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CEO program connects students with business leaders

Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek High Schools, along with area business leaders, have collaborated to give eight high school students a unique opportunity. These students are participating in the first Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) class. 

The CEO program is designed to give high school juniors and seniors a jump-start on learning how to become successful entrepreneurs and small-business owners. 

Those students include Hayley Carlson, Megan Han, Rebekka Paskewitz and Mary Sarah Sauber, all from Staples-Motley High School; and Kayla Hanson, Jessica Langer, Hope Norenberg and Danyel Post from Wadena-Deer Creek High School.

The CEO program was founded in 2008 in Effingham, Ill., under the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship. The first teacher of the CEO program, Craig Lindvahl of Effingham, has been to Wadena and Staples to help launch the program.

The class starts at 7:30 each morning and meets for 90 minutes. During the school year, students will visit more than 50 businesses and host local businessmen as guest speakers. Cindi Koll serves as the program’s facilitator.

According to Koll, the CEO program goes beyond standard education.

“The CEO program believes that students learn best by doing, rather than being in the classroom,” Koll said.

The program’s objective: to prepare these students as future business owners who are responsible, enterprising individuals and who contribute to economic development in our small, rural communities, Koll said. 

These CEO students are immersed in real-life learning experiences with the opportunity to take risks, manage the results and learn from the outcomes, explained Koll. 

While emphasizing real-world learning over textbooks, the class is linked to Common Core and national entrepreneurship education standards and provides high school credits. Students are selected for the class through a rigorous application process. 

The CEO students hosted a social on Feb. 11 where business leaders, area school superintendents and city officials were invited to hear first-hand from CEO students. The social was held at the Maslowski Wellness & Research Center in the Michael and Marian Craig Room.

The CEO students are in the process creating their own business plans and presenting them to local banking investors and entrepreneurs.  Toward the end of the school year, a trade show will be held to showcase student businesses. 

The Central MN CEO Advisory Board oversees the program and is made up of business owners and school administrators from Staples, Motley, Wadena and Deer Creek. They meet on a regular basis to hear updates from CEO students, to fine-tune and improve the first-year program and other program needs. Members include: Bob Jackson, Jerel Nelsen, Lee Westrum, Mike Palmer, Chris Hadfield, Judy Richer, Mark Schmitz, Rich Utech, Dean Uselman, Julie Nelson, Michael Craig, Sue Turner and Koll. 

Each student has two mentors from Wadena or Staples who help guide the students. They are: 

* Hayley Carlson - John Kallevig and Tim Rice 
* Megan Han - Gillette Kempf and Pastor Paul Johnson 
* Kayla Hanson - Shannon Lausten and Tim Rice 
* Jessica Langer - Mark Hanson and Michael Craig
* Hope Norenberg - Brenda Halvorson and Lani Longbella 
* Danyel Post - Gillette Kempf and Tim Rice 
* Mary Sarah Sauber - Keith Olander and Scott Dau
* Rebekka Paskewitz - Charlie Funk and Scott Dau 

The CEO program is funded thanks to CEO investors – local businesses who were asked at the beginning of the school year to contribute $1,000 a year, with a three-year commitment. The program is entirely funded by businesses – there is no cost to the school districts. 

Those investors include: Staples Rotary Club, Lakewood Health System, Pillager Area Firearms Department & Relief Association, Chad and Paula Becker, Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union, City of Wadena, Stern Companies Inc., Mayer, Porter and Nelson, Ltd., Long Prairie Packing Company, Sen. Paul Gazelka, MeKechnie Vehicle Components, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Stern Manufacturing, Staples Economic Development, Doyle and Deb Yoder, Larry and Karen Lundbland and Staples-Motley Area Community Foundation.

Members of the Central MN CEO Advisory Board listen to CEO students give an update on their class. The program meets at different businesses in Wadena and Staples throughout the school year. Here, they are meeting in a conference room at Kal’s Cars in Wadena.

Members of the Central MN CEO Advisory Board listen to CEO students give an update on their class. The program meets at different businesses in Wadena and Staples throughout the school year. Here, they are meeting in a conference room at Kal’s Cars in Wadena.