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Inspiring the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Our Youth

by on August 08, 2017 5:00 AM

To some, the future is exciting and full of tremendous opportunity. For others, it is ominous and filled with fear and uncertainty. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, and myriad other technological advances are predicted to “disrupt” our traditional workplaces. According to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report, 65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created.

Regardless if you are in the glass is half full or half empty crowd, one thing is for certain: The world is changing and young people need to adapt to be prepared.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column in which I encouraged parents to consider sending their kids to academic camps in addition to sports camps. As someone who has spent a lifetime in sports, I believe strongly in the value of participating in physical activities and team competition for many reasons and am supportive of kids attending sport camps. But I also believe we are overdoing it and need a re-balancing of the amount of time, energy and money we are spending on these activities. We need a more practical approach to helping our teenagers manage their time and priorities in a changing world.

Last week I went to "camp" for a day at the seven-day wonder known as Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW) held at Penn College and Lycoming College in Williamsport. It is an annual summer program for students who have completed their sophomore or junior years of high school. To call PFEW just “a business camp” is not a fair description. It is just as much a leadership, communications and team-building camp. Most importantly, from my observations, these kids had fun while learning invaluable skills.

There were 28 students from Centre County that graduated from the PFEW program this summer. I hope this column will inspire even more to consider this investment in the future.

A few weeks ago I was introduced to Ken Snyder by good friend Carolyn Todd, a recently retired Penn State senior instructor of marketing. She sat next to Ken on a transatlantic flight and the two struck up a conversation about PFEW. Carolyn recommended that Ken and I connect as she saw some mutually beneficial outcomes as a possibility. The rest as they say is history. I now have new friends and kindred spirits in the folks at PFEW and look forward to growing my role in the organization.

Ken Snyder met me in person in the parking lot at Penn College. As soon as you meet Ken, a retired executive and consultant who is in his 28th year as a PFEW volunteer, you realize he is a rock star to these kids. As some of the students were walking over to the auditorium they were shouting his name and repeating his “Flava-K” rap lyrics. Ken knows how to connect.

Ken is an amazing person with one of the most positive outlooks on life you will ever see. He is known as “The Spice Man” – bringing people “Seasonings for the Salad of Life.”  The Spice Man’s website describes Ken in this way: “His flavor for life goes beyond the customary condiments. Blending the herbs of everyday experiences, with the spice of time.”

Ken introduced me to the PFEW staff that included Karen Musante, Michelle Warofka, Candy Tompkins and Liz Rosales. They were an impressive, experienced and incredibly enthusiastic team committed to helping young people learn about and become passionate about business.

Ken also introduced me to John Trombetta. John is the President and CEO of the nonprofit Foundation for Free Enterprise Education, described on its website as: “A statewide educational institution dedicated to teaching young adults about the private enterprise system. Now serving approximately 2,200 students each summer, our flagship program ‘Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week; (PFEW) hosts high school juniors and seniors from all 67 counties in Pennsylvania.”

John and his staff partner with statewide chambers of commerce, manufacturers' and employer associations and other business advocacy groups and receive financial support from approximately 700 businesses, foundations and civic groups. John will be retiring later this year after 29 years of sharing his vision and leadership that has positively impacted thousands of high school students.

After meeting the staff it was off to the 9 a.m. camp session. I met one of the volunteers, Nick Carter, who owns Pro Quality Cleaning in Mechanicsburg and is a PFEW company advisor each summer. He helped explain the hands-on experiences the kids learn from real business owners like him. Nick and his colleagues give up a week to volunteer to help these kids from throughout the state.

As the program began, Ken served as emcee and he helped fire up the 400 kids packed in the Penn College auditorium. He introduced a dynamic 27-year-old former financial advisor turned author and motivational speaker, Brad Killmeyer, as the first speaker.  Brad’s message of “creating the life you want” was spot on for these aspiring future business builders and he had the kids actively engaged and mesmerized with his real life examples. He also shared an electronic copy of his book “Write to Dream” with all the students. Turns out that Brad is from Pittsburgh and we have several friends in common. Can you say “networking matters?”

After the session long-time company advisor Nate Cooper, president of Philadelphia-based Komfort Heat, took me to his classroom and walked me through the competition that the students participate in during the week. The kids were in small groups working on different aspects of the company, such as product development, logistics, marketing, finance and social media. I met the "CEO" of Nate's team, Nicole Pepmeyer, a rising senior from Butler High School. She explained a little about her team's fictitious "company," Goats Coats. I asked about her future career plans and she said she plans to pursue material science and go on to get a biomedical master’s degree. But here she was attending a business camp. Smart young lady!

Ken and I jumped in his car to drive over to Lycoming College where another 400 students were gathered to hear a speaker named Ryan who Ken said would “knock my socks off.”  On our way in I met another high-energy member of the team, Scott Lee, a former business owner who is now the vice president of marketing and development for the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education. By the way, they are headquartered in Erie, former home of one Heidi Battista, my wife. Turns out Scott grew up playing baseball for Fairview High School with one of my former PSU hockey teammates Matt Glass. Small world.

Next thing I know Ryan comes walking around the corner.  We look at each other and simultaneously yell out “No way!” Ryan Newman is a 2000 graduate of Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College who I have known for more than 20 years. The look on the faces of the PFEW staff as Ryan and I gave a big hug was priceless. Ryan is an incredibly successful vice president at Goldman Sachs. He is also a proud alumnus of PFEW class of 1996.  

He delivered a passionate and inspiring talk to the audience. Ryan and his wife are also sponsors of PFEW, which shows how much he felt his life was positively impacted by his time at the camp.
At lunch Ryan introduced me to another speaker and his old college roommate, Atif Ghauri. Atif is also a 2000 graduate of Penn State and a senior VP at the Herjavec Group. Yes, he works for Robert Herjavec of “Shark Tank” fame. He is a cybersecurity industry leader and has been a speaker at PFEW for seven years

The list of the remaining speakers for the week was amazing. The quality of the volunteer company advisors was equally impressive.

Are you getting the picture hearing of the quality of the speakers and instructors that your student could interact with for an entire week? Yes, you want your son or daughter to run faster, shoot more accurately, learn new athletic skills at sports camp. How about also exposing them to the type of skills and experiences they can use for life that could more directly impact their careers?

These young adults learned a lot, developed new friendships with staff and volunteers, and bonded with their fellow students. What really stood out to me was how much fun they were having while learning real life skills and I only spent one day with them.

The world is changing. Those who are prepared will be successful. Help your kids to see the glass is half full future by considering PFEW. They could be at the head of the class of the next generation of business leaders and innovators.
For more information about the PFEW go to their website at www.pfew.org.

 



From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, Joe has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. Battista was influential in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. After a 2-year stint as VP of Hockey and Business administration for the Buffalo Sabres, “JoeBa” returned home to start “PRAGMATIC Passion”, LLC Consulting. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 &’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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