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CEO student says program is ‘life changing’

As Greene County prepares for its inaugural Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program, two students from Crawford County, Ill. attended the Linton-Stockton Chamber of Commerce annual dinner to discuss their experience with the program.

Greene County’s program is set to start during the 2018-19 school year. Chamber Executive Director Cheryl Hamilton and Greene County Economic Development Director Brianne Jerrels have spearheaded the efforts to get the program started in Greene County, and have met with other area programs in recent years.

Midland Institute is the facilitator for the CEO program. National Community Director Amy Tarr explained the program teaches local youth about business, as well as the types of businesses located in the community.

“CEO is a long-term economic development tool for Greene County,” Tarr explained.

CEO is not in a traditional classroom setting, but instead takes students into real, local businesses. Tarr said this allows students to see what Greene County has to offer and hopefully ultimately bring them back to the area to work.

In order to make the program a success, Tarr said, the program needs financial investors, business mentors, an energetic facilitator and an effective and engaging board.

“If you want to convince your students to come back, you have to show them what you have to offer,” Tarr said. “You’ve got to shut off those Friday Night Lights, bridge the river and work together.”

Crawford County CEO students Cameron and Preston Ireland, a program alumni and current student, respectively, shared their experience with the program.

Preston described the program as “life changing,” crediting the work he has done in the classroom with helping him become more confident.

“I couldn’t be standing up here talking in August,” Preston said. “It opened my eyes to businesses around my community and different aspects of real life.”

A big part of the CEO program is allowing students to test their entrepreneurial spirit, by creating their own business.

“It challenges the status quo,” Preston said. “Instead of sitting at a desk, we get hands-on experience.”

As a program alumni, Cameron is still working with the business he helped start -- the Kale Mitchell group. He is co-founder of the online marketing and digital media company, which has worked with Marathon Petroleum among others.

Cameron said the program opened his eyes to the local opportunities.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to go to a bigger city, but I learned there are an unlimited number of opportunities in small communities,” Cameron said, adding the program also offered a wide range of networking opportunities.

One of those opportunities included a business mentor with whom he still keeps in touch.

Preston said students meet their mentors through a “Mentor Matching Day,” in which the students get to meet their prospective mentors and find who would be most beneficial helping them move forward.

“I would ask each one, ‘What is an aspect that sets you apart from the other mentors,” Preston said, adding mentors do not necessarily need to match your anticipated career path, but instead is more of a personality match.

Tarr said as Midland Institute continues to see success in the CEO program, they have also observed students being “10 years ahead of the curve.”

Crawford County CEO facilitator John Ireland said it is important to push students outside their comfort zones.

“We want them to be comfortably uncomfortable,” John Ireland said. “We don’t want them to become comfortable or they quit growing.”

Hamilton noted in addition to investors, the program will be seeking “Friends of CEO” to assist students with purchasing business attire if needed, for example.

To learn more about the Greene County CEO program as a prospective student, mentor or facilitator, visit the Linton-Stockton Chamber of Commerce website at and visit the Community Info tab. Those interested can also contact Hamilton at 812-847-4846 or Jerrels at 812-659-2109.

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