Young entrepreneurs are put to the test during Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week

This is part of a weekly series that highlights a grant provided by the Foundation.

Students participate in entrepreneurial activities during Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week 2011. The Centre County Community Foundation provided a grant of $2,100 so that four local teenagers could attend the program.

This summer, Chase Davis ran a corporation. He gave a presentation to stock holders. He created a marketing strategy and an advertising campaign.

This fall, he’ll start his junior year at State High.

The 16-year-old was one of about 1,400 high school juniors and seniors throughout Pennsylvania who participated in Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW), an annual summer program in its 33rdyear, that shows young Pennsylvanians how to deal with problems they would actually face as entrepreneurs. There are four 1-week sessions over the course of the summer (the last of which is happening right now). During the sessions, which take place at either Lycoming College or the Pennsylvania College of Technology, the students act as upper management for an imaginary corporation, using real financial instruments to deal with issues like inflation, market share — even unexpected disasters, like hurricanes.

Students participate in entrepreneurial activities during Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week 2011. The Centre County Community Foundation provided a grant of $2,100 so that four local teenagers could attend the program.

At the end of the week, students must demonstrate their understanding of what happened to their company, and why, during a presentation in front of a panel of judges.

“It’s a very real world model and enables them to experience the emotional ups and downs of trying to keep a business on a profitable and solvent basis,” said John J. Trombetta, President and CEO of the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education, the group behind Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week.

These activities, coupled with about half a dozen speakers a day, who talk to the students about topics ranging from finance and labor to ethics, international trade and more, take 14 to 16 hours every day.

Trombetta concedes that it’s a challenging, high-pressure week — but he says these challenges bond the students together, and give them a sense of accomplishment that they couldn’t get from sitting in a classroom.  Many students tell him it’s been the best week of their lives.

“It is an extraordinary experience for a young person,” Trombetta said. “It is an emotional journey. Typically students cry tears of joy at the banquet at the end of the week.”

Students participate in entrepreneurial activities during Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week 2011. The Centre County Community Foundation provided a grant of $2,100 so that four local teenagers could attend the program.

Trombetta said the program, which has benefited almost 30,000 Pennsylvanians throughout its existence, prepares students for the real world in a number of ways. Since all of the teaching at PFEW is done by business professionals, more than 200 over the course of this summer, students are exposed to a huge variety of potential career paths that they often have previously known little or nothing about. Students also receive a valuable opportunity to network with people who are already successful in their field.

And in a world where competition to get into college and to find a job is tougher than ever, the experience students gain at PFEW puts them a step ahead of the crowd.

But that doesn’t mean a student has to present the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education with an all-star resume to get into the program. Though the application process is extensive, Trombetta said he and his colleagues are looking at a student’s passion – not at their transcript.

“We’re looking for students who are looking to take advantage of a great opportunity. We’re looking for motivation,” Trombetta said.

100 percent of students who take part in PFEW do so through scholarships, all of which are funded through private sources, such as businesses and foundations, including the Centre County Community Foundation, which provided a grant of $2,100 to enable four local teenagers to attend this summer’s sessions.

Students participate in entrepreneurial activities during Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week 2011. The Centre County Community Foundation provided a grant of $2,100 so that four local teenagers could attend the program.

Trombetta said the dedication of the group’s donors and the high percentage of PFEW graduates who come back as volunteers demonstrate how valuable the program is to the community.

After attending Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week this summer, Chase Davis sent a thank you letter to CCCF, writing, “It means so much to me that you took your time to invest in my future…not only was PFEW a learning experience, but also a business experience, a leadership experience, and a fun experience.”

Students interested in next summer’s Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week should talk to a guidance counselor and/or check out Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week online.

-Erin

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