Taking learning beyond the classroom

What do Chicago-style pizza, a nine-iron, and a prison inmate have in common?

No, this isn’t the opening of a joke. All of these are elements in the education of Business Honors students at Mays Business School. This highly selective group (only 30% of applicants are accepted each year) is getting out of the classroom and into the real world for hands-on educational experiences that they aren’t likely to forget.

Co-curricular activities such as golf lessons, book clubs, business trips, and volunteer opportunities are all part of the Mays Business Honors program. Participating students take the same courses as their non-honors schoolmates, but in a smaller class size and with higher expectations from their instructors. The goal is to challenge these exceptional students to dig deeper into the subject matter and to develop leadership skills that will serve them in the business world after graduation.

Fore!

Student golfing
Mays Business Honors students recently hit the links for an introduction to golf.

The golf course can be an important setting for sales pitches and job opportunities, as it is outside the office where business people can let their guard down. However, the sport is not a popular pastime of most college students. Not wanting to miss any opportunities, Mays business honors students recently took an outing to a local golf course to receive a crash course in the finer points of golf and golf etiquette. They met with resident golf pro, Rick Kahlich, who showed them the basics of the game and talked about golfing as a window into another’s personality.

“The thing I remember the most was him telling us how quickly you can learn what type of person someone is by playing golf with them,” said Cody Robertson, a junior from Houston. “Like if they are quick to anger, or they lie and cheat. Good things to know and remember for interviewing and being interviewed alike.”

Allison Reigle, a senior accounting major from Katy, was also struck by this idea. She said she was surprised by “how much you can learn about an individual from playing one round of golf with them…you can learn whether or not you want to do business with them in a round of golf better than you could in a year… how they behave themselves, if they cheat, if they blame others, have a bad attitude, etc.”

Windy City weekend

Students in Chicago
Mays students visited a number of sites in Chicago, including the Office Max headquarters.

Mays students visited a number of sites in Chicago, including the Office Max headquarters. A group of 25 students flew to Chicago for a four-day tour, lead by Kris Morley, director of the Business Honors program. She says the purpose of the trip is to expose the students to someplace outside of Texas. “We do a really good job of talking about international business, but a lot of our students forget there’s an entire nation here outside the borders of Texas,” she said, also commenting that such trips are a great way to bolster the A&M reputation nationally.

The trip included a visit to the OfficeMax headquarters and DDB, an advertising agency, where they met with executives and toured the facilities. For fun they also attended a Blue Man Group concert, ate real Chicago-style pizza, and saw the sights of the city.

Ford, one of the biggest corporate partners of the Business Honors program at Mays, subsidized the trip so that participating students could enjoy the experience for only a fraction of the cost.

Jared Longoria, a freshman from Bryan, Texas, says that one of the most exciting things he discovered on the trip was the OfficeMax internship opportunities. He was also pleased with the level of personal attention they received. “What surprised me was the amount of effort OfficeMax put into making our trip so worthwhile,” he said. “Not only did they have senior-level managers and vice presidents give us presentations on their company, but they also arranged our trip to DDB. And most surprising of all, we met OfficeMax’s CEO Sam K. Duncan at the end of our visit!”

For Amy Wood, a junior accounting major from Portland, Texas, the trip to DDB was an eye-opener. “I, being an accounting major, was expecting an interesting visit but not thinking it would apply to me in the least,” she said. “That, however, turned out to be totally untrue. I learned about the whole advertising process, from when a company first comes to DDB to talk about creating an advertisement to how the message gets sent to the “creatives’ to come up with ads and, then, goes back to the company for approval. It’s not just creative artists who work at advertising agencies, they need good business people too.”

B-school behind bars

Student talking to inmate
Through PEP, Mays students have helped prepare inmates for the business world.

The Mays Business Honors students are the first undergrads in the nation to work with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which pairs inmates with business mentors. The program has imported volunteers from across the U.S., including MBAs from Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Rice, in addition to A&M.

Volunteers assist inmates in PEP with the creation of plans for a small business for when they leave prison. Though the business honors students are still learning the concepts themselves, they have plenty to offer to these budding entrepreneurs.

“At first I didn’t know if I could be much help to the participants of PEP,” said Bill Erickson, a junior finance major from The Woodlands, Texas. “Most of the other advisors are seasoned executives or MBAs. But once I sat down with my first participant, I realized they just needed someone to listen to them. They needed someone who could tell them about the opportunities out there. Some of these men have been in prison for ten years. The world has changed a lot since then.”

Erickson says the most memorable experience he’s had working with PEP was explaining the Internet to an inmate who had been in prison since the “70s. Answering questions like “who approves things before they go online?” and “anyone can have a website?” made him realize just how much he has to offer the PEP participants.

“If they’ve been in prison for awhile, they don’t have any idea about new technologies that are available to them,” said Erickson, who is a tech-savvy entrepreneur with his own small business. “I can really help with my current knowledge. It’s so valuable to them. The least I can do for these men is a quick Google search to help them refine their ideas.”

Erickson says he’s gaining a lot from the program, too. “These men are so passionate about their ideas,” he says. “They’re driven to succeed. They know that their first and second business may fail, but they’re going to keep trying…It’s really inspiring to me.”

In addition to meeting with the inmates to work on plans, other students are learning about the business of philanthropy, as they raise financial support for the program.

All for the kids

Other business honors students have gone back to school…elementary school, that is. Forty-two of them are currently working with Junior Achievement to teach basic business principles to second-graders in area public schools.

Liz Welsh, a sophomore from Washington, D.C., worked with students at Neal Elementary in Bryan last spring. Junior Achievement provided the curriculum and materials for her to teach two one-hour lessons each week for five weeks. She said she was nervous about it at first, not having come from an education background. “I thought they might not understand the concepts because they were so young,” she said, but she ended up finding them a very receptive audience. “At that age they’re so excited to get to have anyone new in the classroom, and it’s a break from their multiplication tables. They love it!”

Welsh said that many in the classroom were economically disadvantaged, so the idea of entrepreneurship was a new one to them. “Having someone tell them that they could start a business someday was huge…they start thinking they can do a lot more than some in their families have done,” she said. “It was awesome to give them a bigger picture of the world and where they could be in it some day.” Welsh was so inspired by her time in the classroom, she has signed up to repeat the process this spring. She is also looking into joining the Teach For America corps, which retrains professionals from all areas of study to teach elementary school in low-income areas.

Morley says that the business honors students’ involvement in Junior Achievement is great for their personal development as well as their résumés. “I like our students participating because many corporations are also involved in Junior Achievement. They like to see that the students have done it, too. It’s something that they can take with them and continue to participate in later on,” she said.

Overall, Morley says these extra opportunities for learning and service are invaluable to the students that participate. “Providing the students with these experiences helps their classroom education come alive. You can talk about corporate social responsibility but participating in things like Junior Achievement and PEP lets them make their own meaning of what that is,” she said. “All of the activities we do are about helping the students expand their horizons and consider the unconsidered.”