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Business Students Reach for Life Lessons Instead of the Books

Tim A. Becker, an adjunct business professor at the University of San Diego, lays it all out for his students right from the start.

“I tell them, ‘There are two ways of going through a class , with traditional activities or real world,’ ” he said.

Once the students make the commitment to go the real-world route, “They have to sign a document that they agree to go through this way. I am not big on whiners and gas bags.”

But, he said, no one seems to be intimidated, because all of his students opt for the real-world lessons over lectures and theories.

“They love it,” said Becker. “They like the control, and I like them to get out in the field. Most will tell me that they never worked so hard, but they’ve gotten so much out of it.”


It’s Tough Out There

Becker, who also teaches at the local University of Phoenix campus, is president of Total Recall Learning Inc., a local company that develops software learning systems. His courses at USD take students out of the classroom and into the business arena , playing to actual professionals in a variety of fields.

On May 3, a group of his students presented their mock sales presentations at USD’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, and on May 10, another group participated in a marketing trade show, Becker’s version of a final exam. They showcased their proposed products and services at booths, and delivered their pitches from a podium.

“It blew my mind,” Becker said of the quality of his students’ presentations.

His approach to taking students out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace covers a lot of ground. For instance, they are expected to create full-fledged sales plans for the target market they want to sell.

“I bring in guest speakers from various companies and contacts I have,” said Becker.

In other cases, they have to go out and critique the sales techniques of retailers. What the students realize, said Becker, is how “dreadful” some of these sales people are at pitching their products and services.

“Most retailers are out there as a data dump,” he said. “They tell about their products, but don’t ask for your business.”

Becker’s students also are expected to do “ride-alongs” with professional sales people, accompanying them to meetings and going on sales calls.

But first, the students have to convince the pros to let them tag along in the first place , another exercise in salesmanship. All told, Becker is a firm believer in field work.

“It is energizing to say the least, and opens up doors,” he said. “When my students graduate, they have a leg up on the competition. It’s tough out there.”


Stellar Students

Becker’s stellar students make up a mixed bag of ambitions, as reflected in their projects.

For instance, recent graduate Ashley Freeman decided to market the Red Bull Air Race, a touring competition, and tried to sell the attraction to the Port of San Diego.

“The idea is to get their name out there, and take more of a market share,” said Freeman, who last year actually interned for the port. “It brings tons of spectators into the city, and they fill hotel rooms and restaurants.”

But the tough part was proving that she knew what she was talking about, a crucial part of Becker’s teaching. No bluffing allowed.

“He set me up with a retired pilot,” said Freeman. “He knew exactly what I was talking about.”

She aced the project.

“It was a lot of work, but it was worth it,” said Freeman, who plans to go into international marketing. “By doing a project like that, you get a lot more experience than just listening to a lecture.”

Audra Sandy teamed with Teresa Oldofredi on a project that they consider so potentially lucrative that they declined to give details, lest the idea get pirated.

“It was twice as much work, because we had to pitch business to business, and show what the business value would be to consumers,” said Sandy. “A lot more details and analysis were required.”

The precocious 22-year-old said that she has been “managing and setting up companies” , in one way or another , for the last five years. These days, she works for a Hillcrest aesthetician , a specialist in beauty treatments , running her salon.

“I definitely have the passion and curiosity and the problem-solving logistical side to really dive in,” said Sandy. “I was able to fully dive into this project.”

While she earned a top grade, Sandy also gives Becker high marks for his teaching methods.

“This is definitely the most challenging academic project by far,” she said. “Dr. Becker is a good teacher, and gave us real-world experience. It’s very hard to know how the text of material actually applies, so this was a great opportunity.”

A business major, with a year left in school, Sandy hopes to go to Spain for her fall semester. After that, she’s considering a career as a wedding planner. How does she think she’d like dealing with all of those “bridezillas?”

“My goal would be to impress people enough with my name that I wouldn’t have to accept any bridezillas if I didn’t want to,” said Sandy.

Robert Paugh, who recently graduated with a degree in business administration, proposed for his selling project a walk-in child-care service to be placed in regional and strip malls.

“We’d prescreen the children, there would be automatic billing, and any special needs would already be documented for the children,” said Paugh, who also serves in the Marine Corps. “It would be simple for parents. We’re also thinking about having one next to military bases, so that parents, while they’re deployed, or a single parent, would have that resource.”

