Many high school students kick off the summer months by working part-time jobs, spending time with friends or relaxing by the pool. But for local high school students attending the Financial Futures Youth Institute, those first weeks of summer were the time to get down to business. Literally.
The Financial Futures Youth Institute gives female and minority students an opportunity to learn about business before they head to college. Students apply for the program, which is offered by the Undergraduate Business Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler and sponsored by Wells Fargo and the Financial Futures Foundation each June.
The program aims to reach high school students who might not be aware of business as an area of study, says Leslie Melton, UNC Kenan-Flagler admissions and recruitment manager. “We see this as a recruitment tool.”
Students learn business theory from world-renowned faculty at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Session topics include marketing, finance, strategy, presentations skills and ethics. Students apply that theory to solve a business case during the week.
This year’s case study on Starbucks included an on-site visit with a company representative. Students worked in groups and focused on the importance of effective team work. The first week culminated in a final presentation of the business case by each student group.
“We were blown away by the caliber of the final presentations,” said Anna Millar, senior associate director of the Undergraduate Business Program.
Sakile Trowers, a rising senior at Hillside High School in Durham, was project leader for her business case group. The experience gave her insights on how she can serve as president of her high school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America. “The case was fun and eye-opening,” she said. “It made you feel as if you were really working in the industry.”
Students visited the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Jackson Hall to learn about the process of applying for college. UNC Undergraduate Admissions Ambassadors gave them a tour. They also learned about personal and professional development from career services staff.
“Financial Futures helps educate students about business at a much earlier age,” Millar said. “We give them career advice in terms of what you can do with a business degree.”
Students use that advice during the second week, which they spend shadowing executives at various organizations. Stephanie Bui, a UNC sophomore, participated in Financial Futures in June 2011, and shadowed executives at two companies. Financial Futures helped her begin to consider what to pursue as a career, she said. “There was a lot of emphasis on professionalism. As a high school student, you don’t really think about what you’re going to do career-wise yet.”
Trowers learned about career possibilities and now feels certain that she wants to pursue something related to business. “A lot of the exposure that we got is really a huge advantage and puts you ahead because you’ve actually had insight on what these career paths look like,” she said.
Financial Futures Institute emphasizes the importance of bringing a diverse and well-rounded undergraduate business class to UNC Kenan-Flagler. Students shadow executives at diverse companies, hear from diverse voices and learn that diversity is strongly embraced by recruiters, Millar said. “Business can just be a really great field for many people.”
Students value the diversity in their classroom sessions, too, Melton said. “It’s nice because it leads to deeper conversations and better outcomes.”
Similar programs would cost participants thousands of dollars, but Financial Futures is free, Millar said. “That’s another thing that’s amazing,” she said. “The purpose is really to make it more accessible to all.”
The institute concludes with an awards ceremony to which students’ parents are invited to attend. This year, Wells Fargo gave away $25,000 in college scholarships. At the end of this year’s program, 95 percent of the student participants said they would recommend it and strongly agreed that it was a valuable use of their time.
Melton says her conversations with students show that the program is having the right impact. “I see proof of its value because I’ve already had five students respond to me with emails hoping to keep in touch as far as networking and what they can be doing over the summer,” she said.
Bui said that lessons she learned in Financial Futures are still relevant today in her UNC classes, and the program gave her an opportunity to gain real-world experiences. “Financial Futures was actually the program that made me decide that I wanted to do business in college,” Bui said. “It was one of my favorite things I’ve done so far.”
The experience taught her about herself and developed her leadership skills, said Towers, who believes that those skills are what helped her win a $5,000 scholarship at the end of the program.
“I really learned at Financial Futures to not be afraid to stand out,” she said. “I just really enjoyed it and am happy that I got the opportunity to engage in Financial Futures.”
Millar says that, above all, the Financial Futures Institute wants to continue to expose as many students as possible to opportunities in business.
“We hope to see more applicants every year,” she said. “We’re really seeing lives transformed from this program.”