Rising Seniors Collaborate on Real-World Business Solutions

Over the past month, 20 high school students from 11 schools partnered with Richmond-area companies to understand their industries and conduct research to help them achieve specific goals. Today, the students presented those six businesses and organizations with their recommended strategies and ideas.
The rising seniors were participants in the 42nd Annual Cochrane Summer Economic Institute (CSEI), a four-week immersion program that teaches students about the economy and entrepreneurship and gives them access to local professionals who welcome their feedback. CSEI is administered by Collegiate School and funded by the Powell Economic Education Foundation, with contributions from corporate sponsors and private donors.

In addition to pairing off in teams to work with the six partners — Child Savers, Dominion Energy, EAB, Richmond Raceway, Startup Virginia and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts  the students immersed themselves in the process of Design Thinking (which informed their client-centered approach); interacted routinely with their assigned organization’s employees and built strategic relationships with each other.

“We learned so much in our team collaboration, (including) how to ask for help,” said Lauren Horan, a rising senior at St. Gertrude High School, who served on the Richmond Raceway team. “It took a while for us to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and use them effectively. We grew confident in ourselves, confident in each other and confident in working in a professional setting.”

Trina Clemans, Director of the Cochrane Summer Economics Institute, who is also Collegiate’s Director of Economic and Entrepreneurship Education, found the students’ growth meaningful, as well as the opportunities they received to learn from their professional mentors.

“They got a seat at the table with some really experienced people who listened to them,” she said. “They really appreciated working on real-world problems.”
During today’s culminating presentation before an audience filled with some of the business and nonprofit leaders they collaborated with and with parents and other supporters, the CSEI participants unveiled their creative solutions to the issues their partner companies and organizations asked them to address.

The group of students assigned to EAB, where today’s program was hosted, were asked to find ways to interest high-achieving high school juniors in applying to small state universities and colleges.

The students’ suggestions included recognizing that students who are considered Gen Z (ages 4 to 22) like a personalized touch and want to have some ownership in the decisionmaking process. With that in mind, they suggested implementing an effort called “Engage,” through which the juniors themselves would lead the inquiry process and on their own determine that small colleges might be a good fit for them, or at least worth consideration.

Another team was asked by VMFA to help the museum find ways to increase engagement with Richmond’s LGBTQ and differently abled citizens. Their recommendations included creating a formal policy around the museum’s desire to “accept everyone” and to include more one-on-one interactions with staff, to ensure that all visitors feel seen, heard and welcome.

The team assigned to Child Savers, a local nonprofit that provides counseling and other supportive services to youths who are living with trauma, were charged with finding ways to help the organization expand its outpatient services.

The team members recommended creating a telehealth program, through which clients could be served by phone; expanding community awareness about the need for mental health treatment and launching a shuttle service to pick up clients who need transportation.

In addition to St. Gertrude, students participating this year represented Benedictine College Preparatory, Collegiate School, Deep Run High School, Henrico High School, Maggie Walker Governor’s School, Midlothian High School, Mills E. Godwin High School, Richmond Community High School, Salisbury School and Veritas School.

The CSEI students, who each received a $500 stipend, nominated three of their peers to receive scholarships from the Association for Corporate Growth - Richmond. For more information on CSEI, including application details for the 2020 program, visit powelledfoundation.org.
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