Camp B-School

Summer camps that focus on financial skills are designed to introduce high school students to the potential thrills of a business career.
Camp B-School

Summer camp at the University of Colorado at Boulder isn’t about soccer and swimming. High school students who attend the Business Leadership Program research a local company, solve a business problem for the firm, design a mock print ad, and make a video of a sample commercial as they compete in an advertising campaign competition. If their project is judged the best, they don’t win a trophy; they win a scholarship to the Leeds School of Business.

Like Leeds, a number of business schools are devising summer camps designed to get teenagers excited about the possibilities of a career in business. Camps can range from a one-week on-campus experience for students who come from hundreds of miles away to a summerlong commuter program for local teens. All administrators have the same goals: to show rising juniors and seniors how important it is to pursue post-secondary education, whether or not they choose careers in business.

“At our school, the idea is to get students interested in entrepreneurship as a career path,” says Steve Mueller, assistant professor in the management department at the M.J. Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “It’s a choice. ‘I want to be a doctor. I want to be a lawyer. Or I want to be an entrepreneur!’ The earlier you get them thinking about this choice, the better chance they’ll have to be successful.”

According to Aswad Allen, director of diversity affairs at the Leeds school, his No. 1 priority for summer camp is to teach high school students that “college is not an option, it’s a necessity.” In addition, he says, “I want students to consider how acquiring business skills can improve their knowledge, which improves their power to make informed decisions and create better opportunities for themselves.”

By the time students have finished camp, Allen says, “I want them to understand how money works and how it can work for them. I want them to understand research skills and glimpse how they might be used in the next level in higher education. I want them to recognize that there is relevance in business for all people. And I really, really want them to know that they can have fun doing this.”

Of course, Aswad and other camp directors have yet another goal: They want students to have such good memories of summer camp that they seriously consider enrolling in the school that sponsored it.

Student Search

The first hurdle camp directors must clear is finding the right students to fill their summer programs. Most use a combination of direct marketing and personal appearances to find high school students who might be interested in business camp. At TCU, the business camp is open to all high school students in Texas; therefore, the school sends recruiting posters to all the high school counselors in the state, says David Minor, TCU’s William M. Dickey Entrepreneur in Residence and the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The Leeds camp, a statewide program designed to attract minorities, is publicized through mass mailings to more than 400 schools across Colorado. Allen also makes personal visits to as many high schools as is feasible to promote the program. Since the money to fund these visits is limited, says Allen, “we have to be very strategic. This year we’re shifting away from visiting the schools where we already have strong relationships, because I believe we will get applicants from these schools. Now we’re looking at other schools where we don’t have strong ties but where I think we might see good results.”

To some extent, this means changing the focus from suburban schools to metropolitan schools. Although the goal of his program is to reach minority students, many of whom are in the inner cities, Allen wants rural students and students with international experience as well. He says, “I do want to attract underrepresented minority students, but I want them to get into a program that is rich and broad in scope. While the program is called the Minority Business Leadership Program, I promote it as a business leadership program out of the office of diversity affairs. My philosophy is to be more inclusive in our outreach efforts.”

Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, holds an E-Commerce Summer Camp that is decidedly local, as it concentrates on interesting inner-city kids in IT-oriented business. To recruit students, the school relies heavily on members of the steering committee who work at or have close ties to the urban schools. “We tell them what kinds of kids we’re looking for, and we emphasize that they have to be willing to make a commitment to the ten weeks of the camp,” says associate dean Thomas Anderson, who runs the program. After the school reps identify promising candidates, Anderson meets with them and their parents to discuss the demands and benefits of the program.

By contrast, word of mouth is the most effective method used to promote the Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs, which have been held for about ten years and are well-known throughout the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. Founder Julian Krinsky conducts business camps for The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University, and Haverford College, and he expects the schools to market the programs as much as he does. He has found that one extremely successful advertising vehicle is the Internet. Information posted on Krinksy’s and the schools’ Web sites draws the attention of high school students looking ahead to college careers. Because of the international reach of such sites, the programs have successfully drawn participants from as far away as Venezuela, France, and Hong Kong.

“We tend to get the fast-track students, the HIGH ACHIEVERS. Part of our criteria for selection is to find those who have expressed specific interest in ENTREPRENEURSHIP or owning their own businesses.” —Steve Mueller, TCU’s Neeley School of Business

Backed by Business

While finding the right students is essential, finding the money to pay for the camps is also a critical job. The camps at Leeds, Wayne State, and Neeley are all free to the participating students. The schools look to corporate sponsors to help pay for teachers, field trips, and room and board—and the college scholarships that are offered to some students who complete the camp program.

The first two years of TCU’s business camp were funded by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, which sponsored EntrePrep camps all over the country. When Kauffman’s funding strategies changed, TCU took over the cost of running the program; it is now looking for more corporate sponsorship.

Originally funded by one backer, the Colorado program now enjoys multiple corporate sponsorships from companies such as Key Equipment Finance, which committed $75,000 to the program for a three-year period. Other companies, such as IBM, State Farm, Accenture, Level 3 Communications, and Sun Microsystems, have also served as corporate sponsors. “We get a little from a lot of companies to reach our operating budget,” says Allen.

The Wayne State program is entirely funded by outside sponsors. The first year, Anderson had about $40,000 in seed money from a Ford Motor Company grant. SBC Communications and Compuware have also become major donors. In addition, local companies participate in the camp by offering internships to the high school students, who work part-time during the first six weeks of the program and fulltime during their last four weeks. Companies that have offered internships through the camp include Ford, Budco, Crain Communications, the Detroit Free Press, the city of Detroit, the university, and smaller high-tech firms.

