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Howard County Students Dive into the Uncharted Waters of Business

When Chesapeake Charms CEO Barathi Aravindan joined JA Rising Women in 2017, she thought it would be “just another program” that her mother encouraged her to attend. Now, it’s something that has changed her career trajectory. 

"After participating in JA Rising Women, I realized business was the field for me. I discovered something that finally utilized my skills and interested me,” said Aravindan, who is headed to University of Maryland this fall to major in finance and participate in the entrepreneurship and innovation honors program.

Aravindan and her 16 colleagues – fellow Howard County high school students – found a fashionable way to save the Chesapeake Bay through their business venture, Chesapeake Charms. The young entrepreneurs designed charm bracelets featuring three species native to the Chesapeake Bay, including the loggerhead sea turtle, Eastern Oyster, and blue crab, which sold out in less than two weeks from launch. After reaching their sales goals, the company donated $1,000 to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Chesapeake Charms was selected as one of 14 teams to compete at JA National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS) in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate their business acumen, creativity, and entrepreneurial thinking on a national stage, while showcasing their companies to members of Congress and business leaders.

“The NSLS competition is rough, but everyone is open to learning new ideas. The biggest impact for me was the FedEx seminar, where I realized how global connectivity is important for a successful business and it inspired new ideas of bringing Chesapeake Charms, at the very least, nationwide,” said Marketing Director Ashley Chen. “I also learned how the business world really does need more women.”

As the only all-women student company represented at NSLS, Chen’s thoughts were echoed by her peers, who enjoyed aspects such as networking, educational workshops, and competitive events. For Erin Duncan, chief financial officer, the experience was unforgettable, even though Chesapeake Charms did not win.

“NSLS gave me a chance to experience networking as a real businesswoman. Overall it was a fun business experience that most high schoolers never get the chance to experience,” added Duncan. “We also participated in multiple workshops with C-suite mentors on what it means to be an entrepreneur in your innovation, social responsibility, and global impact. I expect the lessons I learned from JA Rising Women and NSLS to lead me into a strong business-guided future.”

With a year full of new experiences, JA entrepreneurs received an authentic look at the business world, but it’s impact is even greater. Kathy Tran, vice president of sales, felt her JA experience “played a large role” in her personal growth, particularly building her leadership skills.

“JA Rising Women not only taught me about the business world and what it means to be an entrepreneur, but it also taught me to be more confident,” added Aravindan. “I hope to start my own business in the future that will give back to the community that has already given me so much.”

While Aravindan prepares for her freshman year of college this summer, her colleagues have other plans including studying for SAT’s, internships, jobs, and returning to JA Rising Women next fall.

To learn more about JA entrepreneurial programs such as JA Rising Women, contact Nick Anderson at nanderson@jamaryland.org.

Beyond the Classroom

“From high school until now, Junior Achievement has played a pivotal role in my educational success, and now I get to give back,” said Shawna Thomas, JA BizTown Program Coordinator.

The JA alumna participated in JA High School Heroes, a program that gives students the opportunity to become role models by teaching and inspiring elementary students through JA curriculum, which focuses on financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship.

Shawna participated in her junior and senior years at New Town High in Baltimore County. Through the program, she strengthened her public speaking and presentation skills, gained exposure and work experience teaching in the classroom, and collaborated with her classmates while developing leadership skills.

Graduating this May at Stevenson University (SU), Shawna is using many of the skills she gained from JA not only in her academics, but also in her work as a leader outside of her classes. She serves as secretary of SU’s Black Student Union, the president of the English Club, and a former speaker at SU’s open houses with the English Department.

“JA allowed me to channel leadership skills that I did not know I possessed,” added Thomas. “I felt more confident in my abilities to speak to people other than my peers. I’ve also improved my communication, leadership, and problem solving skills and use it in college.”

Now, these skills are also benefitting Shawna in her JA BizTown role, where she empowers students beyond the classroom. Shawna ensures JA BizTown runs as smoothly as possible by assisting eager fifth graders as they run the simulated city for the day. In JA BizTown, students gain an understanding of personal finance, job responsibilities, teamwork and collaboration, and how they fit into a real-world environment. She is helping students thrive in this unforgettable experience.

“It is an honor to be able to work with such an amazing group of individuals to plant and cultivate seeds in children’s lives,” said Thomas.

Hannah Humphries is a program intern at Junior Achievement. She is an English major at Stevenson University who will graduate with her BA in May 2018. Her primary focus within her major is creative writing. She loves semi-colons, but hates exclamation points, though she makes some exceptions when writing about JA.

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