There is a real focus on ethics, where a business won't be all about the money and keeping every penny of their profits."