“The assumption I made was that if we could give them this TOOL, the computer system with Internet access, they would be no different from any other kid who had the tool. Then the playing field would be LEVELED between these kids and the kids growing up in suburbia.” —Thomas Anderson, Wayne State University

Anderson is forthright when he approaches businesses to ask them to offer internships, explaining what skills the students have and don’t have. He also emphasizes that the company’s financial commitment is not extreme—about $2,400 per student. The kids are paid $7.50 per hour for a maximum of 280 hours; the companies also must pay a mandatory payroll tax, but no benefits.

The donations to Wayne State also pay for the school’s parting gift to the participating students: a high-grade personal computer and access to the university’s dial-up service. Anderson feels that these computers are a vital part of the program, particularly since most of his participants are inner-city kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who can’t afford such items on their own.

“The assumption I made was that if we could give them this tool, the computer system with Internet access, they would be no different from any other kid who had the tool,” Anderson says. “Then the playing field would be leveled between these kids and the kids growing up in suburbia.”

In addition to paying for room, board, administrative expenses, and computers, the corporate donations often also cover scholarship costs. At Colorado, students end the week with a business plan competition. They are told beforehand that each member of the winning team will receive a $1,000 scholarship to attend the Leeds School of Business. In truth, any program participant who decides to attend Leeds will be given an identical scholarship.

“We don’t tell them that at the beginning, because we want them to do the work, do the research, and do their best when they are competing,” says Allen. “At the end, we tell them that because everyone has done such a great job, we’re going to award a scholarship to everyone who decides to come to the business school.” Similarly, TCU offers $1,000 scholarships to all the students who complete the program and decide to come to the school.

College Connection

Most of these administrators have found that one of the best ways to keep high school kids interested in the business program is to staff the camp with college-age students who are already enrolled in business school. For instance, at Krinsky’s camps, student mentors from the host universities provide guidance for the high school students. “I usually select students who were in the program before to be mentors,” says Krinsky. “They help the kids design business plans, work on the computers, and learn PowerPoint.”

At Wayne State, Anderson has relied on current business school students to teach technical classes, act as administrative assistants, and provide overall support. The teachers and assistants are paid, but students from the Association of Black Business Students volunteer their time to smooth the way for campers.

“I’m a 58-year-old white male, so I’m not sure I’m the guy who is going to naturally connect with 16- and 17-yearolds from the minority community,” says Anderson. “I thought that if the kids could talk to people who were four to five years older than they were, who had walked in their shoes, that would help them feel confident about going off to the university and pursuing an education.”

At Leeds, Allen also employs business school students to act as paid counselors for the high school kids. This year, Allen interviewed past graduates of the leadership program who are now attending school at CU—whether or not they’re in the business program—and they recommended others to join the counseling teams. “These counselors also help us with high schools visits,” Allen says. “They go back to their own high schools as well as to other schools. We try to partner them up so they have a good balance of energy and responsibility.”

Allen believes it’s also key to let high school students know that they can expect continuing support if they do decide to enroll in business school. Thus he makes sure they know about the Diverse Scholars Program, which offers tutorial programs and advice specifically to business students. “We believe that if we can guarantee them academic support and an academic neighborhood that will help them transition into college life, they will be more successful their first year,” he says.

Measuring Success

Naturally, one of the goals of the summer camp is to convert high school seniors into college freshmen—at the host university. These four programs all succeed at this goal with varying levels of success.

For instance, at Krinksy’s business camps, the participants are high achievers who have met tough standards just to be admitted to the competitive programs. Wharton might get 300 summer camp applicants per year and only admit 60. Tuition for all the Krinsky camps is roughly $1,000 per week, and each school offers only a handful of scholarships. Thus, the students who enroll in the camps are already fairly committed to business education, and the schools are fairly committed to the students. “Two-thirds will go on to college at the school where they’ve been to camp,” says Krinsky. “The schools have done the selection process already. They want these kids.”

The odds aren’t quite as good for other programs, particularly those focusing on minorities. Last year, about 30 percent of the students in the Business Leadership Program decided to enroll at Leeds. The numbers were closer to 20 percent at TCU.

“Two-thirds will go on to college at the school where they’ve been to camp. The schools have done the SELECTION process already. They want these kids.” —Julian Krinsky, Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs

At Wayne State, Anderson has been looking more broadly at how successful his program has been at keeping the students in school, period. He notes that everyone who completed camp in the first two years of the program is either still in high school or has gone on to some kind of post-secondary education, which might include technical training in the military. “It’s way too soon to know how many will continue on with their studies and get a bachelor’s degree, but so far I like what I’m seeing,” he says.

All these administrators believe that their programs can be counted as successes even if the participants don’t enroll in business school—as long as the students graduate having learned valuable lessons.

TCU’s Mueller wants kids to leave the program understanding just how much work it requires to be a successful entrepreneur. “I want them to know how much time they’ll need to spend, and what it takes to raise enough money. I want to offer the caveats that make them say, ‘Hey, this isn’t easy.’ I want them to understand what they need to do next to get from here to there. They need to graduate from high school, go to college, maybe go to business school, maybe go to engineering school or law school. They need to realize that being an entrepreneur takes time and patience.”

Says Anderson, “I want the kids in our program to feel good about themselves and feel proud of whatever choices they make. At the end of the day, we all know that access to information is enhanced if you have education. Access to a better standard of living is enhanced if you have education.”

As all business school administrators know, one of the keys to continuing success is keeping the pipeline of applicants full. Summer camp provides an excellent way for schools to interest teenagers in business—and to give them an extremely positive introduction to a particular school’s campus and facilities. Once high schoolers see how intriguing business can be, they’re more likely to consider b-school their first and best option.