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Getting the CEO Experience: Students and business leaders come together for conference

A process that began in October for the 40 Effingham County high school students enrolled in the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program came to fruition Wednesday with a daylong business conference that drew an estimated 500 people.

CEO student Kaleb Whitt, a senior at Altamont High School, said the business conference was to better the community.

“This is what we do daily in the CEO program. We hear speakers and we leave inspired and we always learn a lot,” said Whitt.

The CEO program, now in its 10th year and expanding across the U.S., is solely funded by business investors who mentor and support young people wanting to start their own businesses. A total of 282 high schoolers have gone through the program to date.

Aly Armstrong, a senior at EHS, said organizing the conference is part of the learning experience as a CEO student. She intends to study business in college and said her time as a CEO student has been beneficial for her future plans.

“We broke into separate committees and took charge of different areas, such as venue, registration, speakers, sponsorships and things like that in order to organize the event,” said Armstrong.

Kourtney Cordes, a senior at EHS, said the conference is geared to allow students to hear speakers who will share their experiences in the business world.

“It is a great opportunity and great experience,” said Cordes. “I was on the venue team and helped coordinate the contract with Keller Convention Center.”

Claire Gardner, a senior at Beecher City High School, said she and fellow student Patrick Tkachuk, a senior at Altamont High School, worked on the financial side of what goes into holding the conference.

“We worked together on making sure how much we were going to make and getting sponsorships too,” said Gardner. 

Cairra Leasher, a senior at EHS, said bringing all of the ideas together into one big event has been exciting.

“It's really transforming to bring just an idea and put it all together into this big event. It has been really amazing,” said Leasher.

Ron Mietzner, CEO ambassador, said he has helped several students along the way as the students work through the planning stages during the past several months.

“He's our 'go to' guy,” said Leasher. “We go to the ambassadors with ideas and they tell us whether it is a good idea or if changes need to be made.”

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at or 217-347-7151, ext. 138

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