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High school students collaborate with business leaders to learn real-world skills

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Students from high schools across Aroostook County got together with local business leaders on March 6 to learn in a hands-on way how their decisions could impact not just their own futures but those of the companies that will employ them.

Junior Achievement of Maine held one of six state Titan Challenge competitions at the University of Maine at Presque Isle as part of its mission to engage high school students with real-world business knowledge and skills

Junior Achievement has 109 local chapters across the country that participate in the Titan Challenge each year, with nearly 600 volunteers in Maine taking part. Although other Titan Challenge events occurred across the state on Feb. 27, the organization had to reschedule the Aroostook County event due to hazardous winter weather and school cancellations.

“The real goal is to introduce students to business leaders in their own communities and help them learn about what their educational path to a business career might look like,” said Mark Wilcox, chair for Junior Achievement in Aroostook County.

Toni Barber of Katahdin Trust Company (far right) assists Caribou High School students Malachai Willey (left), Alex Ezzy and Kyle Boucher while they take part in a business simulation activity during Junior Achievement of Maine’s annual Titan Challenge at UMPI on March 6.
(Staff photo/Melissa Lizotte)

Throughout the day Wednesday, students participated in simulation exercises designed to replicate how a real-world business might operate. Groups of three students each competed against one another while making crucial decisions such as whether to invest in more employees or lay off workers, whether to buy more equipment to expand production capabilities, and whether to increase or decrease areas of their company budget. There were 24 teams total during this year’s Titan Challenge.

Student teams based their decisions on changes within the marketplace that were put forth by Junior Achievement volunteers through a special website, which included labor shortages and increased costs in raw materials. Each team worked to formulate and submit a “business plan” during each round and gained points based on their decisions. Despite the scenarios being fictional, Junior Achievement officials kept the stakes high for students, with even the possibility of their “company” going “bankrupt.”

“Their focus is on trying to be competitive with other people in their industry, selling a substantial amount of products and maintaining productivity,” Wilcox said.

The student business teams gained assistance from business mentors, who are all employees of area businesses such as MMG Insurance, Katahdin Trust Company, Machias Savings Bank, University Credit Union, Acadia Federal Credit Union and Dead River Company. Students and faculty from UMPI’s business program also served as mentors. During afternoon sessions, students went on a tour of the UMPI campus and listened to speakers talk about their own experiences in the business world.

This year, students from Presque Isle High School, Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center, Caribou High School, Caribou Regional Technology Center, Van Buren District Secondary School, Fort Kent Community High School and Hodgdon High School attended the Titan Challenge. Many students praised the simulation challenge as a great way to experience firsthand what factors go into making business decisions.

Alex Ezzy, a senior at Caribou High School, said he is thinking about a career in either business or engineering and that coming to the Titan Challenge allowed him to think more about what a business career entails.

“I like how we’re not just plugging in numbers or sitting in a classroom. It has showed me that if one thing changes in the industry then everything changes for a company,” Ezzy said.

Dylan Jurson, a senior from Hodgdon High School, appreciated the opportunity to connect with professional business leaders from Aroostook County. He also is thinking of a career in business and participated in MMG Insurance’s summer internship program last year.

“The learning is very hands-on and we’re able to learn from the knowledge of people who have experienced the business world for themselves,” Jurson said.

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