Shaping future business men and women

A Fairfield University mentoring program at a Bridgeport, Conn. high school aims to encourage young people to pursue college degrees and business careers

Image: Bridgeport and Fairfield studentsFive Fairfield University undergraduates have been visiting Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut throughout this academic year, teaching students there about such matters as how to start a business, the economy's impact on them, and how the stock market works. Their weekly trips to the City of Bridgeport have to do with 'Mind Growing Business Mentors,' an initiative created by the undergraduates - all students in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business - with a goal to mentor Central students about the promise that a business education and careers in the business world hold.

Partly envisioned as a 'Big Brothers/Big Sisters'-type of mentorship program, sophomores Trent Lauer, George Pertesis, John Paul Sakakini, and Gregory Figueroa hope to demystify to Bridgeport teens entrepreneurship, Wall Street, corporate America and the fields of finance, accounting and economics, while opening up the possibilities for their career paths.

It's an endeavor partly inspired by the Jesuit mission to be of service to others - one of the Dolan School's values. The ultimate goal of the program is "to shape ambitious scholars into able business men and women of the future," the students said.

"We've been working to provide the students with information about steps to launch successful careers, what to expect in college, dealing with the admissions process, and what it takes to succeed at work," said Figueroa, an accounting major.

Their target audience of Mind Growing Business Mentors is high school students eager to achieve fundamental business skills. The undergrads hope that by having both a personal and educational relationship with Central students, they offer a better understanding of what the business world is like through the eyes of college students.

"We want them to feel comfortable asking us any questions on how the business world relates to them," Lauer, a finance major, said. "This is why the 'Big Brother' structure could be very advantageous and beneficial to the kids. We want to create both a friendship and an intellectual relationship with these kids."

Each Wednesday, the Fairfield students, including Dolan School freshman Tyler Paci, have been mentoring five Central classes with about 30 sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in each. Taught by David Christy, the class at Central is called 'Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship' (NFTE), and it has goals that are similar to that of the Mind Growing Business Mentor team. (The New York City-based NFTE has a mission to provide programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, to recognize business opportunities and to plan for successful futures, according to its web site. Founders believe that entrepreneurship education will grow the global economy and provide young people with opportunities to "own their future.")  Each Fairfield mentor works together throughout the six-hour school day with all of the classes to lead the students in various activities/business lessons, and help them with any questions they have about business.

Christy said his students have been very welcoming to the Fairfield mentors and there is always good energy in the classroom when the Central and Fairfield students get together. "These guys coming from Fairfield has been a gift," he said.

Omar Murray, a senior at Central High, has enjoyed the visits by the Dolan mentors a lot. "One day I would like to be an owner of a business," he said. "What I've learned so far can really help. I see from the Fairfield students that my classmates and I can make a difference one day. It's been nice."

Ariel Johnson, another Central senior, looks forward to Wednesdays. "I really like what we have done each week [with the mentors]," she said. "I would like to major in marketing in college, so this class has been really good to be in."

Since the start of the program in November, for example, the Dolan School mentors enrolled more than 100 Central students in a stock picking simulation game in which they had "$1 million" to invest. It has offered an opportunity to teach the basic concepts of picking and choosing the right stocks based on the news headlines about companies, earnings, projected earnings, and financial charts.

"Mr. Christy said that the kids are very interested in the stock market, and how they can become more involved in it," said Lauer.

"The students loved this because they were all vying to get to first place in all the classes taught by Mr. Christy," said Pertesis, a finance major.

Another of the engaging ways business skills have been taught is by way of a student business plan competition. Somewhat similar to Fairfield University's Business Plan Competition, this contest has the Dolan School mentors helping Central students understand concepts like how to maximize and forecast revenue, how the state of the economy can impact a business idea, and how to sell their products/and or ideas to customers/investors.

Michael St. Victor, a Central senior, has developed a plan for a t-shirt business, and with every t-shirt sold, 20 trees would be planted. "It's been an opportunity to learn a lot," said St. Victor. "I've learned how to make a business profitable. It's been fun too working with the Fairfield people."

Johnson won the contest with her plan for a baby-consulting business. "It's made me feel good about the ideas I have," she said.

Lauer said the kids have "thousands of brilliant ideas" for new businesses and the contest was a chance to have those ideas materialize into something bigger.

"Helping the kids with forecasting sales, and teaching them how to calculate their margins was all really important, but the real value in all of it was watching the kids think through their great ideas and have them realize that they can actually be something," he said.

Pertesis noted he and his fellow mentors helped the Central students develop their business plans, from what their business ideas have to offer, their mottos, and most importantly, how to pitch their ideas to a panel of school judges. "This has been an ongoing process and the students that we help know us on a first name basis now," said Pertesis. "This is what propels us to going back and helping these students. This is what MGBM is all about."

Lauer added one important thing that he picked up on very quickly was how Central students were "thirsty for more knowledge."

Donald E. Gibson, Ph.D., dean of the Dolan School of Business, said the feedback from the high school has been great. "The amazing part is that this initiative was completely devised and implemented by students. This is a great example of what motivated and committed business students can do," Dr. Gibson said.

The Fairfield mentors have also been helping Central students with their college searches, offering tips on how/where to apply, the importance of college essays, and how to prepare for the SAT. "We feel this is important because many of their parents are not familiar with the college process themselves, so we would like to offer our familiarity in regards to preparing for a college degree," said Figueroa.

For Pertesis, the mentoring program has made him think back to grade school, where 'every' teacher told him that they loved their job. "I always thought to myself, no one can really 'love' his or her job," he recalled. "It wasn't until we started this group that I realized where the love stemmed from teaching. Not only does teaching/mentoring benefit the learner - students, but it also benefits you and gives you that feeling that you are doing something meaningful in someone else's growth in knowledge."

Figueroa, who is headed to the London School of Economics along with Lauer to study abroad in the fall, said that he and his colleagues have already found freshmen like Tyler Paci to continue Mind Grown Business Mentors after they graduate. The hope is to expand the program to other high schools and attract incoming Fairfield freshmen to cultivate it.

"This mentorship program will continue to give us happiness," said Pertesis, "and we look forward to expanding and growing our program to other high schools and reaching out to current freshmen and incoming freshmen to join us in this wonderful endeavor."

The Dolan School students agree that the experience has been really about trying to make a difference in the lives of other people. "The only question I would ask myself at this point is, why would I not at least try to make a difference?" said Figueroa. "As a student at a Jesuit university, the answer is simple."


Image: A group of Dolan School of Business undergraduates started a mentoring program for students at Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Pictured is Dolan School sophomore Gregory Figueroa, right, with a Central student.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726,

Posted on May 16, 2014

Vol. 46, No. 303

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