Feature stories

Managing to succeed

Virtual Enterprise program prepares students for business world

Virtural Enterprise program at New Dorp HS Bruce Cotler

The virtual corporate world connects students to the real world. “It influences what they want to do for a living, be it an accountant, lawyer, entrepreneur,” said teacher Paul Presti. View more photos >>

Virtual Enterprise at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS Bruce Cotler

Virtual Enterprise at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS has students managing their own corporation. From left are top executives Julio Mejia and Nicholas Venier with human resources associate Ilirida Marke.

Jose Haley of sales and marketing creates a brochure. Bruce Cotler

Jose Haley of sales and marketing creates a brochure.

They’re dressed in suits or business casual, are forthcoming, discuss things like work flow and subliminal images, and have firm handshakes as they thank you for coming.

They’re teenagers.

You are not dreaming.

You have simply stepped into a parallel universe of high school seniors who run Virtual Management & Insurance at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS.

Yes, insurance. Not a word that usually goes under the heading of “What Do Teenagers Really Want?”

But listen to Klea Papuli, manager of sales:

“I like the challenge of persuading people to be interested in our product, because insurance is not the most exciting product.”

Roy Dieudonne, manager of marketing, agrees it’s all about persuasion:

“I like being in creative instead of in corporate, being in charge of advertising, and am interested in ways to subliminally speak to people through commercials, ads, video.”

Talk to these job-ready students and to teacher Paul Presti and it’s clear that this virtual business world has its feet planted firmly in reality.

The program teaches entrepreneurship, finance, economics, business and technology through a task-based, hands-on curriculum.

Guided by their classroom teacher and community business mentors, students create and manage a virtual company, conducting business with other virtual firms nationally and internationally.

There are after-school and summer internships, workshops and competitions.

Last school year both of New Dorp’s Virtual Enterprise programs took home the gold in the prestigious Business Plan Championship.

Management & Insurance won first place in the city and second in the national competitions; the school’s Law, History and Human Rights Institute won first in the national and second in the city.

There are 45 schools throughout the city with Virtual Enterprise programs; some, like New Dorp, have two programs.

“New Dorp is doing a bang-up job, no question,” said John Jastremski, associate director of Virtual Enterprise International’s New York office.

Presti, a business and accounting teacher and former comptroller and business owner, is perfect as the “sage on the stage, then the guide on the side,” in Virtual parlance, and has relished teaching in the program since coming aboard in 2005.

“Students are getting real world experience. Whatever they do for a living is going to include using skills learned in our six departments,” Presti said.

Human resources, research and development, accounting, sales, marketing and auditing each have their own section in the large space, complete with office cubicles, personnel and managers.

“New Dorp has become a great school,” said Presti, “but it’s been shown that even in a struggling school, this program brings out the best in every student.”

Now students are bringing out the best in each other as they gear up for the January championship.

“I’m making sure we’re on track for the competition,” said Julio Mejia, chief executive officer, who will write the business plan’s executive summary with the director of operations, Nicholas Venier.

Balance sheets are being readied.

Accounting manager Kelly Nelson is learning “not only how to make my own balance sheet but how to deal with people, with stress and managing others.”

“I love math,” says Karin Manukyan, manager of auditing. After business school she wants to be an auditor in the food industry, which she feels would be a good fit. After all, her family owns Alladin’s Grill in Dongan Hills on Staten Island.

Stephen Heyer, manager of research and development, is “learning about leadership and how to deal with the pressure of meeting a deadline.”

Erum Zubair of human resources is learning “how to be a manager and manage my time well and get everything accomplished.”

All these seniors envision futures in business, which for most includes attending a four-year business college.

And for most, like operations director Venier, that clarity was found in the program with their teacher.

“Before, I didn’t know at all what I wanted to do. It’s been a complete transformation,” Venier said.

Virtual Enterprise at Staten Island’s New Dorp HSBruce Cotler“It’s a pleasure being with them,” says Presti (center) of his team. From left are department managers Stephen Hyer and Roy Dieudonne, Director of Operations Nicholas Venier, CEO Julio Mejia, and managers Karin Manukyan, Klea Papuli, Erum Zubair and Kelly Nelson. With them (at right) is UFT BASIS HS District Representative Thomas Bennett.

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