March 2017 Editor's Note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
This post was written in collaboration with Denis Carter, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus, Department of Economics and Finance at UNCW.
Did you hear the one about two economists walking through the woods?
One said “How do you feel about this economy – are you a bull or a bear?” The other replied, “I am definitely a … wait a second, why do you ask?” The one in front said, “There is a black bear behind us and he had ‘demand’ written across his open mouth and ‘supply’ reflected in his eyes.”
It’s corny, but that’s what you can expect from a couple of fun-loving economists who are passionate about what they do. This month you are in for a treat – an article from two economists, Rob Burrus and Denis Carter, for the price of one.
There is a program that we love doing because it brings talented middle and high school students onto the campus for a week to work with UNCW college counselors, faculty and “real-world” entrepreneurs from all walks of life. And this year is especially exciting, as it is the 10th anniversary of the Cameron School of Business’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP).
Eleven years ago, our dear departed colleague, Howard Rasheed, Ph.D., initiated the program with a few young teenagers from the Wilmington community as a way to inspire them to think about a college career and to learn about entrepreneurship. Over the years, YEP has grown into a vibrant summer program with middle and high school students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and interests ranging from engineering to the fine arts. In fact, one of its students this year began college in a well-known institute of music in New York.
YEP relies heavily on the support of teachers in the New Hanover and Pender counties schools, as well as the participation of many in the business community. We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs who are willing to work with the youth of our community, for it has been a challenge over the last few years of tight budgets to keep community engagement programs like YEP from falling under the fiscal ax.
These young people from our Wilmington region will be the community decision-makers in a few years, whether they are in private business, government or running a nonprofit organization. If we fail to equip them with basic entrepreneurial skills in their formative years, it will be too late by the time they are of college age. In this global economy of increasing challenges, it is vital for the youth to acquire some basic entrepreneurial skills to navigate life’s forests; otherwise they are prone to fall prey to the venomous snakes and wolves that lurk about.
Even as our society becomes more technologically sophisticated and our students constantly interact with high-tech devices, we see a disturbing lack of what some refer to as “plain old common sense.” To keep the analogy going, programs like YEP help us to instill in students the ability to “see the forest from the trees.” With a lot of hard work from our trained UNCW student counselors, we are able to inspire our YEP students to enjoy working in teams, brainstorm and appreciate each other’s ideas. They use the latest in educational computing technology to research and analyze problems, and then – this is where the miracle happens – put together a “knock-your-socks-off” presentation of an original idea that shows the team’s ability to think “out of the box.”
A few years ago, the team that won the YEP Challenge Cup competition, as different a group of kids as you could ever imagine, came up with a game concept and prototype that employed mathematics, physics and plain social psychology skills. The game intrigued the judges, all accomplished entrepreneurs, and excited the other students. The team branded the family game “Tip-Top-Ball-Drop.” It was on display in the UNCW Swain Center for Business and Economic Services for a year and people were always playing with it. One of the students from that team later established his own home business while in high school.
One of YEP’s truly outstanding "graduates," Kevin Thompson, went on to do great and exciting things. Besides earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he assumed many community leadership roles and presently serves as Director of Development in UNCW’s Division for University Advancement. Here is what Kevin said when asked about YEP: “YEP provides students a unique opportunity to creatively think about entrepreneurship at an early age. The program is a great introduction to entrepreneurship as well as business planning and management, all while exposing young students to a university setting. YEP is a powerful, transformative experience that will influence participants’ academic and career decisions later in life.”
For information about the Cameron School of Business’s BB&T Youth Entrepreneurship Program at UNCW and its July 9-14, 2017 program, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/yep.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org.