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Filling the Gap

Junior Achievement is ‘bridge linking education and business’ by

Lisa Mackinder


Brian Powers

ast December, a large group of high school students from across the area sat down for breakfast at Western Michigan University’s Fetzer Center. As they glanced around their tables, it’s likely that a similar thought struck the mind of each teen: “I don’t know anyone.” That was by design. “We split the kids up so they know nobody at their table,” says Tom VanderMolen, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest Michigan. “The first message they hear is that this happens in business every day: You don’t know who you will meet or how that person may impact your future.” To participants in the Junior Achievement Titan Challenge’s regional competition, this breakfast represents the first of many entrepreneurial experiences on this day. The Titan Challenge is a virtual contest in which students make daily decisions on capital investment, pricing, production, marketing, research and development, and charitable giving. They submit their decisions online to JA’s Titan Challenge computer system, which compiles data, provides industry reports and poses business challenges for the teams to solve. The program then ranks teams based on achievements such as profitability. In May 2014, a Comstock High School team called HashTagSwag — which won the regional competition held at the Fetzer Center — went on to outperform seven competitors from the United States and Canada to win the national 2014 Junior Achievement Titan Challenge. Business volunteers who advised HashTagSwag included Brian Lueth, an associate at Plante Moran, an accounting and business advisory firm; Kathy Fosmoe, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services; and Alison Nord, a Comstock High School business teacher. The group helped guide Comstock seniors Eric Grant, Katy Way,

Tom VanderMolen, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest Michigan, in the organization’s downtown Kalamazoo offices.

Jack Weir and George Webber II to their win. The team created and marketed a Holo-Generator, a fictitious all-purpose electronic device. “Business volunteers meet with the class up to 13 times and, following the JA teaching guide, help them through the array of decisions they will have to make in the competition and one day in

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Encore September 2015  
Encore September 2015  

Southwest Michigan's Magazine: Kalamazoo's thriving comics scene, Black Owl Cafe's Darren Bain, corner BBQ, Air Zoo CEO Troy Thrash and more...