Enterprising Teens Rate Business Camp A Worthy Experience

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Billy Simons studies the financial data on his computer screen, then clicks a few keys and buys 1,000 shares of Yahoo!, the Internet portal. "Oh, yes," he says as the value of his stock portfolio rises above $1 million.

If only it were real money. But for Mr. Simons' associates, it's fortunate that this is just an exercise. Some of them have quickly lost $500,000 or more on their stock trades.

Mr. Simons is not a day trader or a Wall Street tycoon, but a 17-year-old high school student engaged in a computer simulation of the stock market. He and about 135 other students were attending a one-week camp at Bentley College here last month called the Leadership Institute, designed to introduce young people to the world of private enterprise.

In addition to sessions in Bentley's mock trading room, the students heard lectures from business leaders and college professors and competed in groups to market a fictitious wireless telephone powered by body heat.

So, what kind of teenager gives up part of his or her summer vacation to learn about depreciation of assets, short selling of stocks, and the multiplier effect?

"My friends thought I was a little crazy," said Mr. Simons, who attends Suffield Academy in Ludlow, Mass. "But I'm having a great time."

A Business Nation

For several years now, high school students have had a host of summer opportunities to learn about computers, study government and leadership, or hone their sports skills.

With a booming economy and a nation of small investors who follow business news like never before, it was perhaps inevitable that teenagers would also get the opportunity to go to business camp.

"That's what the country revolves around—business," said 17-year-old Christopher Manion, who was also in front of a computer screen in the Bentley trading room. His mother discusses the stock market with him and encouraged him to attend the six-day camp, he said.

Bentley College, just outside Boston, is a private college offering only business-related majors. It was founded in 1917 as an accounting and finance school in Boston, and it moved to its suburban campus here in 1968. It has sponsored the Leadership Institute for two decades.

While Bentley has been at it awhile, there are signs that business camps are proliferating.

The Dana Hall School, an independent boarding school for girls in nearby Wellesley, Mass., held its fourth annual Camp Start-Up this summer. The camp helps young women learn business fundamentals and develop business plans.

Meanwhile, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship sponsors a two-week BizCamp later this month at Stanford University in California. Participants will start their own ventures and take field trips to Silicon Valley companies.

Even Bentley College is adding new business-camp opportunities.

Last month, it sponsored a separate one-week program for girls called "Get Wired, Get Hired." It was a cross between computer camp and business camp designed to help young women consider careers in information systems, finance, accounting, and other areas dominated by men.

And this week, the college was scheduled to begin offering a camp called "Wall Street 101," with more of a focus on stocks and investing.

Jainen Thayer, the manager of Bentley's trading room, said campers in that program would peruse The Wall Street Journal every morning and encounter a curriculum that covered almost as much ground as an investment course taken by college freshmen.

Karaoke and Whiffle Ball

The idea of business camp might stir up images of overly serious young people dressed in business attire and reading Forbes magazine at the lunch table. But the participants here last month appeared to be normal teenagers looking for an enriching summer experience.

Noel Petrolati, a 16-year-old student at Ludlow (Mass.) High School, said she wasn't sure how students would dress or behave as she packed for the camp.

"I brought a whole bunch of khakis," she said. "I thought we might have to dress up. But this is more like any college."

That meant both boys and girls were relaxed in shorts, sandals, and more than a few Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts.

Gabriel N. Repassy, an administrator at Bentley and the director of the Leadership Institute, stressed that the business camp was not, well, strictly business.

"We don't have dour businessmen in suits coming in to lecture," he said. "The key for a successful summer program is a combination of activities."

In addition to the academic program, the institute offered swimming parties, a karaoke night, and a volleyball tournament. Richard C. Frese Jr., a government professor at the college and a coordinator of the camp, was constantly handing out whiffle-ball bats and encouraging impromptu games on Bentley's manicured lawns.

And the students seemed to enjoy their taste of living in college dorms. Billy Simons and his friends stayed up so late one night that they watched the sun rise.

"I need sleep," he said as he monitored his stock trades the next day.

For Mr. Simons and others, the interest in business was sparked by their parents, their after-school jobs, or by participation in a stock market class in school.

Mr. Simons said his father runs a jewelry business out of the family home and also dabbles as a day trader.

"Squawk Box is on in our house every day," he said, referring to the popular CNBC cable television show about the stock market.

Guernsey Jean, a 16-year-old student from Malden, Mass., got interested in the camp because she took an accounting class at her school. Steve Smith, a 17-year-old from Medford, Mass., said he took a course at his high school called "English for the Entrepreneur."

"Right now, I'm interested in banking," said Mr. Smith, adding that his school had helped him get a job as a teller at a local bank.

Brendon Johnson, an 18-year-old from Harvard, Mass., said he researches stocks on his own and is preparing to invest his own (real) money in the market.

"I'm interested in getting my money to work for me," he said. "I like the idea of day trading, but it's not really the way to go."

Indeed, one purpose of the simulation in the Bentley trading room is to show students how quickly they can lose their mock $1 million with short-term trades, Mr. Thayer said.

"Nine out of 10 of them lose money," he said of the students.

Taking Stock

The trading room is a centerpiece of Bentley's business camps, as well as the pride of the small college, which enrolls 3,500 undergraduates and 1,500 graduate students.

The trading room is one of only three at colleges in the country with so-called real-time stock data, Mr. Thayer said, meaning the flow of data is not delayed by 15 minutes or more as it is on some financial Web sites.

In their company exercises, the teams of students were advised by financial specialists from firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young LLP.

Bryan Parsons, a 1997 Bentley graduate who now works as an auditor for Ernst & Young, helped one of the teams draw up financial and marketing plans for the mock Tic Tel watch telephone. He said he was struck by how knowledgeable the campers were about the stock market and the world of business.

"I asked them what is the highest-price stock on the market, and I was surprised that some of them knew it was Berkshire Hathaway," Mr. Parsons said. The stock of the holding company led by the legendary investor Warren Buffett was trading last week at about $52,500 a share.

"I would say this generation is definitely not as enthusiastic about the political scene as it is about the business scene," Mr. Parsons said.

Vol. 19, Issue 43, Pages 10-11

Published in Print: August 2, 2000, as Enterprising Teens Rate Business Camp A Worthy Experience
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