When high school students come to the PBA campus to take part in the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge, they face a very real-world, real-time task: Form a company, spend real money, do business, get out of debt, turn a profit. In five days.
Earlier this month, 46 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors came to PBA to attend one of the five FELC camps held nationwide. This is the sixth year Palm Beach Atlantic has hosted the challenge. Campers received a personal welcome from university President William M.B. Fleming Jr., who encouraged them with a short address on the value of sound leadership.
The FELC program, established in 1995 through the Jesse Helms Center Foundation in Wingate, N.C., exists to educate students about entrepreneurship, the difference between capitalism and socialism, free market economy, personal responsibility, principled leadership, and philanthropy on both personal and corporate levels.
“I want them to understand that the United States is the best country to operate a free enterprise in,” said Program Director Brian Rogers, who also serves as chief operating officer of the Jesse Helms Center. He emphasized that the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge is about more than doing business and making money. “They have to learn teamwork. There’s a lot of decision-making that takes place on their own, and that’s unique. They’re learning how to work through adversity in a high-stress environment.
“Not all of the students here are sure they want to go into business,” he continued. “Some are interested in the leadership components. Some of them are just curious. But a lot of them are motivated to have success in one way or another.”
The week is jam-packed with activities and learning.
Early in the week, each team crafts a business plan for its company. They elect corporate officers, film commercials, and participate in a virtual trade project. Students compete for cash prizes in an essay contest, in which they write about the core values that mean the most to them. They also engage in a series of speeches and debates. One of the topics this year’s students spoke on: “Do businesses have the constitutional authority to limit their employees’ free speech?”
One of the camp’s core components is the integration of U.S. founding fathers’ principles, including rule of law, freedom of speech, property rights, and other foundational American concepts. “There’s not another summer program like this in the country,” Rogers said. “What makes us stand out is that we introduce those founding principles, which a lot of times get left out of the process.”
This year’s program -- held at PBA July 8-12 -- included 26 students from El Salvador. Rogers said the international students are invited to participate in the U.S. camps to give them an opportunity to learn more about how free enterprise works, which is difficult for them to experience in their home countries.
So how well do the campers’ companies tend to perform, when you look at the bottom line? You can hear the smile in Rogers’ voice as he answers. “Out of 9,500 graduates, all of them have made it through debt-free.”
This summer, other weeklong FELC camps were hosted by Houston Baptist University, Houston; Wingate University, Wingate, N.C.; Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C.; and Midlands Technical College, Columbia, S.C.