Business Class Builds Bridges to At-Risk Youth

by Michelle Bonja '12

Every semester, undergraduate business students in Roxanne Helm-Stevens’ Organization and Administrative Behavior class embark on an unorthodox service-learning project, serving for six weeks as mentors at three continuation high schools in the San Gabriel Valley, including Mt. Olive in Duarte and Sierra and Whitcomb in Glendora, which accommodate many of the region’s underprivileged youth.

Helm-Stevens, DBA, associate professor and chair of graduate management programs, has spearheaded the service-learning project that has grown since it began 10 semesters ago with Azusa Pacific students getting involved at just one high school in the area.

“Students are encouraged to gain a better understanding of organization and administrative behavior theories and concepts by working together to teach at-risk high school students in the local communities,” said Helm-Stevens, noting that the class format is more like a graduate-level course than anything else.

"They are at a very impressionable age, and amidst much of the negativity they may be absorbing, we have the opportunity to make a positive impression on them."—Markie Gleason, junior business administration major, pictured above, at left, with Brent Bakke '13, Nathan Froehlich '13, and David Park '12.

At the beginning of the semester, the APU business students are given six weeks’ worth of curriculum. In groups arranged by Helm-Stevens, they prepare each learning module as a team before bringing the lesson to the high-schoolers.

“I was slightly uneasy, at first, due to the reputation others proclaimed the school to have,” said Breeann Scott, a senior business administration major working at Sierra High School. “But I was able to quickly adjust my perspective of the school and the students attending it.”

APU’s student-mentors are encouraged to enhance the curriculum by finding creative and engaging ways of presenting it to the high-schoolers, who may sometimes feel indifferent toward school and education. The lesson plans involve practical material the high-schoolers have had no previous guidance in, such as how to do an interview, make a résumé, and conduct presentations.

“I am trying to give the high school students all the tips I have learned that no one really told me, which will hopefully help them when they cross those bridges,” said Nathan Froehlich, a junior business administration major who is serving at Whitcomb High School.

Helm-Stevens and her students even worked to develop the curriculum now used for the outreach project, after purchasing the materials from an outside company became too costly and threatened the program. It was at this point, said Helm-Stevens, that the service became a ministry.

APU’s business students have embraced the opportunity to walk beside local teens as they navigate through their high school years.

“I really think they enjoy our presence just showing that we really care about them and appreciate spending time with them,” said Markie Gleason, a junior business administration major also assisting at Whitcomb High School. “They are at a very impressionable age, and amidst much of the negativity they may be absorbing, we have the opportunity to make a positive impression on them.”

The class presents a unique opportunity for everyone involved, as APU scholars aim to teach and inspire struggling high school students.

“The feedback from APU students, high-school students, teachers, and principals has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Helm-Stevens. “Like casting pebbles into a pond, the fruits produced from this course have been abundant.”