Giving Kids the Business

USC Marshall MBAs give schoolchildren the tools they need to be smart consumers and, perhaps, tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.
By Sean Gallagher
MBA students Robert Gelber and Patrick Wong extend the Trojan spirit to children at Charles Barrett Elementary School.

Photo/Andrew Schulman
In October, an army descended upon the 93rd Street and Charles Barrett Elementary schools in the University Park neighborhood. Its troops wore uniforms of suits, with briefcases seemingly swinging to the march of their steps. But they weren’t soldiers; they were USC Marshall School of Business students, and they were on the elementary school campuses to spread knowledge.

On Oct. 3, more than 200 full-time MBA students from the USC Marshall School entered the classrooms to become teachers as part of the annual Junior Achievement program, J.A. for a Day.

The students’ job was to educate kindergarteners through fifth-graders about the world of business. The exercise will be repeated Nov. 16 at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School with almost 90 part-time MBA.PM students.

Junior Achievement is a worldwide nonprofit that educates students about entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy through hands-on activities. The organization, which was started in 1919, reaches eight million children annually in 100 countries; in Los Angeles, Junior Achievement works closely with the USC Marshall School. This year, more than 90 percent of the first-year MBA class volunteered to participate in the one-day teach-a-thon.

“Junior Achievement is a great way for us to get in front of a class and make a difference,” said Andrew Schulman, a student philanthropy coordinator for the full-time MBA students. “Providing kids a couple of hours worth of business exposure is particularly helpful.”

Schulman, in his second year of the MBA program focusing on media business, said that the time spent with the children gives his group a new perspective on how the world works. He worked with coordinators Siobhan Pakrashi and Darren Chin, both MBA students, to organize the event.

Allison Kato, philanthropy coordinator for the MBA.PM students, along with Minh Tran, found the experience in front of the classroom to be heartwarming. Some of her fellow USC Marshall students, though, had not taught children before and explained to her that they were more “nervous speaking to kids than they are presenting at a board meeting.”

The Junior Achievement training beforehand helped abate some volunteers’ anxieties, said Kato, a second-year, MBA.PM marketing student who taught first- and second-graders the differences between consumer wants and needs.

The children quickly grasped the concepts, but sometimes allowed their desires to cloud judgment, she said. When presented with the picture of a puppy, the children shouted, “Need!” Kato said. She corrected them and explained why a new dog was a want. The students warmed up to her and after the lessons were completed, many of them asked Kato “to be their sister.”

Amanda Sattler, BS ’01, BA ’02, works as the Junior Achievement organizer for Los Angeles. She said that the USC Marshall students teach business skills to the children through a wide range of fun and intense activities. It exposes them, Sattler said, to potential future job opportunities.

“The crux is that the Marshall students who work with the elementary school students provide phenomenal role models,” Sattler said. “The program encourages inspiration no matter what career children go into.”

The teaching day started at 7 a.m., a time unheard of for many college students who were dressed, pressed and in front of their classes by 8:30 a.m. for the final ring of the morning bell. Two students taught each class until lunchtime. Sattler said that Junior Achievement provided all the students who participated with an age-appropriate lesson plan. The schools and the students, Sattler said, adored having the USC Marshall students around. “They bring a youthful energy to the classroom,” she said.

Schulman believes that the program is an excellent way for USC Marshall students to get a break in their studies, experience teaching and give back to the local community. “It is a departure from school,” he said. “Everyone, from the kids in the classroom to the business school students, seems to enjoy it.”

It is important to business school leaders to focus their philanthropy efforts on programs near the USC campus, Sattler said, which is why Junior Achievement has been returning to USC neighborhood schools for five years.

Schulman said that the program fits in with the USC mission of community involvement. Kato is excited about participating in the “J.A. for a Day” program next year because it shows the university’s strong relationship with the community.

“It’s phenomenal to see that Marshall is instilling the idea of giving back to the community and a sense of corporate social responsibility into students,” Sattler said.