Carlson’s Unique Summer Camp

This past year's GopherLeaders for the GopherBusiness summer camp.

This past year’s GopherLeaders for the GopherBusiness summer camp.

When Irene Fernando was a high school student she made a decision to apply for the Summer Business Institute – a product of the LEAD program. During that application process she had to make another decision—her top three college campuses to spend a month of her summer. The Carson, California resident put the University of Minnesota more as a joke than anything else. The joke became a reality as Fernando soon found herself in Minnesota. But what Fernando found was an unmatched support group and escape from her comfort zone.

When another big decision appeared—which college to attend—it was easy and no longer a joke for Fernando to attend the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. During her freshman year, Fernando and three other students came up with the idea of Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). The nonprofit is behind the Pay It Forward Tours offered to middle school, high school and college students. The program has given thousands of students the opportunity to travel the country doing service for others.

This all stemmed from a decision to attend a summer business camp at Carlson. And now more than 40 high school students are making a similar decision each summer to attend a camp stemming from the LEAD program called GopherBusiness. And this program happens to be the beez neez. In 2007, assistant dean at Carlson, Mary Kosir and others decided there was no need to spend so much money to go around the nation recruiting underrepresented high school students for the LEAD program when there are so many in Minnesota’s backyard. Carlson decided they could create their own weeklong program geared towards local underrepresented communities. Hello, GopherBusiness.


The main goal remained the same—to connect students with and give access to the area’s top companies. Kosir and the program have seen that happen. During the past two years, more than 75% of the participants were female. More than 65% were U.S. minorities. And the average GPA for the group was at least 3.89 for both years.

GopherBusiness works like this. Applicants are selected by their GPA, application essays and demonstrated leadership. Chosen applicants most likely come from a diverse background, are a future first generation college student, come from a low-income family, have a disability, are female or identify as LGBT.

Once admitted into the program, students spend a week during the summer on the University of Minnesota campus. They are mentored by current Carlson students and faculty. They get face-to-face time with executives from Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits. They compete in case competitions. They are given business problems and are asked to solve them. They pretty much do it all.

“The combination of confidence in skill-set and access to professional development is what I gained at Carlson,” Fernado says. “It helps to personalize a business school.”


Simpson Fongthian

Simpson Fongthian

Fernando is absolutely not the only one to benefit from this type of program. Simpson Fongthian is a senior at Carlson this year. He is majoring in marketing and human resources and is currently serving as an intern at Travelers Insurance. Travelers regularly sends executives to coach the nonprofit case competition and provide a site visit during the camp. When Fongthian started his internship, he showed his new supervisor a business card he received four years before at the GopherBusiness camp. It was his new supervisors card.

High school students are able to make lasting connections within and outside of Carlson from an early age. High school students rubbing elbows with Fortune 500 executives is like me enjoying an afternoon tea with Prime Minister David Cameron. It’s not going to happen. GopherBusiness makes it a reality.

“The camp was life changing for me,” Fongthian says. “It gave me a completely new view of business and made me want to pursue it even more.”


Fongthian spent a week this past summer serving as a student mentor and plans to enter the working world upon graduation this spring. Recruiters, I can ask for a resume from him.

After completion of the program, all students are guaranteed a scholarship if accepted to the University of Minnesota. This past fall had 36 qualified potential applicants. Out of those potential applicants, 34 applied, 33 were accepted and 20 are enrolled in classes. In 2013, 23 of 39 potential applicants enrolled and in 2012, 28 out of 48 enrolled.

“We really want students to visualize themselves doing great things in this setting,” Kosir says. “We want to get them excited about college and creating change doing it at Carlson.”