Northland high school students are learning about business at a business: their classroom is a conference room in the back of BankLiberty in Gladstone.
Their instructor is Pat Stidham, a compliance and loan officer at the bank who teaches teens about global business and entrepreneurship.
Stidham and other business people and educators are helping juniors and seniors pave a course for a future career by letting them learn in real-world settings.
Jordan Chen, 18, a senior at Excelsior Springs High School, said he enrolled in the class “because I want experience and insight into the financial field before I go to college and major in accounting.”
Business ownership is what appeals to another member of the class — Luis Arellano, 16, a junior at Oak Park High School.
Stidham’s class is helping him learn how to start and organize a business, Luis said.
Luis and Jordan are among 310 students participating in the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies, an educational collaboration between school districts and area businesses.
The program “provides students with an opportunity to be immersed in professional environments that will allow them real insight into several high-demand occupations,” said David Lawrence, superintendent of the Excelsior Springs School District.
Ideally, the program helps students determine the direction their talents and interests will take them, and Kansas City area businesses then can hire the kind of educated and well-trained workforce they need.
Excelsior Springs is the newest district to participate in the professional studies program, joining Kearney, Liberty, North Kansas City, Park Hill, Platte County R-3 and Smithville districts. St. Pius X High School, Northland Christian School and home-schooled students are also involved.
Students can enroll for one or two years and may earn both high-school and college credits. The first semester in the program, they spend 2 1/2 hours every school day in a work setting in addition to carrying a full classload at their high school.
Their second semester, the students are hired as unpaid interns, where they work four days a week for about 2 1/2 hours a day. On Fridays, they return to their home business site for a review with their instructors. Around 100 companies are involved in the program, so students have plenty of choices.
The learning experience is hands-on and real-world.
“Everything we do is project-based,” Stidham said. “There are no made-up assignments.”
Earlier in the semester, all students in the class conducted surveys with decision-makers at businesses in Clay County. The surveys were provided by the Clay County Economic Development Council.
They then called businesses and persuaded executives to meet with them and spend almost two hours answering 300 questions. The students compiled the results and made presentations to city and county leaders about what the surveys revealed.
They learned how to make cold calls, handle rejection and persevere.
Such experiences “teach you that there are challenges,” said Tanner Owen, 18, a senior at Park Hill South High School. “Nothing comes easy in the real-world of business.”
Now the students are working toward a Thanksgiving-break deadline on projects for businesses that requested a student team. One group of students, for example, is working with an art studio to determine how best to reach retirees and customize classes for seniors.
Such projects help students build meaningful resumes, and businesses benefit from a fresh viewpoint and youthful energy and creativity. These projects help prepare students for spring semester when they will work on site as interns.
Griffin Turnage, a 2015 graduate of Liberty High School, participated in an internship at St. Luke’s Foundation during the second semester of his senior year.
“Griffin helped drive St. Luke’s North Hospital Athletic Heart program by providing a perspective of our targeted audience — student athletes 14 to 19 years of age,” said Jan Kauk, senior development director. “His guidance on marketing, communication, recruitment and tracking directly impacted the program’s success.”
Turnage contacted athletic directors at Northland schools and set up appointments for an athletic heart clinic.
At the time of the internship, Turnage said he was unsure what he wanted to major in at college. His experience in global business and entrepreneurship studies helped him decide: Turnage is now a freshman at Truman State University majoring in business.
The center began in the 2013-2014 academic year with 28 students and two areas of study based on needs of the region: engineering and advanced manufacturing, and medicine and health care. Later, four more areas were added: global business and entrepreneurship, global logistics and transportation, technology solutions and technology designs.
The center is a nonprofit governed by a seven-member board of directors: four directors from Northland area businesses and three school district superintendents. School districts pay tuition of $3,200 a year per student participating in the program.
More than a third of all students in the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies are enrolled in medicine and health care studies. To keep class size manageable, students rotate among three settings: Liberty Hospital, North Kansas City Hospital and North Kansas City Hospital Imaging Center.
Olivia Hoseth, 17, a senior at Liberty High School, is a first-year student in medicine and health care. She’s considering combining her interest in health care with her knack for sales, thus pharmaceutical sales.
Classmate Desirae Leeson, 18, affirmed Hoseth’s career aspirations: “She’s a varsity cheerleader and always a top seller of coupon books, trash bags, pastries, cookie dough — whatever they’re selling.”
Alyssa Bui, 17, a senior at Park Hill South High School, is a second-year student. She works from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday at Eagle Animal Hospital before she goes to school. On Friday mornings, she returns to the North Kansas City Hospital Imaging Center and instructor Mollie Cole.
Her first-year work experience included chiropractic and clinic settings. Alyssa said she just applied to medical school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“NCAPS helped me verify that I want to do medicine,” she said.
Trey Dockery, 17, a second-year student and a senior at Platte County R-3 High School, discovered what he didn’t want to do after participating in global logistics and transportation.
“I didn’t like it but every business has logistics; so, just knowing about it will help,” Trey said.
Trey found global business and entrepreneurship more to his liking.
“I want to own a a gym and do personal training,” he said.
In an internship now with a start-up lawn care company, Trey is developing social media marketing and working to improve search-engine optimization for the company. He knows firsthand the company needs help: “I tried a search for the business and couldn’t find it.”
At Holland 1916, students in the engineering and advanced manufacturing area have access to everyone at the plant — from Mike Stradinger, chief executive officer, to those on the floor. Holland 1916 manufactures durable metal nameplates and other products.
“My employees get to interact with students as the smart person, the teacher,” Stradinger said. “It makes our employees better at their jobs because they have to explain or teach what they do to the students.”
Andrew Turner, a senior at North Kansas City High School, studied at Holland 1916 during his junior year.
“Being in the workplace is a lot different than in the classroom,” Andrew said. “Our project was to observe inefficiences on the floor of the manufacturing plant and to find solutions.”
Professional skills play an important role in the curriculum of the program. They count for 20 percent of a student’s grade and lack of such skills can be career derailers, said Donna Deeds, regional executive director of the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies.
The center has written a 62-page workbook to help students write a resume, build a LinkedIn profile, handle a job interview, network and make presentations.
The workbook also emphasizes the “soft skills . . .those that your instructors, teachers, and employers will be evaluating throughout your educational and professional careers,” Deeds said.
These skills include being on time, shaking hands, making eye contact, writing thank-you notes, using table manners and dressing appropriately.
In other words, maturity.
“They want us to act like we’re 25 when we’re 17,” said Gaby Chirpich, 17, a senior at St. Pius X High School. Gaby is in the engineering and advanced manufacturing field of study. “They’re helping transition us to the real world.”
Acquiring and honing those skills help set professional studies students apart from their peers. Those skills also can mean the difference between landing a job or continuing to submit applications.
What most noticeably makes these students stand out from the crowd in the hallways at high school is the professional dress. In the field of business, boys are expected to wear shirts, ties and dress slacks and girls dresses, skirts or pants with blouses or sweaters. In all other areas of study, business casual is the norm.
To be selected, students apply on line and explain why they are interested in the program. Applicants need to be juniors or seniors who are on track to graduate. A student’s academic record is not considered.
“Businesses told us grades were not the sole indicator of potential for success,” Deeds said. “They told us we would miss some of the best talent if we screened just for grade-point average.”
Enrollment in NCAPS for 2015-2016 school year
Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing: 62
Global Business and Entrepreneurship: 43
Global Logistics and Transportation: 9
Medicine and Health Care: 115
Technology Design: 27
Technology Solutions: 54
Source: Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies, www.northlandcaps.org