Business Students Highlighted at Chamber Luncheon

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Tunkhannock Area High School business students (above, front, from left) Caitlin Nicodemus, Kira DeRemer, Alexis Mock, Jane Kircher, Angela Colbenson, (back) Christian Corker, Chris Jaskulski, Keegan Cook, Ethan Hoefert, and Tony Mastroianni and TAHS school-to-career coordinator John Shaffer were special guests at the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce Educational Luncheon Series held at Purkey’s Pink Apple on Feb. 8.

The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce’s (WyCCC) ongoing Educational Luncheon Series featured a presentation today by Scott Lee (below), vice president of marketing and development for the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education (FFEE). He was joined by two Tunkhannock Area High School (TAHS) students who had participated in FFEE’s Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW), which is held in Williamsport each summer. Additionally, seven other TAHS business students and school-to-career coordinator John Shaffer attended the luncheon.

FFEE was founded in 1979 by a group of business leaders concerned that the Commonwealth’s high school curriculum mandates required no courses in business fundamentals.

We’re doing our students a disservice,” Lee said of the state’s education system.

FFEE subsequently initiated the PFEW program, which runs for four weeks from July to August, and graduated 100 students in its first year. In 2016, there were 2,081 graduates from a program that simultaneously immerses participants in both the world of business and college life.

TAHS senior Alexis Mock (below) and junior Caitlyn Nicodemus were immediately parted last summer upon arrival at Lycoming College and placed on teams of 16 to 18 students. Each team was assigned a product for which they would design a business model, sell shares of stock, and advertise in a variety of ways in the course of six days.

Though placed on different teams, both Mock and Nicodemus were charged with manufacturing and promoting sunglasses. Mock admitted that she knew nothing about business when she started the course but learned quickly. That, Lee explained, is the primary methodology behind the workshop.

We put kids together who don’t know each other,” Lee related. That way, he suggested, there is no baggage from home to get in their way. “It enables them to mine the gold that is inside them.”

Mock said that the supportive environment gave her the comfort to voice her opinions.

It taught me lessons that I couldn’t have learned from school or home,” she stated. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been confident enough to speak in public.”

By the end of the week, she was convinced that business was the path that she wanted to take in school. When she returned ready to enter her senior year at TAHS, she dropped several psychology and child development courses and piled on the business and math classes.

Nicodemus was not a featured speaker at the Chamber luncheon but echoed Mock’s sentiments and said that she highly recommends the program.

Four consecutive weeks of PFEW are conducted at Lycoming College. During the fourth week, a separate session is conducted nearby at Penn State’s School of Technology. The program has “gained such traction” at both schools, Lee noted, that Lycoming College provides a $20,000 scholarship for PFEW participants who enroll there, and Penn Tech offers an $8,000 scholarship.

Recruitment of students varies from school to school, Lee explained. Some schools allow FFEE representatives to come in and talk to students. Some allow for distribution of promotional materials and PA announcements. And some – like Lackawanna Trail in eastern Wyoming County – have not yet realized the value of the program and do not allow any recruitment.

Shaffer admits that Tunkhannock has been very open to the program, allowing for recruiters to visit classrooms. Generally, two or three Tunkhannock students per year take part in PFEW. Shaffer suggested that, if more parents were aware of the opportunity, participation in Tunkhannock would increase and other schools might be more open to allowing recruitment.

Support for the program comes from a variety of sources and manifests in various ways. More than 800 donors across the state help to support the $3-million program financially, and business leaders who are likely to charge fees for speaking engagements elsewhere volunteer more than 11,600 hours of their time each summer. Lee, himself a volunteer, maintained that he has never experienced anything more rewarding.

There is a $285 per student registration fee that covers some of the cost of participation, but Lee noted that cost is not a factor for any student who is sincere in their interest in businesses leadership. Some of the aforementioned donors contribute specifically to a fund that helps defray registration costs for students experiencing financial challenges.

WyCCC president Gina Suydam (below) said after the presentation that PFEW is a program that the Chamber believes in strongly.

To us a business professionals, it is important to us that they are bringing up business leaders,” she remarked, noting that the Chamber’s partnership with FFEE precedes her involvement with the organization. Letters will be sent out to Chamber members soon, Suydam noted, soliciting donations for the program.

We hope that our business community will make a contribution to sharing PFEW with our youth by spreading the word, telling a student or parent about the program, or making a financial gift to PFEW to fund a local student.”

The “early bird” deadline for students to enroll in the 2017 PFEW program is March 3. The final deadline is April 7. For more information, interested readers may log on to www.pfew.org.

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