Business institute hosts high-achieving students

by Kane Loukas

Their SAT scores make high school teachers giddy. The best colleges will court them. Corporations will pay them richly. And for the past two weeks, they’ve been at the University working and studying like the driven overachievers that they are.
Thirty-two gifted high school students of color are in the final week of a month-long business institute hosted in part by the Carlson School of Management. The institute, called Leadership, Education and Development, pairs the 16- and 17-year-old students with local companies like 3M, Norwest and General Mills, acquainting them with the ins and outs of a variety of industries.
The University and the companies sponsoring the estimated $100,000 program anticipate that the students will go on to pursue business in their academic and professional careers. With the help of the students, corporations hope to eventually boost the number of minorities working in managerial and executive business positions.
Many of the students are of African-American or Latin American descent and have traveled to the University from across the United States.
“A lot of these kids are rich,” said ReneÇ Gokey, 20, a LEAD program alumna and a counselor for this year’s group. “A lot of these kids go to private schools, but then there are lot of them who don’t. It’s a good mix of kids from all over.”
Invited primarily because of their PSAT or SAT scores — participants averaged 1,200 points out of a possible 1,600 on the SAT — the students are spending July in a crash-course business boot camp of sorts.
“We start by showing them that this is not a summer camp. You’re here to work and learn,” said Gerald Rinehart, director of undergraduate programs at the management school.
Rinehart kicked off the program with a 12-hour per day consultant training activity at Minneapolis-based Andersen Consulting. With the assistance of consultants, company trainers and a computer-simulated printing plant, the high schoolers learned months worth of problem solving techniques in five days.
One part of the curriculum consists of faculty presentations on finance, management and marketing, the latter being the students’ most time consuming subject. Professionals from the local business community such as Dave Anderson of Famous Dave’s BBQ and a consumer researcher at General Mills offer additional seminars. Students also visit companies where they get first-hand exposure to places like Norwest’s mortgage department and the offices where 3M develops their marketing plans.
True to the program’s goal, the aspiring business people are catching on to subjects they hadn’t earlier considered or touched on in their normal high school course work.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” said Aaron Marsh, an African-American student from Pine Bluff, Ark. “Now I know what to do to do it.”
With an ACT score of 25 out of a possible 36, Marsh wasn’t immediately chosen to be part of the program. Marsh said he thanks God and considers himself blessed for being admitted to the LEAD program.
“People have constantly been telling me that the sky’s the limit,” Marsh said while sitting on a curb outside the Sabathani Community center in South Minneapolis. He said he’s confident his participation in the program and his contact with companies will pay off through future internships and jobs.
But Marsh shouldn’t be too confident. While LEAD alumni agree the programs are great networking and learning experiences, the institute isn’t proving to be a magic carpet into the world of ivy league schools and corporate corner offices.
The program is most advantageous for those looking for admittance to one of the top 12 business schools such as Columbia University, Dartmouth College or the University of Minnesota, all of which host a summer LEAD program.
For students looking to matriculate elsewhere, the program is just another activity on their college applications.
“Some of the schools who had sponsored it knew what it was and they were like, ‘Great.’ But some didn’t know what it was and it didn’t help much,” said Matt Flores, a LEAD alumnus and CSOM senior.
The program might have the most practical payoffs for the participating colleges that for a month get to woo the nation’s brightest kids. The sponsoring companies also have a rare chance to give a recruiting pitch to a captive audience of top achievers.
“They really hope we’ll come back and work for them,” said Gokey. Job fairs, internship databases and a password-guarded on-line resume list offer sponsoring companies exclusive access to LEAD alumni.
Even so, the students aren’t all about business.
Jeff Garza, 16, snickered when it was suggested that he and the other students talk about banking or the stock market when they return to their rooms in Middlebrook Hall. “It’s a lot of gossip and stuff, like who likes who,” he said.
One of the more rewarding parts of the institute, noted Garza, is the diversity, something his high school lacks. “There are a lot more people you can relate to,” he said. “You can relate on different levels and that’s really nice.”