Bob Berrigan is used to hearing a bittersweet saying from Future Business Leaders of America students at Heritage High School. So he would not be surprised to hear how student Christopher Kites feels about the business club.
“I wish I started earlier,” Kites, 19, said recently.
Berrigan, 45, said most of the club’s recruits are older students coming from his various business classes. This year, Berrigan is teaching a new class he thinks might interest some younger students: financial literacy. He also will teach courses in the Evergreen Public Schools high school on accounting, business communications, street law and current world issues.
In his 16th year as a club adviser, Berrigan works to tie classwork with club activities.
“If the curriculum ties into that year’s (Future Business Leaders of America National Conference) theme, I can give the students a prompt as an assignment and then they already have most of their work for FBLA done from class,” said Berrigan, who is also club adviser for the Southwest Washington Region.
Kites,a 2015 graduate who will start his freshman year at the University of Washington soon, didn’t start attending club meetings until his senior year, after he took a few of Berrigan’s classes.
“I signed up (for the classes) because I really wanted to have an understanding for business, and understand what’s going on in that world locally and globally,” Kites said. “I wanted to get a basic understanding of terms and topics that I could use the rest of my life.”
For an assignment to create a business plan, Kites worked on a plan for a computer support company, and Berrigan told him he could use that work to compete in competitions. Kites joined the club and competed at various regional Future Business Leader events. He was invited to the National Leadership Conference in Chicago in June along with fellow students Lacey McPoil and Griffin Bacon. Kites placed second in the Help Desk competition. It was the seventh time in his 10 years at Heritage that Berrigan took students to the national conference.
“The experiences in the competitions and my internship definitely helped me get more confident,” Kites said.
During his senior year at Heritage, Kites interned with Ryonet, a Vancouver-based screen-printing company.
Internships and helping students form relationships with local companies is something Berrigan is looking to do more of moving forward.
“The club is designed to bring education and business together,” Berrigan said. “Students are able to get leadership opportunities and get the skills businesses are looking for.” ”
Berrigan added that while “business” is in the name of the club, he’s had students join who want to go into other fields, such as medicine. He said that the organization offers 70 different competitive events for students. At nationals, McPoil competed in the 3-D animation contest, and Bacon competed in the video game design category.
“I can find some box that any student can be successful in,” Berrigan said. “Of course, a lot of it depends on the students themselves. The ones who put in more work are the ones who are most successful.”
That goes for the club as a whole, as it is very much a student-led organization, he said.
“The most successful years are the ones where the students running the club take the bull by the horns,” he said. “It’s up to them to set up events and bring in guest speakers if they want. To me, that’s what it should be all the time.”
In previous years, students have organized events including a green jobs career fair, service work and a game night at the school.
“It’s up to the officers to step up and do those sorts of things,” Kites said. “Getting members involved is about more than just getting them to come to meetings.”
Berrigan has his students do some community service work every year. They worked the last four years to raise money to buy solar panels and have them installed at an all-girls school in Nairobi, Kenya, giving the school “consistent electricity,” Berrigan said. They also bought a water tower for the school. Berrigan said the connection also helps students learn about international trade, since each group of students have sent items, such as local crafts from markets and books, to each other.
No matter why a student joins the club, Berrigan wants him or her to get one thing out of the experience: a connection.
“I want students to feel like part of a group, feel like they bring value to this club,” he said. “It was the best thing I did when I was in high school, and I’d love it if that’s how a majority of my students felt.”