For Paugh, this was more than an academic plan.

“We are looking to do one within six months to a year, try it out and see if it takes off for us,” he said. “The first one would be in Oceanside.”

With a couple of years left to serve, Paugh said that his wife Tiffany and some friends would be running the operation until he could join them.

“Our long-term goal would be to franchise it out,” said Paugh. “We’d like to open one once a year in a new location. But that’s a hefty goal for us. It would depend on financing.”

Like his fellow entrepreneurial students, Paugh lauds Becker’s course.

“The biggest thing that I got was feedback from my peers,” he said. “You gain a lot more from experience than book knowledge. That’s important, too, but when you are doing it yourself, you gain more and it sticks with you for years.”

Ryan Hatch, who participated in Becker’s marketing trade show May 10, pitched his concept for Recycled Friendly Enterprises. Hatch and his team , Jenny Winger, Austin McGuff and Daniel Magnass , had to pitch “potential investors” made up of actual business pros from the community.

“The concept is that a lot of large-scale companies like SeaWorld, the Hilton, and universities, produce a lot of recycling, but it might not be cost-effective to operate an internal recycling operation,” said Hatch, who’s going into his senior year.

His challenge was to clinch a hypothetical $500,000 business loan to buy trucks and 800 recycling receptacles to be placed with his business accounts throughout San Diego.

“In return for the companies allowing us to collect, we would provide a recycling-friendly certification, which would spin them off as being an environmentally conscious company,” he said. “They could use our logo, and gain access and advertising through our company as a certified company.”

Hatch considers Becker’s class to be “inspiring,” repeating his teacher’s mantra to focus on “what people can’t do, won’t do, or will pay you to do for them.”

“His approach to education is not cut out for everybody,” said Hatch. “You have to be able to fly by the seat of your pants. You have to be able to develop ideas. This is very much like a real business setting, and you don’t get that in very many classes.”

Cecilia Zavala, who’s going into her senior year, decided to focus her marketing project on improved campus security, in light of the high-profile incidents that have taken place at schools in the past few years, including the recent shootings at Virginia Tech.

Her approach would be to give security personnel special training in anti-terrorism, control management, and how to prevent incidents without using violence, she said.

“We want the universities to start doing something about this,” said Zavala. “We are getting worried something can happen. At USD, we don’t think the police could control a situation like that.”

Zavala considers Becker to be “very creative.”

“He will let us do more stuff, and we are learning in a different way,” she said. “Every other professor says, ‘Do this and do that.’ He doesn’t give us so many guidelines, but he does help us a lot. He has given us insight into the real world.”

On Sept. 24, the Fermanian Business Center at Point Loma Nazarene University will host its first Entrepreneur Enrichment Program exposition, where 13 individual and team plans will be presented , both orally and visually , to business review teams, faculty and supporters of EEP.

During the expo, the teams will evaluate the projects, and determine which of them will move on to the next level in the coming academic year.

According to Randy M. Ataide, the business center’s director, the exposition is intended to give all student applicants the opportunity to bring their plans to life, using a bag full of entrepreneurial tools, such as product samples, mock-ups and renditions, video presentations, financial presentations, and marketing approaches, all designed to help them present and pitch their prospective colleagues, investors and peers.

“The exposition will be the first critical step in building personal relationships between the student applicants and business review team members, which furthers the primary collaborative objectives of the EEP,” he said.

The plans were created by 19 students, representing seven different majors of the university, including two from its MBA program. On May 1, 2008, EEP will host a banquet, where the business review teams will evaluate the students’ past eight months of work. This will be followed by awards and seed money grants.

Ataide is himself an entrepreneur and co-owner, president and managing member of Mountain View Fruit Sales Inc., and related ventures, in Fresno. A graduate of San Joaquin College of Law, Ataide also graduated from the Owners/Presidents Management program at Harvard Business School in 2006. All of this spurred his interest in the practical application of a business education.

“I wanted to shape young business leaders,” he said.

Ataide said that he is impressed by the breadth of the students’ projects.

“Plans range from very simple, fairly ordinary retail products, to some very ambitious ideas, involving real estate development and the creation of nonprofit service centers in an international context,” said Ataide.

Point Loma Nazarene University students have a certain level of sophistication about the world, he said. Some have studied abroad and came back with ideas designed to serve the needs of third-world countries, from clean water to transportation, said Ataide. Other students bring with them solid professional credentials that belie their young years.

