Sophia Danziger begrudgingly walked into her first meeting of the Future Business Leaders of America chapter at Mamaroneck High School in New York, a quiet freshman sitting in the back of the room.
Danziger’s mother, who works in business development management in New York City, insisted her daughter attend a meeting of the high school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter, after learning of the group’s mission to empower high school students around the country with tangible business and leadership skills.
“I rolled my eyes, I sighed and I said ‘I don’t want to go to this,’” Danziger says. “But I gave it a chance and went to the first meeting. Walking into the room was the hardest part for me.”
‘THE IMPORTANCE OF A BUSINESS HANDSHAKE & HOW TO DRESS’
What initially was intended as a favor to her mother turned out to be the greatest favor Danziger could ever have done for herself, she says. Danziger, a senior, is now part of FBLA’s state and national officers teams, serving as New York FBLA president and the eastern region vice president. Seasoned in the language of business, she has spoken at national conferences in front of 3,000 high school students, sat through grueling impromptu Q&A sessions while campaigning for various FBLA leadership roles and fine tuned her cover letter, resume and business etiquette skills along the way. Perhaps her crowning achievement? Working behind the scenes for months to help FBLA get to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange last year in honor of the nonprofit’s 75th anniversary.
“The group teaches you things as little as the importance of a business handshake or how to dress appropriately for business events, something that kids my age don’t always understand,” says Danziger, who will be attending Cornell University next year as a policy analysis and management major. “I think the most valuable things I’ve gained is confidence in myself and my leadership and, mostly importantly, the skill of public speaking.”
Danziger is one of thousands of high school students around the country who are members of Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda, Inc. The nonprofit organization’s high school division, Future Business Leaders of America, boasts roughly 210,000 members, and is the largest business education association of its kind, preparing students for careers in business and other fields, says Jean Buckley, FBLA’s CEO.
‘WORLDLY, TRAVELED, EXPERIENCED’
“Our students are worldly, have traveled, and maybe even done an internship with different companies locally,” Buckley says. “They’re already interacting with people from the business community and it’s those type of connections that give them an opportunity to see what the business world is like first-hand.”
FBLA has its roots in the late 1930s when American educator Hamden L. Forkner at Columbia University’s Teachers College proposed the idea of a national organization for business clubs that were sprouting in high schools and colleges. The first couple of chapters were set up in 1942 in Johnson, Tenn., and St. Albans, West Virginia, and quickly took off from there. Today, there are more than 5,250 high school chapters.
Students in the club gain a solid grounding in the soft skills of business, through community service, public speaking and leadership roles at their respective high schools. Chapters will often pair up with local businesses and chambers of commerce, connecting students with seasoned business leaders in their communities. Members are encouraged to participate in FBLA’s state, regional and national competitions in categories ranging from global business to entrepreneurship, which in turn gives them an edge in the competitive college admissions process, Buckley says. The group uses between 600 to 800 business judges to evaluate the students’ performance in the various categories, and as many as 13,000 students attend the group’s national conference each year, she adds.
‘IT PROVIDES HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH A LITTLE BIT OF A LEG UP’
The organization is an important stepping stone for those of its members who are interested in studying business at an undergraduate business program. For example, recruiters from local business schools will often come in to make presentations to the student clubs.
“It does provide high school students with a little bit of a leg up,” believes Buckley. “The work that they do in FBLA is very visible to a college or a university. We have many college and universities, like Rutgers University for example, that look closely at students involved in FBLA because they create a portfolio which makes them very appealing to the schools.”
At Wasatch High School in Utah, FBLA faculty advisor Kristen Di Stefano, a business and marketing teacher, says about 60% of the 75 students in her chapter want to go into a career in business. Being a member of the group and learning about business plays an important role in their ultimate career aspirations, she said.