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Free enterprise rocks for Gainesville State students on way to Chicago competition

POSTED: May 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Brittany Moon, foreground, works the computer PowerPoint presentation while Gainesville State College Students in Free Enterprise teammates Joshua Troutman, left, and Shamila Smith give their part of the presentation they will present at a national competition.

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Gainesville State College has no intercollegiate athletic teams to cheer for, but it has a business division club that has become quite a powerhouse.

The college’s 25-member Students in Free Enterprise team is headed to the SIFE USA National Exposition this week in Chicago.

The club advanced by winning its 14th regional championship at the AFLAC SIFE USA Atlanta Regional Championship on March 20.

The team also has been named a finalist in the SIFE USA Campbell Soup/Sealed Air Business Ethics and SIFE USA GE Consumer Products Program Sustainability Competitions.

Team members also will learn this week how they placed in those competitions.

"I’m really excited, and I’ve never been to Chicago, especially with this opportunity of being a presenter and working with different people to present," said Shamila Smith, a sophomore business administration major.

Robert Davis, a Texas attorney, founded SIFE in 1975 as a regional project funded by Southwestern Life Insurance, according to the organization’s Web site, www.sife.org.

Each fall, university teams were invited to attend leadership-training programs and learn the principles of free enterprise and develop leadership skills.

They then went back to their campuses and conducted outreach projects in their communities. In the spring, much as they do now, the teams presented the outcome of their efforts to judges at regional competitions.

In 1982, in the middle of an economic recession, SIFE sponsorship fell dramatically.

Three years later, Jack Shewmaker, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Wal-Mart Stores, became SIFE’s chairman.

SIFE began in 1995 inviting teams outside the U.S. to participate.

Winners from this year’s national competition will advance to the SIFE World Cup 2008 in Singapore.

Kathleen C. Simmons, business chairwoman at Gainesville State, was asked in 1990 by then-president Foster Watkins to begin a SIFE chapter.

"At the time, we were involved in a student organization called Delta Epsilon Chi, which is the collegiate version of DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America), the high school organization that everyone is familiar with," Simmons said.

"We ran both SIFE and (Delta Epsilon Chi) for a number of years. What happened was the students found they really enjoyed the SIFE competitions and the SIFE model more than the DECA model. So they decided to drop Delta Epsilon Chi and go with SIFE."

Delta Epsilon Chi is more prevalent at technical colleges than four-year college and transfer institutions such as Gainesville State, Simmons said.

SIFE teams develop community outreach projects that involve market economics, success skills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and business ethics.

"As long as you can tie it into one of those five big goals, you have the freedom to go and create projects on campus or in the community that address those issues," Simmons said.

"And then you put them together in a written report or presentation ... and you go into competition against other SIFE teams," she said.

Gainesville State’s team has taught Junior Achievement and similar business-type classes.

"What the members can get out of (the competitions), in addition to learning presentation skills and learning how to organize a project and implement it, is they can actually talk about something concrete if they go into a job interview," Simmons said.

SIFE has done "a really great job of recruiting support for the organization, and so when we go to the nationals, there’ll be 60 companies there interviewing for career positions and internships," she added.

The organization isn’t open just to business students, however.

Sophomore Brittany Moon, an early childhood education major, said, "I enjoy doing the JA classes, so it helps me teach kids about business, plus it gives me a personal experience (in) what I want to do."

Smith, 25, was a staffing agency employee before she enrolled at Gainesville State. She wants to earn her associate degree in business administration and then transfer in the same major to a four-year institution.

She is aiming to become a human resources director.

"I joined SIFE because I knew it was a great opportunity to network, not only with fellow students but also Fortune 500 companies," she said.



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