CEO Program celebrates 1st semester with banquet

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019

With winter slowly passing through, so marks the halfway point for the Mower CEO Program’s inaugural year.

The first CEO banquet was held by the Mower CEO students at the Hormel Historic Home on Monday night. A majority of the event was organized by the students, including advertising and marketing for the event as well as planning for live entertainment for those who came by for a dinner catered by Hy-Vee.

“I’m so proud of these students,” said Emily Hovland, facilitator of the Mower CEO Program. “I have seen them grow and to see them prepare and pull off this banquet, it has been amazing.”

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Mower CEO focuses on teaching students about business through real-world applications, such as creating business plans and working with community investors, as well as becoming entrepreneurs who contribute to the local community and its economic development. Students who are enrolled in the program shared their experiences with the roomful of investors and community members and talked about their progress.

“I definitely learned to be confident and shake hands with others,” said Collin Coyle, an Austin High School senior. “You learn something about business and that it’s definitely not easy. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in trying out the program.”

Others learned about how to change their frame of thinking and take ownership of their professionalism and etiquette, such as LeAnne Valle, an Austin High School senior, who was able to do an internship at Hormel Foods’ Corporate offices.

“My biggest struggle was to get up early and get going to class,” Valle said. “I’ve learned about the importance of being on time. It has been a great experience and I’ve learned techniques that are nice for me to implement for our classes.”

Investors and community members attend the first Mower CEO Program banquet held at the Hormel Historic Home on Monday night.

The program is selective, and students from both Austin High School and Pacelli High School need to apply and have letters of recommendation in order to be considered for the program. Class meets in local businesses, changing locations throughout the year, and helps students establish an identity based on their CEO experience and learn more about professionalism in workplace environments.

Students also work with CEO mentors who help them immerse themselves in their learning experiences with chances to take risks, manage results and learn from their mistakes. Some described how much the program changed their frame of thinking. For Rachel Nelsen, a Pacelli High School junior, the Mower CEO was a way to develop fully into an entrepreneur who can utilize critical thinking and strategy to create plans for her business and for the future.

“Mower CEO is about making a mark,” Nelsen said. “It’s about how to find our legacy and how to create my own legacy and change the world.”

As students prepare for the second-half of their Mower CEO experience, they will be hosting a trade show in May that will showcase the different businesses and start-ups that they planned and created during the course of their program.

One example included Samantha Sheldon, an Austin High School senior, who created her own line of bath bombs, shower steamers and more called Aquamarine Bath through the Mower CEO Program. After having her mother become an investor (who allowed Sheldon to create products in the house as well as giving a loan for the business), Sheldon was able to make back the money to pay off her loan as well as experiencing what it was like to be an entrepreneur.

“You have a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “It’s OK to fail.”

Thus far, the progress indicated that students were taking ownership of their own experiences through Mower CEO. Dale Wicks of Quality Pork Processors stated that the creation of the program took several years. He was excited about the near-completion of the inaugural year and what students would take away from their personal experiences.

“Hopefully some students come back to our community and contribute in a larger way,” Wicks said. “This is why it’s so important. Without the vision or the support from the district, which is a huge piece of the puzzle, it’s not going to be successful. We’re seeing the community getting involved and seeing how it transforms students.”