Garden City’s Adelphi University has given high schoolers, who are aspiring business professionals, the chance to get an early taste of their potentially cut-throat futures, including Floral Park’s Jenny Seuling who was part of the event’s winning team.
The Adelphi Apprentice Challenge, mirrored after the Donald Trump-helmed television program The Apprentice, is a multi–high school competition that enables students to experience the rigors of real-life marketing specialists in a legitimate, boardroom-style environment.
According to Brian Rothschild, Assistant Dean of the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business and emcee for the event, it’s a great way for pupils with a business leaning to get their toes wet in the industry without the threat of being subjected to Trump’s infamous catchphrase: “You’re fired!”
“Students come here and get put on teams with students from different schools, all of whom they have not had access to prior to today. This enables them to be creative and to learn how to work in teams, which they will do once they get into college and in life,” he said. “They are given a case study—in this case, a product for a company—for which they must create a marketing plan within one hour, and present that plan to a panel of judges.”
The Adelphi Apprentice Challenge began in 2006. This year, 265 students from 21 high schools in the tristate area participated. The day-long event began with a marketing presentation by an Adelphi professor, followed by the introduction of the 15 judge panel, all of whom came from high-level positions within the business field. From there, the hastily assembled teams of students—all complete strangers to one another—were given one hour to brainstorm and come up with a viable marketing plan for a company’s product. In this case, Sol Republic Bluetooth wireless headphones, which are considered a hot commodity in the music scene.
“It’s a true boardroom experience, and it offers them the chance to see what it is like to be out there in the real world, making presentations to senior-level executives,” Rothschild said. “It either affirms their desire to get into the business and marketing field or it can show them that the field really isn’t for them after all. Plus, it looks great on a resume.”
Each team has a designated “rival” team against which they must compete head-to-head. The winning team then progresses onward in the tournament-style competition, until—as a popular movie once decreed—there can only be one, Rothschild said. Each team is supplied with a laptop computer connected to a network printer, dry erase board, index cards, tape, pens and so on. The marketing skills, however, have to be supplied by the students themselves.
Gerard Smith, a football player and senior at Garden City High School, said that taking part in the Apprentice Challenge is a great way for business-minded individuals to develop focus and on-the-spot decision-making skills, which are a must if someone is hoping to make a successful impact in the corporate world.
“Once I got to know everyone on my team and we all noticed that we had a lot of similarities, we started having fun meeting all these new people…we came together and really put together a plan and stuck with it,” he said. “Our advertising is going to be centered around well-known people who are nonetheless not big-name celebrities, as well as a focus on social media such as Instagram and Twitter.”
Rita Little of Glen Cove is an alumni of Adelphi University and a returning judge to the Apprentice Challenge. A retired vice president of marketing for major housewares chain Bed, Bath and Beyond with more than 40 years of experience in the industry, there are few more qualified to not only critique the sales strategies of young up-and-comers, but to provide valuable mentorship as well.
“A year ago, I was first invited to be a judge and I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and energy that these high school students brought to the program. Many of them don’t get a chance to see marketing brought to life until they get to experience something like this,” she said. “Overall, when judging the Apprentice Challenge, I look for drive and determination, as well as original ideas. At this age, teenagers tend to have no boundaries on their imagination and usually think outside of the box, and that originality means a lot. It’s also great to see how they work together as a team.”
Dionnee Harper, vice president of marketing for Atlantic Records, is also a returning judge for the competition. She said that the Apprentice Challenge gives kids today a valuable opportunity that didn’t exist when she was in school.
“This is a nice way to give back to the students and share some of the things I’ve learned over the years,” she said. “It also gives me the chance to see what fresh ideas and what talented young people are out there, waiting to jump into the business and marketing field feet first.”
The reasoning behind the Adelphi Apprentice Challenge, Rothschild noted, is to give students a chance to see the Adelphi campus and experience the flavor of the university, should they have aspirations of attending once they graduate. In addition, the imparting of valuable life lessons is also a primary goal, and the Apprentice Challenge has proven so effective in that regard that the event has steadily increased in size each and every year.
“The Challenge has been a huge success. Every year we put out the word and any school that wishes to attend is welcome,” Rothschild said. “The high school students love it to the point that the ones that come here as freshmen and sophomores will beg their teachers to come again as juniors and seniors. It’s up the individual schools and how many they’re allowed to bring, but the students who attend always get excited about returning the following year.”