Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week isn’t your ordinary summer camp.
Next month, the immersion experience aimed at teaching business to young people – from the Greater Lehigh Valley and throughout Pennsylvania – will mark its 40th year.
An extraordinary alignment – part preview to college and campus life, part entrepreneurial incubator – means students spend an intensive week learning the complexity of running and marketing a business.
“I had an interest in business, and I got the opportunity for an immersion experience,” said Jeremy Raichle, a PFEW alum and executive-on-loan mentor at the annual camp held at two colleges in Williamsport.
A vice president of commercial banking for Wells Fargo in Baltimore, Raichle graduated from William Tennent High School in Warminster. Twelve years ago, PFEW helped him focus and gave purpose to his education – a life changer.
“A common theme is leadership, drive and wanting to do something,” he said. “It was an important part of my life at a challenging time in my life.”
Operated by the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education in Erie, the camp is open to rising high school juniors and seniors with student costs offset by more than 700 companies, civic organizations and chambers of commerce, foundations and individual supporters.
Camp is held at Lycoming College and Pennsylvania College of Technology, both in Williamsport.
The cost is shared by donors and students, who contribute about $285 to attend one week during sessions held July 1 through Aug. 4. Additional scholarships are possible.
MENTORING BY THE PROS
Scott Lee, PFEW vice president of marketing, said hands-on mentoring by business professionals and an evolving curriculum experience continue to grow the program. He credits this mix for the program’s longevity and success.
It was organized in 1978 and held its first camp in 1979 with about 50 students. Last year, PFEW had 2,100 students and, including this summer, will total 44,000 graduates since its inception.
“That is something special,” Lee said.
He said the beauty of PFEW camp is its inclusiveness, and that any student, regardless of interest area – from math to music, art to anthropology, science, economics or business – benefits from attending.
Within 24 hours of arrival, high school students are formed into “company” teams of about 18 to 20 members.
They elect a CEO and other key officials and begin an intensive weeklong journey.
Students are assigned an industry – anything from household appliances to tools to footwear, for example – and from that category select a specific product to market.
“They elect officers, define a market, create TV and radio ads and print media, and create a [web] home page and social media [campaign],” Lee said.
Lee said the program exists because typically it’s not taught in high school.
Those who attend learn important life skills, too, such as how to get along with those they don’t know. They learn leadership, teamwork and ethics.
They are required to create campaigns and make presentations to company “stockholders” at the end of the session.
PREP FOR COLLEGE
Garrett Schlosser, 17, of Upper Saucon Township attended PFEW last summer.
“It was preparation for college,” said Schlosser, who just completed his junior year at Southern Lehigh High School. “By the end of the week, you have such a real bond with the other students.”
He said he better understands the difficult decisions business owners and managers face every day because of the camp.
“Small decisions yielded big results, and every decision [has] impact,” he said. “I thought the small decisions would be easy, [but] it was crazy how a couple hundred dollars could make or break you.”
Schlosser and his team created a marketing plan for his team’s business simulation: an electric skateboard.
“We used the Pittsburgh skyline in our marketing,” he said.
Ben Ocamb, 18, of Quakertown Senior High School attended PFEW after completing his junior year last summer. He said the program was an eye opener.
“Leadership strategies and [being able to] adjust and get out of your comfort zone” were key takeaways from camp week, said Ocamb, who lives in Richland Township.
As Quakertown Student Council president, Ocamb understands the valuable role of leadership.
He’ll head to Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall to study industrial engineering and said PFEW helped him overcome the initial nerves hovering over his future freshman year at college.
“PFEW was one of the best experiences in high school,” Ocamb said.
ALSO FOR THE UNSETTLED
Lee said camp acceptance isn’t based on a minimum grade point average or SAT or other college entrance exam scores.
In fact, he said, it may best serve those who may be struggling in the classroom or are undecided about attending college.
“Many students who are not excelling currently would get the most out of the program,” Lee said.