Executives teach Risen Christ students business, character

| Susan Klemond | February 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

Al Alexander, center, retired executive vice president of Alquest in Golden Valley, talks with eighth-graders Isaiah Essenburg, left, Arturo Diaz-Martinez, Imelda Arellano and Samayah Donaby at Risen Christ School in Minneapolis as part of the school's Imagine the Possibilities program, which pairs students with local business executives. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

She didn’t know it at the time, but Samayah Donaby was already learning good business practices more than four years ago when she and her two business partners each took a percentage of their lemonade stand earnings to buy more cups instead of making one person pay.

“It wasn’t like running an insurance company but it was kind of similar because we had to put our own ideas into it and decide where it was going to be and make all the business decisions with each other,” said Donaby, an eighth-grader at Risen Christ School in Minneapolis. Donaby, along with her classmates, is learning about working collaboratively in business as part of a program that pairs them with local business executives.

Risen Christ launched the Imagine the Possibilities program this fall to encourage at-risk middle school-age students to succeed academically and explore careers, said Fran Rusciano Murnane, program manager and the school’s advancement director. The K-8 Catholic school, located in the Powderhorn Park community, has 317 students, more than 90 percent of whom live at or below the poverty line.

“They come to us with a huge academic gap from the get-go,” she said. “Our job is to address that. They come to us with great deficits that don’t have to do with intelligence or values, but lack of resources.”

Finding a good mix

Risen Christ invited leaders of 10 Twin Cities companies representing a variety of fields to meet regularly with 40 eighth-graders and several seventh-graders during the school year. The businesses include construction, electrical, packaging, food production, landscape architecture, civil engineering and a clinical research organization.

“Each one is unique,” Murnane said. “There’s overlap in terms of how you run a business and how you lead and what makes a good leader and what makes good employees, but they’re all different kinds of careers.”

Paired with executives whose businesses most match their interests, students are gaining knowledge and experience, including developing bids for electrical work, creating concepts for summer jobs and helping design an interactive landscape for their neighborhood, she said.

The business leaders, many of whom have a deep faith life, have developed their own curriculum for their six meetings with students which often include field trips to their businesses, Murnane said.

“They are faith-filled people,” she said. “They want to help others. They live their lives helping others. It’s not difficult for students to ask questions and feel comfortable.”

Faith inspires volunteers

At times, using Scripture, Al Alexander said he seeks to teach Donaby and her classmates about education, character and passion as the keys to business success, while showing them what they have to offer. The retired executive vice president of Alquest, a Golden Valley-based clinical research organization and medical device regulatory consulting company, said he’s worked with youth at his church, Christ Community Church in Excelsior, and wants to give back to the community by helping kids from poor backgrounds.

Eighth-grader Arturo Diaz-Martinez is learning to set up a business as he and his group meet with Juan Ramirez, president of Grupo Avance and Marcelita’s Cookies. He said he’s been surprised at the time and preparation involved. “It helps me a lot because someday I’ll probably want to run my own business and all the stuff I learned will help,” Diaz-Martinez said.

The program is helping students to see that beyond education and planning, success in business involves treating others well, Murnane said. “They’re analyzing what it takes in our everyday lives to make things go, to look like they do, to be progressive, to be successful. They feel very strongly that the leaders listen to them and show respect.”

Alexander also has been impressed by his students. “They have very good social skills,” he said. “They listen well. They’re really learning those principles” of character and discipline.

Helping Donaby and her peers develop character is as important as showing them business practices, Alexander said. “I think the same principles you need to be successful in business are the same principles you need to be successful in life,” he said. “I hope these kids grow up to be all God made them to be.”

Tags: ,

Category: Catholic Schools Week