The business of education merged with the business of, well, business at Mount St. Mary Academy, when the Kenmore high school opened its doors to teach middle-schoolers about entrepreneurship.
About four-dozen girls from area middle schools came to the Mount on the evening of March 24 to take part in three distinct aspects of managing their own companies. In one room, teams of girls designed "The World's Best Dessert" out of Oreos, Gummi Bears and whipped cream, and had to pitch the idea to the others. In room number two, they took a simple T-shirt and created a new product using yarn, puff balls, duct tape and their imaginations. The result was a bunch of bags, a handful of headbands, and one mermaid tail. Lastly, they had a lesson in science and business management as the girls learned of the density vs. cost ratio of sugar.
The workshop was hosted by Mount St. Mary's Virtual Enterprises team and sponsored by HSBC. Virtual Enterprises is an in-school business simulation that offers project-based, collaborative learning and the development of 21st-century skills in entrepreneurship, global business, problem solving, communication, finance and technology. The students create and control a virtual business, making all the management decisions that the heads of Wal-Mart, Exxon and Apple make.
"Virtual Enterprise is a global business program that was started in Austria and has been in the United States since the mid-'90s," explained Kathleen Gielow, Northeast United States program director for Virtual Enterprises International. "Students form businesses. Throughout the entire year they're actually doing business with the other 40 countries around the world. They're buying and selling their products. Then they all meet in New York City in the beginning of April and they have a huge (fair), just like a regular business trade fair. They do all aspects of operating a business. They lease their space. They're paying their utilities. There is a virtual international bank so they can see the salary for what they're doing. They pay taxes. Everything that a regular business would do."
"Virtual Enterprises program is a wonderful program for us because it really goes into great depth for the students," said Julie Wojick, assistant principal for institutional advancement at Mount St. Mary's. "They do create a product virtually, but everything else is real - real business plan, real financials, real sales goals, real hiring, real HR function. These kids are really getting a taste for what running a business is like in a lot of different ways."
During the workshop, the girls were introduced to concepts and ideas most middle-schoolers haven't heard about yet, like marketing, pitching and budgeting. They also used familiar skills such as teamwork, communication and design. Peg Simons, a chemical and environmental engineer at Thermo Fisher Scientific on Grand Island and former Mount St. Mary science teacher, wanted the kids to have fun as they learned about the properties of sugar.
"With a half hour, I want them to have fun with it and connect with it; connect what they can do," she said. "They can make decisions, they can make art, and gain that confidence. Often times, we lose girls at the middle-school age where they begin saying, 'I can't' for science, for math, for engineering. I don't care if they understand the concept of density, but I want them to walk out of here thinking, if someone said, 'Can you do science?' They will say, 'I can.'"
The kids seemed to enjoy their experiences. How could they not with all the sugar and candy involved? These lessons will come in handy for Grace Eberl, 10, who attends St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore, she plans to take over the family business, Eberl Ironworks Inc., when she's a little older.
"I learned entrepreneurship is when you start a business and how everybody can make a difference every minute of a day," she said.
Mount St. Mary Academy has two business programs offered as part of their Academy Scholars program Virtual Enterprises, where they create a larger virtual business and SAGE, where the students form and run an actual company.