August 17, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 20

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    High school students got down to business at GSB

    By Soo Ji Min
    Graduate School of Business

    Erica Villasenor first got a taste for business four years ago, when she began accompanying her parents to local Mexican food fairs. Her parents own and operate a Mexican catering company out of their home in Oxnard, Calif.

    Villasenor said she liked to meet and talk with different customers. She also contacted suppliers and made sure her parents had everything they needed for their next event. “I knew that business was something I wanted to do but didn’t know what it was really about,” said Villasenor.

    Now after completing the Leadership Education and Development/Small Business Institute summer program at the University’s Graduate School of Business, Villasenor, 17, is certain business is her profession of choice.
    [lead students]Cristina Mojica, Lauren Jones, Kelly Ireland and Nick Izquierdo debrief after their team’s business plan presentation at the Gleacher Center on Thursday, Aug. 3. Five teams developed new business plans as part of the LEAD/Small Business Institute held at the Graduate School of Business.

    “I’m totally positive that I want to go into business,” said Villasenor. “I’m looking into undergraduate business or economics as my major in college.”

    Villasenor is not alone. The GSB is helping minority high school students from Munster, Ind., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, broaden their knowledge of and stimulate their interest in business.

    In partnership with the New York-based not-for-profit organization Leadership Education and Development Program in Business Inc., the GSB offered 30 outstanding African-American and Hispanic-American high school seniors a four-week intensive introduction to business. The program included academic classes taught by GSB faculty and alumni, presentations by business executives and site visits to area corporations.

    “We are pleased to be part of such a beneficial program that provides an opportunity for talented high school students to be exposed to business through GSB faculty members. We believe it’s important to make these students aware of career possibilities that an education in business can provide.”

    Indeed, after taking classes in areas like entrepreneurship, accounting and economics, Nick Izquierdo, 17, discovered that business was more interesting than he thought. He also said he is considering coming back to the GSB for graduate school.

    “The program really succeeded in giving us a nice overview about business,” said Izquierdo. “Before coming here, I wanted to study political science for my undergraduate major. That idea has not changed, but I am more interested in business. I really enjoyed working with the professors at the University.”

    And professors were equally impressed with the LEAD/SBI students. Mary Margaret Myers, Assistant Professor of Accounting, who taught a seminar on the tax system found the students “exceptionally bright.”

    Damon Phillips, Assistant Professor of Strategy in the GSB, agreed. “The students were very bright, and I will not be surprised to see many of them pursuing graduate degrees–both master’s and Ph.D.’s–in the years to come.”

    If the LEAD/SBI program proves to be successful, Villasenor, Izquierdo and their peers will pursue degrees in business. And the chances of that happening are quite good. Since 1980, nearly 5,000 students have participated in LEAD/SBI and have gone on to studies at major universities. Approximately 60 percent of LEAD/SBI alumni attend the top 50 U.S. universities and colleges, and about two-thirds maintain an average GPA of 3.0 or better.

    Diversity in business is the real issue at stake. “One of the things we’ve learned is that when you work with minority students at a young age and give them exposure to business school, they are more likely to attend in the future,” said Janis Robinson, Director of Diversity Affairs in the GSB.

    The strategy is to allow students to make better career decisions by exposing them to more options. “I’m all for this kind of program,” said Myers, “because people often pursue what they’re surrounded by.”

    The ultimate goal is to provide these students with the tools and knowledge to move into corporate leadership positions. But even if they choose another profession, they will have learned valuable lessons.

    While 17-year-old Theresa Bonilla is not sure if she will major in business, the program has made her think about the qualities necessary for effective leadership. “I think an effective leader is not someone who bosses someone around and tells them what to do, but guides a group in working together to offer the best possible outcome for the goal,” said Bonilla. “It’s opened my eyes that I don’t necessarily have to major in business to go into business myself. All the skills I learned can be used in everyday life.”