A new glistening glass award etched with the words “first runner-up” now sits on business professor Dr. Al Socci’s desk. The award is the product of two semesters of work done by Eastern’s new chapter of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE).
Sadly, the club lost to the following three first-placers in their league of six colleges: Philadelphia Biblical University, Allentown Business School (Lehigh Valley) and Penn State Abington. Still, after being in existence for only a year, the chapter was happy to have received any recognition at all.
“We could not have done better,” said senior and vice president Christin Klaassen. “We felt like we accomplished a lot.”
For the competition, a representative group of SIFE students made a presentation of their year’s accomplishments at the competition held at the Valley Forge Hilton on April 12.
The presentation included a formal verbal explanation, illustrative pamphlets and the use of PowerPoint (featuring an imitation satellite interview with senior and club president Lisa Soares). Socci, SIFE advisor, said he was proud of his students, but disappointed with the judges’ decision. “I think we deserved better,” Socci said, then added, “but that’s not the main reason why we do it.”
The true “main reason” for SIFE’s projects is, according to the SIFE statement of purpose, “to empower their targeted audiences to reach their full potential through a better understanding of the principles of free enterprise.”
Eastern’s SIFE chapter sought to accomplish this primarily through what they call the “Bluford project.” Every Friday for the past semester, SIFE (currently comprised solely of business majors) has been visiting Bluford Elementary School in West Philly to teach in an after-school program.
Time is spent sharing games, snacks and 15 minutes of lessons in business tactics and entrepreneurship with the same group of about 15 students who were hand-picked by teachers to take part in the program.
On March 19, SIFE took the students to ACME in Wayne and to Walton patio to sell ceramic ornaments they had made and practice their learned business skills.
Junior David Groleau, the SIFE chapter’s director of public relations, was surprised at how well the young sales students made out, especially considering what they had to sell.
“[The crafts] were really horrifying,” Groleau said, adding that the Bluford students thought so too. “We can’t believe we sold any.”
“Any” turned out to be $200 worth, all of which will be given back to the elementary school or community in accordance with the students’ vote.
There was more than money to prove the productivity of the project. SIFE members were excited to watch the students apply what they had learned.
“I saw them getting a new grasp on ideas, being able to believe dreams about owning a store and moving outside of their small world more possible,” Klaassen said. “You could see at the end they got it. They thought it was possible.”
“They were good salesmen and women. They used their business skills,” he said.
Soares called the project a “beneficial experience on both ends. You leave with a sense of empowerment that you’ve touched someone else’s life,” she said.
The Bluford project is not the only work that Eastern’s SIFE has been digging into. The club also has four others in the works, including an ethics seminar which will be hosted in the campus auditorium on April 26.
Training for all of these projects comes through a two-part class, Integration Practices (BUSA 491-492) started this year by business professors, to teach 15 specially selected students to apply all the combined business skills they’ve learned. Requirements include senior status and a 3.2 cumulative GPA.
“We’re trying to get the cream of the crop because it’s intense work,” Socci explained.
“It’s not even like homework where you study for three or four hours; these students do about 10-15 hours of work a week outside class,” he said, “and they seem to enjoy it.” Socci added that in preparation for the competition’s presentation alone, the students likely spent a minimum of 30-45 hours.
The work experience seems to have paid off for the students like Groleau who joined SIFE “to put what I’ve learned in school into play.”
Though the class is strictly for business majors, SIFE hopes to incorporate students of other majors into the club. So far, education and social work are on the target list.
“[SIFE] is cross-disciplinary; that’s the great thing about it,” Socci said. “Anybody from any major can do it.”
Klaassen agreed. “The more variety we have, the better our projects are,” she said.
Even without much variety this year, the club has done “a fantastic job,” according to Socci. He is still enthusiastic about where the club is going and what they have accomplished. “They were great representatives of the school,” Socci said of the students who presented at the competition. “They had me crying at the end.”