On Feb. 24, 12 Granite City High School seniors went on a field trip.
The students visited Amsted Rail — a company that manufactures and sells the undercarriage of heavy haul railcars and locomotives — in Granite City. For nearly two hours, they toured the building and sat in a conference room listening to four people talk about the company and how to achieve success in the business world.
After the tour was over, senior Briana Davis was pretty ecstatic.
“This is an amazing experience that we get every single day to meet people like the adults that we met today (at Amsted Rail) that influence us every day,” Davis said. “We never know what we want to do because there are so many opportunities given to us.”
The visit to Amsted Rail was part of the Granite City CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program. The program is in its inaugural year at Granite City High and helps prepare seniors to be responsible individuals in the business world.
Davis, Jamie Briagas, Ciara Ciccone, Austin Hoskins, Madison Jansen, Alexis Khammanyvong, Jeremiah Leibold, Jamesha McLain, Hope Morlen, Miranda Pryor, Matt Sharp and Billy Trindle make up the Granite City CEO class.
“We work together to achieve a common goal, which is success,” Davis said.
High school business teacher Karen Greenwald is the program’s facilitator.
“She’s awesome,” Trindle said.
The students meet off campus every day, either on a business visit or at a host business to learn about succeeding in the business world. The program is hosted by local businesses throughout the year and is funded by business investors.
“I’m in this CEO program because I know there’s more for me out there than just school and college,” Davis said. “I know there’s something else out there because I’m innovative and I always have been and I know that I want to achieve that. This class is just helping me build the foundation for what would eventually become the rest of my life.”
During the year, the students decide, organize and plan a group business/event. After they present their business plan, the students will start their business and host a trade show to showcase their business. The program’s trade show is scheduled for April 30 at Southwestern Illinois College.
“In the trade show in April, we’ve got to have a product to sell, so my product for that will be baking because I’m a pretty good baker,” Davis said. “What I’m planning to learn from that is interacting with people. At the trade show, when people come up and ask ‘what is this?’, I plan to learn what customers want to hear and what they like to know from you. That way, whenever I get to the corporate level, I’ll know how to deal with customers in any business. What I’ve been taking from this entire class is what it takes to be corporate and what it takes to operate a business and love people.”
Since August, the students have toured numerous businesses around the Granite City area. Besides Amsted Rail, the students visited Champion’s Wedding and Party Room, Walmart, Aiello’s Pizzeria, Ravanelli’s Restaurant, Tank’s Training Facility, Glik’s and Illinois Electric Works, among others.
On Feb. 17, the Granite City CEO program hosted The Best of Granite City at Granite City’s Township Hall. The event included 22 businesses and 12 restaurants from the Granite City area.
“It’s a field trip every day, so that’s one of my favorite parts (of the program),” Trindle said. “I came into this program and I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m not what you think as a valedictorian or anything like that. I’m a pretty terrible student. At least before this class, I have a closed mind. After going through it, it kind of opens you up. You’ll see things from different perspectives. It’s really awesome. It’s amazing what two hours every day can do for your life.”
Greenwald said there are 14 schools in the Midwest that have CEO classes and that number will double by next fall. Craig Lindvahl, executive director of the Midland Institute of Entrepreneurship in Effingham, started the first CEO class in Effingham in 2008.
“It’s expanding, so it’s awesome,” Greenwald said. “There are no textbooks. Students are learning from businesses and communities.”
The Granite City CEO program also has a board of directors that includes chairman Marc Voegele, vice chairman Adam Saltsgaver, secretary Tom Schooley and treasurer Jonathan Ferry.
Davis said she hopes the program will help her succeed in college and in life.
“As of right now, I know that I’m attending college,” Davis said. “I’m still exploring everything. Every time we go to a new business, I see something that I want to do. So I’m still figuring out. I know one day that I will be corporate for some company, whether it’s giving into another company, or having my own. I know I’ll get there.”