“I am surprised at the number of students who have real estate licenses, who are selling life insurance, and other financial products, or working on real estate appraisal certifications,” he said.


The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Jane Schmitz, who will be earning an MBA in 2008 at Point Loma Nazarene, also has a day job as a school-to-career teacher at Scripps Ranch High School, focusing on hospitality and tourism, and placing students in internships at hotels, restaurants and theme parks.

“The focus is to get kids out into the workplace,” she explained. “I teach them how to write a resume, a cover letter, how to behave in an interview and how to dress.”

Schmitz also wants to keep them in school, and this served as the inspiration of her EEP project , to design an academy of entrepreneurship for high-school students.

“I was inspired when I went to a teacher conference in Detroit last summer and I heard statistics that 3,000 students a day are dropping out across the United States, and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there must be something we can do to motivate students to stay in school.’ ”

Schmitz is an entrepreneur herself, having run a restaurant, bakery, tea room and catering company in La Mesa for years.

“The students were interested in learning how to get a business off the ground,” said Schmitz. “Something clicked in my head. My dream would be to have a free-standing academy on its own, or one that is placed in a school that is already going. It could work well both ways. We have to hook them on something they will get excited about and keep them in school.”

Ataide, one of her first professors, taught her about contemporary management.

“I adore Randy,” said Schmitz. “He is awesome. I am learning so much at Point Loma Nazarene. They really care about you, and there is such a diverse background. Students all come from different walks of life, different experiences that they bring to the table.”

John Miles, who recently graduated from PLNU and is now saving up for law school tuition, said that he learned one valuable lesson from his business classes , that “the entrepreneurial spirit is the driving force of the American economy.”

This is why the EEP program appealed to him.

“It was so neat to be around the buzz of the new program,” said Miles. “I think the situation that most find themselves in as young adults is having business ideas, but not having an avenue for it to play out. The EEP program at PLNU has definitely been a catalyst to this oh-so-important entrepreneurial spirit.”

Miles’ eventual goal is more altruistic than materialistic.

“The only thing that I know for sure is that I want to be heavily involved in supporting orphanages in Central America and Africa,” he said. “With my job, I want to do something that I can do on my own, and that will give me a vocation and skill set that well equips me to help out Christian Ministries and humanitarian nonprofit organizations in services, more than just financial support.”


Free Enterprise

The Fermanian Business Center also supports a number of student clubs, including Students in Free Enterprise, known as SIFE, now led by Stephen Haskell, who just finished his junior year. Studying abroad and interning with an economic development firm in Nicaragua last year, Haskell returned to school to find SIFE “falling apart.”

“No one wanted to take leadership, so I took it on by myself,” he said. “I wanted to go into the high schools, start businesses, bring in business leaders, inspire the students, and open up their eyes to the opportunities to achieve goals they have, and give them new goals.”

To accomplish this, Haskell recruited some of his fellow students and teamed up with nonprofit Junior Achievement whose mission is to train youngsters to find success in the free-enterprise system.

“We used their models, with some minor adjustments,” said Haskell. “We targeted low-income, inner-city classes, with lots of diversity, and are college-bound.”

His team narrowed the schools down to four classrooms at Kearny and Crawford high schools, picked leaders and teams for different “company” positions, such as marketing, public relations, human resources and finance. Their entrepreneurial charges were expected to create business plans that not only promoted a product or service, but also explained how they intended to contribute to their communities.

In February, SIFE and JA hosted a convention at the business center, where guests heard lectures from the faculty, and participated in sessions with topics, ranging from ethics training to financial consulting, to creating and executing a business plan. The high-school students had the opportunity to network with local business people from such fields as marketing, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.

The student projects recently were judged by Haskell and other members of SIFE; JA representatives; Ataide; and business center Manager Cathy L. Gallagher. One of the Crawford classes was declared the winner, and later will be feted with SeaWorld passes and a party. The students also plan to launch their business, making special-event buttons, said Haskell.

The young entrepreneurs even sold stock to launch the business, said Haskell, but got a bad break when the $200 was stolen. Instead of taking the easy way out and accepting a handout, they decided to raise the money back themselves.

“Their consultant told them that it was important to learn how to overcome adversity, which is part of running a business,” he said.

The other students in the SIFE pilot program also might decide to go ahead with their business plans as well, said Haskell, who hopes to expand the program next year.

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