Program for future careers

Goal: The Academy of Finance being used in some high schools aims to put students on the road to business success.

April 02, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Seventeen-year-old Valerie Buxton hopes to own her own restaurant some day.

Rather than waiting until college to learn about running a business, Valerie is preparing for her future career as a Howard High School junior. She is one of about 80 county students who participate in the Academy of Finance (AOF).

Several years ago, Howard High Principal Mary Day learned about the Academy of Finance and suggested that it be brought to local schools. The program, sponsored by the not-for-profit National Academy Foundation, seeks to prepare students for career success. Howard and River Hill high schools have offered the course of study for three years.

Last week, AOF students attended a Career Development Student Conference at the University of Phoenix campus in Columbia. Fifty teen-agers practiced interview techniques and attended career and finance-related seminars.

"This is a real conference with real business people," Day said. Interacting with "real business people makes all the difference in the world."

About 30 professionals from local businesses were presenters and interviewed students. "The community support is just fantastic," Day said.

Steve Lee of the Howard County-based Lee Financial Group is on the local AOF advisory board. "I think it's an incredibly valuable program that the high schools are making available to the high school students," he said.

One classroom was reserved for mock interviews. Teens, many in business attire, sat across from professionals. The adults asked them about their achievements, personality traits and what would make them valuable employees.

AOF students are required to do a summer internship at a "mentor company." The mock interviews help prepare juniors who will be interviewed for the internships this school year.

Valerie said the interviews were somewhat intimidating and that she felt "a little nervous because I haven't had interview before." But, she said, "I did well in presenting myself."

Casey Crouse, director of AOF for the public schools, said this was a first interview experience for many students. "We don't want to make any assumptions that students are aware of business etiquette," she said.

Lee, who was one of the interviewers, said, "We're just looking to make sure that they present themselves well."

Besides the mock interviews, students attended seminars on such topics as marketing strategies, starting a business and improving personal finances.

"It has opened a door to students to explore the world of finance," Day said. "It has helped them focus on career possibilities."

The principal said participating in the academy helps teens decide whether a career in finance is for them. Usually, it is. "When they finish the program we have not lost them," Day said. "The interest is still there."

Scott Pfeifer, principal of River Hill, said, "It breathes new life into traditional business education. It provides a focus."

Students take high-level business courses such as accounting, securities and insurance and international finance.

Maddy Bencivenga is program coordinator at Howard High. In the classroom, her students did an international business project, researching a country as if they were starting a business there. "They floored me with the quality of their research, what they comprehended and the businesses they created," Bencivenga said.

Crouse said, "Participation in the Academy of Finance makes students perform at an elevated level because, especially in junior year, it has become very competitive."

She said the children know which internships pay well and which ones give the most hands-on experience. "They're learning that it may not always be about the money," Crouse said.

Neikelle Moore, a senior at River Hill, interned at a financial group last summer. "It was actually quite beneficial," she said. "It was a well-rounded internship. I worked in five ... departments. The Academy of Finance facilitates everything that I need ... networking opportunities to get where I need to get."

In addition to business electives at their high school and the summer internships, participants must take one college-level business course.

"The program is a very holistic approach," Day said. "It gives them all the pieces they need for their post-secondary life."

"It actually has prepared me for a better future," said Valerie.

Information: www.naf.org.

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