In 1975, Central Washington University President Jim Brooks approached the Association of Washington Business with a concept of linking business leaders, teachers and high school students together to learn first-hand about what makes our free enterprise system tick.
Brooks proposed that employers not only sponsor students and teachers but spend a week with them on the CWU campus. They would form 10-person companies, compete against one another in a computer simulation game and actually invent and market creative new products.
That formula has worked like magic, and for the last 37 years, more than 50,000 Washington high school students and teachers have graduated from the program. While CWU is still the hub of the summer sessions, it has spread to Gonzaga, Western Washington and Pacific Lutheran universities. Today, it is in 26 other states, Australia and Poland.
Why would students and adults give up one week during the summer to come to a camp and work from daybreak to sunset just to learn about running a business?
For starters, it's a lot of fun, and they meet new friends. Students work with peers from other parts of our state and all walks of life. Reluctant participants at the beginning of the week find it difficult parting ways with new friends at week's end.
Business Week is also a hands-on experience where they organize, lead and make independent decisions -- right or wrong. In the process, they learn about themselves and about potential careers.
Over the years, the program has also changed and grown. Initially, students and teachers were separated and competed against one another. Now, teachers are teamed with business leaders to work with the students and bring everyday classroom experience to the program.
Today, Business Week is more than a summer program. Students can attend an in-school program at their high schools during the school year.
In addition to the traditional business program, there are now pathways in which students can focus on health care, manufacturing, energy and agriculture.
Finally, with the advent of the Internet, students from other parts of the country are registering. They come from as far away as Texas, Florida and Virginia.
Business Week has gone international as well.
Polish leaders learned about it through a sister-city relationship between Seattle and Gdynia. After sending students to Central Washington University, civic leaders and the mayor in Gdynia worked with Washington business leaders to bring the program to Poland. In the last four years, it has spread to four cities: Gdynia, Gdansk, Boleslawowo and Minsk.
According to Piotr Grodzki, who developed his own thriving software company in Gdynia, Business Week brings innovative thinking to Poland's students and educators.
Working side by side
Polish teachers are part of each company and work alongside Washington business leaders, educators and students. Teachers and students learn to conduct business in English, a language that Polish leaders feel is essential to compete successfully.
On the flip side, for Washington teachers such as Darby Vigus of Monroe, and Carey Doyle of Vancouver, working with Polish students and teachers has opened new opportunities to improve teaching and learning.
The bonus for our state is Washington Business Week is funded through private donations, so the Legislature is not asked for money. In fact, it helps augment a university's summer revenue.
In a day when there is increasing focus on the government solving our problems and taking over services, the Business Week model continues to feed the innovative spirit and generates excitement about our free enterprise system. Stimulating people to create, compete and earn profits makes America the envy of the world.
That's the real magic of Washington Business Week!
Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org.