Sherando students pilot business mentorships

Liz Lewis, right, American Woodmark CFO assistant, discusses FBLA competitive events with Sherando seniors Autumn Gordan and Danielle Mudd. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

WINCHESTER – Sherando students involved with FBLA will be getting some hands-on experience from mentors at American Woodmark in the coming months after their orientation at the company on Friday.

The students are preparing for competition events that cover a plethora of skills from accounting to word processing. Those competitions will occur in spring 2016, starting with the Shenandoah Conference on March 5 and continuing up through the state and national levels.

FBLA chapter president and Sherando senior Katie Copp and FBLA advisor and Sherando business teacher Charisse Woodward are working with American Woodmark Director of Logistics Mike Mills to help direct students, teachers, and employees in this pioneer effort. Out of 60 competitive events at the FBLA conferences, Mills said employees will be coaching the students in 12 categories that they’re seasoned experts in.

At their Friday orientation, the students learned a few basic practices from employees through internal modules and discussed leadership with the senior staff and CEO Cary Dunsten.

American Woodmark employees are working out the finer details of the mentorship program as they go along, as they themselves were new to the FBLA programs until planning began this summer. For now, they’ve familiarized themselves with both the students and their goals and set up for continued correspondence to help them meet those goals in the spring.

Last year, Cana Curtis came through the regional and state Client Service competitive event to rank eighth nationally after getting a little practice at American Woodmark’s call center.

This year, Cana will be entering with Mitchell Skowbo and Katie Copp into the Partnership with Business Project competitive event, making the entire venture with American Woodmark itself an accomplishment they can take straight to the state conference.

Katie said that, having interacted with FBLA officers in other schools at the regional conference, she thinks this program is breaking some new ground. For her, a big advantage is the ability to present before the conference and get feedback from a mentor.

“Before this, most preparation was all individual, so a student wasn’t necessarily monitored in what they were doing – it was always up to the student,” she said.

Another big advantage to her is the students’ ability to hone in on a specific skill and learn from someone who uses it every day.

“The business department at Sherando is great, but you don’t always have someone who makes websites in there,” she said. “Having someone here who’s an expert at website making, kind of help you figure out how to do that for yourself and critique you in a professional way, I think, is the best part of this.”

Mills said that cooperation between the FBLA and American Woodmark started because of that subject diversity in the competitive events. Students will be able to get the realest experience there is while still putting most of the work in themselves.

“Mentorship is not coaching per se, it is not telling them what to do and how to do the event – the student has to own it,” he said.

While the educational and professional benefits are plain to see, Mills and Woodward both said the nature of the mentorship isn’t quite in line with a school-recognized internship’s structure and requirements as of yet.

“We didn’t want to be, in the first stage, confined to a lot of that vigor that’s around that while we’re figuring it out,” Mills said. “We have no problem with the vigor…we wanted to develop this concept before we try to then to fit it into something else.”

Katie said she hopes this pilot year will pave the way for FBLA students from Sherando and other area schools to get this unique hands-on experience.

“I would like to see more kids understand the benefit of these events and how they can be prepared for a workplace environment by pursuing a mentorship over here,” she said. “Even if they don’t win at their event, they’ve still gained something from this.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com