After nearly two decades in the corporate world working at Southwestern Company, Sam Kirk set his sights on demystifying that world for youth across the country, starting right here in Nashville.
“I really felt a calling in my heart to work with students from underserved communities and I wanted to go into places where young people are traditionally overlooked,” Kirk said.
As the executive director and founder of the non-profit, Youth About Business, Kirk has taken care to facilitate a pipeline to success for high school students by providing resources and opportunities that foster the development of business literacy and leadership skills. Through a series of intensive training opportunities, hands-on experience, and mentorship throughout the participants’ high school careers, alums leave the program equipped to be competitive in business and the world beyond.
At its core, Kirk said, the program is about leveling the playing field for all young professionals.
“If you’re on a level playing field and you get beat, then I believe that’s okay,” he said. “But what’s not is when students are not given the same set of resources and continue to lose.”
By working to address this resource gap, Kirk believes young people who are not traditionally given the same access as their counterparts, but are tremendously talented, can thrive.
Since the program was founded in 1992, with only seven participants, it has grown exponentially and served over 9,000 students to date. YAB currently operates its in-person programming in Tennessee, New York, Illinois, Georgia, and Texas but added an online academy in 2020 to better serve students during the pandemic. Of the thousands of YAB alumni, many have gone on to become leading names in their respective industries.
“I’ve got a long list of young people who have gone on to achieve great things,” he said.
A critical component to this success? The experiential learning process, which sets the program apart from other professional development curriculum, Kirk said.
With their three major university partners – Vanderbilt University, Emory University, and Columbia University – students are able to live on campus during the intensive summer training and experience the college environment. Additionally, with programming that’s set up to challenge students, giving them unique opportunities such as creating a simulated Merger & Acquisition Transaction and granting them access to top industry professionals, the sky’s the limit for those who are driven to excel.
“These young people who are entering business and industry, their companies are now telling us that the preparedness found in those who have been through our program is elevated and unique,” Kirk said. “So now we’re developing relationships with those companies and they’re looking at YAB for internships and other opportunities. That’s one thing I’m so excited about.”
These corporate relationships, Kirk said, play a big role in providing Youth About Business scholars with exclusive opportunities and experiences. With a possible MLB franchise on the horizon in Nashville, there will be many new and exciting possibilities for programs like Youth About Business.
“I think if you can’t see the dream, it’s hard to live the dream, and for a team here to come to fruition is extremely exciting. That’s gonna create a very unique picture for Nashville and for young people who are dreaming of opportunities, outside of playing baseball, on the development side and the enterprise side,” he said.
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