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Class gives budding 'CEOs' the business

Students in new class learn applicable skills from local companies

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/
Geoff Vanderlin of the Lee County Senior Center speaks to high school students enrolled in the Whiteside Area Career Center’s Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class Thursday in Dixon. Vanderlin's presentation addressed the financial operations of the senior center.
(Alex T. Paschal/
Students in the Whiteside Area Career Center's entrepreneurial class listen to a presentation by Geoff Vanderlin of the Lee County Senior Center. Members of the class met at the Post House in Dixon on Thursday to tour the ballroom and the Lee County Council on Aging as well as learn how the nonprofit and for-profit entities operate. Teens enrolled in the course attend high schools in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Carroll, and Bureau counties.

DIXON – Thursday morning, there were 19 area high school students attending their regular morning class, but as usual, they were meeting in a new place.

The Whiteside Area Career Center's Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class met at the Post House, 100 W. Second St. in Dixon, to get a tour of the ballroom and the Lee County Council on Aging, to learn how the nonprofit and for-profit entities are run and how they work together.

It's the fifth week of the CEO class, which was approved by the Whiteside Area Career Center’s board in November. It's based off a concept that started in Effingham.

Its students, who are high school juniors or seniors, go to schools in Dixon, Sterling, Rock Falls, Amboy, Milledgeville, Prophetstown, and Morrison, among the other eligible schools in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Carroll, and Bureau counties.

Each week they tour an area business and talk with the business owner. The class recently visited Wahl Clipper in Sterling and Moore Tires in Rock Falls.

Among the students is Cory Brown, 17, a senior at Morrison High School, who joined the class for an entrance into the business world.

"I feel like everybody in this class has plans on going and doing something with business," he said. "It gives a headstart. You know the people who own the businesses in the area, so when you get out of college, you know who to go to for the jobs."

The students are held to a different standard in this class, instructor LeAndra Hartman said.

They wear business casual clothes and get up and leave the class if they need to start their drive back to their high school, just as they would if they had to leave a business meeting. But before they leave, they shake the speakers' hands and thank them for their time.

The students say they're learning skills that are more directly applicable to the business world and are getting an inside look at how businesses are started and run.

Before the year is done, the class and each student will have created a business – not an idea for a business, but an actual business, Hartman said.

Theresa Wittenauer, executive director of the Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, is on the CEO class board. She attended the class Thursday, just as anyone in the business community is invited to do, and said she was impressed with the students.

"To see it 4 to 5 weeks in, it's beyond what I expected," she said.

Something that the students and Hartman say often is that, "It doesn't matter how the ship got into the harbor, it's that it did," meaning that it doesn't matter if there were difficulties in completing the task, getting it done is what's important.

For more information

Email Instructor LeAndra Hartman at for more information on the new CEO program or to invite the class to visit your business.

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