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Outreach effort introduces high school students to thinking entrepreneurially

Engaging with the community to advance business and business education is not just an aspiration for the College of Business at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). It’s also one of four carefully selected goals detailed in "Establishing New Frontiers in Business," the strategic plan that is guiding the College’s growth through 2025. "We want to engage with area high schools and community colleges, and be a visible sponsor of business-related activities in the community," says Dr. Jason Greene, who as dean of the College recently oversaw the extension of its AACSB accreditation for another five years.

To execute this goal, Dr. Greene began by approaching business leaders in Decatur to propose a high school based entrepreneurial initiative he had been involved with while dean of the College of Business at Southern Illinois University – the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program. "I had learned about Decatur’s interest in promoting entrepreneurship and in creating an environment in which young professionals would choose to stay in or return to Decatur after college," he says. "So it was clear to me that Decatur had set the promotion of entrepreneurship, particularly among young folks, as a strategic priority."

Operated by the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, the CEO program provides business, school, and community leaders with curricula, training, and operating support to establish and launch entrepreneurial education programs in their local school districts. Students who are selected for the program then attend a daily class over the course of the academic year, learning from entrepreneurs and business professionals about how to start and operate a business through mentorship, collaboration, hands-on training, and networking opportunities.


"The College was one of five seed-money donors to fund the program’s launch." - Dr. Jason Greene

"The program helps promote business to high school students by giving them excellent exposure to business and entrepreneurship, and by helping them see different business functions and the impact that business can have," says Dr. Greene. "It also helps students prepare for college and careers by exposing them to experiences that help sharpen their soft skills, especially related to listening, speaking, and presentation."

The Decatur business community was immediately receptive. "They really embraced it from the very beginning," says Dr. Greene. With Ellen Didier, CEO of Red Sage Communications Inc., at the helm, they set to work establishing an exploratory committee with supporters across Morgan County. "There has been tremendous enthusiasm and support for the CEO program in Decatur and throughout Morgan County," says Ms. Didier. "Finding people willing to support the program as investors, speakers, and mentors has been easy, because they immediately see the value of this program in helping young people in our community start businesses."

Their first task was to secure funding. "A principle of the program is that it is offered without any cost to the local school districts, so the College was one of five seed-money donors to fund the program’s launch," says Dr. Greene. "We also committed to hosting the CEO class on the UAH campus a few days each year and to having our faculty speak to the class." In addition, the team recruited nearly three dozen individual investors willing to provide an annual donation to cover affiliated operating expenses, including an on-site program facilitator.

Now their focus is on recruiting student participants in advance of the program’s roll out at the start of the 2019-2020 school year in August. Those chosen through the program’s rigorous application process will meet each school day for 90 minutes, during which they will hear presentations from guest speakers, visit area businesses, and learn the problem-solving, communication, and collaborative skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur.

"This program has numerous benefits for students, including the development of business knowledge and skills, experience in thinking and acting entrepreneurially, and practice in using soft skills – whether it is selling a product, selling yourself, or selling your ideas," says Dr. Greene. "So it isn’t just helping students develop into businesspeople – it’s helping them become more innovative, entrepreneurial, and successful in whatever field they pursue."

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