A plate of dropped food, possible copyright infringement and using a company discount for friends were all situations Hall County high school students faced Tuesday.
“The kids are really having to make some pretty tough decisions,” said Misty Freeman, program specialist for business and computer science with the Georgia Department of Education.
The Business Ethics Experience, a first-of-its-kind program inside the schools, was presented by the University of North Georgia’s BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership in coordination with the Hall County School District, Junior Achievement, the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Labor’s GeorgiaBEST program.
Students rotated through the six businesses established at the school district’s Lanier Charter Career Academy, and heard about different situations posing various ethical problems.
“We kind of let them tour around just a second, just to set the scene,” Freeman said. “Then we gave them a scenario that set them up for the scene, and we role-played a situation.”
For example, a scenario involving the school’s events management business had an employee witness money changing hands between a vendor and her boss in exchange for giving more business to that vendor.
Students had to identify the ethical dilemma, then come up with a solution on how to properly handle the situation.
“So they’re really putting into practice their classroom knowledge applied to the ethical (dilemmas),” Freeman said.
There were around 50 participants, mostly high school seniors representing all seven of the county district’s high schools. They were separated into small groups consisting of three or four to rotate through the situations.
“That’s part of the training,” said Rhonda Samples, career technical coordinator for the county schools. “They didn’t know anybody, so they had to meet each other.”
After deliberating over the different situations, the groups presented their thoughts and solutions to a panel of six business members. Later in the day, they received feedback on individual and overall group performance.
“I’m going to present on an ethical dilemma on the T-shirt company,” East Hall High senior Matt Hunt said.
“It’s a case dealing with copyright infringement of a certain band, Imagine Dragons. It’s a dilemma about what you would do if somebody would come into your shop and (asked for) a band T-shirt printed out of a copyright, and how you would explain to the customer that that’s illegal.”
“A possible solution we thought to this, is with the artwork from a logo, as long as you do not match it within 35 percent of the original logo, it can be legal,” said his teammate Christopher Lee, a North Hall High junior. “So you can actually tweak the logo to put it on a shirt. We thought that would be a solution.”
Tuesday’s event adds to a similar program hosted by the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus in September, when area high school students were invited to the college to discuss topics such as decision-making skills, organizational ethics and global business ethics.
Samples and Freeman said they hope this pilot program can be expanded into other schools across the state, so high school students can get a taste of business ethics before fully entering the workforce.
Also making appearances Tuesday were Georgia School Superintendent John Barge and Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.
“If you don’t think ethics are important, try living a life in the public eye,” Barge said, going on to say a person’s character is best determined by what he or she does when no one is watching.
Butler said the skills learned Tuesday would hopefully stick with the students for years to come.
“You will always have to deal with this type of stuff through the rest of your life,” he said. “It may be in business. It may be in your home. It may be in your church. It may be anywhere.”
Participating students said they felt the scenarios presented were authentic.
August Huckleberry, a senior at Flowery Branch High School, said she’s presented with similar situations in her position at Target.
“People ask for discounts all the time,” she said. “I’m like, it’s not worth losing my job over.”
“This is a great event just to make you think of ethics,” said Connie Rodriguez, a sophomore at the University of North Georgia who volunteered for the program. “Like, what would you do if you were stuck in that situation?”