Month: August 2016

How organizations like Junior Achievement shape our communities

I am very pleased and honored to be joining the board of directors of Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan. This last school year, I started my involvement with JA in classrooms. I want to share a bit about those experiences as well as why organizations like JA are so critical to the future of our communities and our country.

First, my “on the ground” experience. I started by participating in a couple of single-day JA events in which a wide variety of different professionals speak to classrooms about their careers. The goal of these events is to expose students to folks in their own communities who have found career success in a number of different fields. These presentations help students get a clearer idea of what they’d like their own education and career path to look like. I found speaking to students to be exciting and somewhat terrifying experiences. Could I really do a good job of explaining my career in data management, a topic that most adults find difficult to understand? Interestingly, in both the high school and the elementary school events I participated in, I found that these students are actually much more able to appreciate the topic of data than most adults are. Their familiarity with how mobile devices, applications and data transfer works gives them an immediately-accessible way to understand the invisible, worldwide network of data pipelines that underpin everything we do. I was delighted by the kind, respectful students who also asked excellent questions.

I also took on the rather significant task of teaching a six-week-long, one-hour-per week class called “Our Region” to a fourth-grade class at Attwood Elementary in Lansing. It ended up being one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! The class is focused on the topic of entrepreneurship with a secondary focus on how the resources of different regions of our country contribute to the business environments of those areas. From the beginning, I was impressed with the quality of the materials for the class as well as the thought and effort that had clearly been put into developing the class. I know from my experiences teaching data management classes to adult professionals at conferences, seminars and on-site training that the first thing an instructor needs to succeed is a solid course to teach.

Then, of course, there were the students. I fell in love with each of them as I got to know them throughout my sessions. Each student was unique, beautiful and funny in his or her own way. The respect they showed me and the way that they got comfortable talking with me gave me the warmest feeling I’ve known since my last child was born. And they really enjoyed the class! They looked forward to our sessions each week and took pride in their new knowledge about creating and running a business. I have no doubt the experience will influence many of them as they continue their schooling and ultimately find their career paths. I’d like to think that I may have inspired one or two of them at least to start their own businesses someday.

Now, the bigger picture. It may be trite to say so, but children are indeed our future. And we’re not doing everything that we should be doing for them right now. We all know it. Let’s just say it. We’re letting down our most precious and loved resource. So what are we going to do about it? There’s much to do and certainly politics and policy have to be part of the solution, but what can individuals do each day, week, month or year to help us make progress on this urgent issue. We can do things like get involved in JA, that’s what! JA recognizes the gap between what is provided by the schools as they are today and what these children need to make it in the real world. Of course, there are other good organizations doing some of the same types of things, but this is the one that I’ve chosen to invest my time, money and goodwill in. If you’re inclined to do the same, please reach out to me and I’d be thrilled to talk to you about the multiple ways that you could choose to help out with JA.