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Business students inspire middle-schoolers on Diploma-See Day

Students with Richard George

Students studying at the USF Muma College of Business have already learned the importance of staying in school and succeeding in their pre-college studies. But high-risk students in middle school and high school may not have that same knowledge or hope.

Giving those high-risk students perspective is the goal behind Diploma-See Day, a program put on by Junior Achievement Tampa Bay and the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce to help eighth graders identify education and career goals, as well as illustrating the economic benefits of staying in school. On Oct. 24, 54 students from USF Beta Alphi Psi, the Business Honors Program, the Bulls Business Community, and USF Student Government joined together to talk with students in local middle schools about the benefits of education in their own lives.

"It made me very proud to have the students there," said Jose Valiente, a USF accounting alumnus, retired CPA, and Junior Achievement volunteer who initiated the Diploma-See Day when he was president of the chamber in 2006. "It was a blast watching these young students with a passion delivering the curriculum."

"These kids in the at-risk schools, they think because they're poor and they're at risk they have no chance," Valiente said. "So we bring role models in to dispel that myth."

This month's Diploma-See Day set a record participation of 397 volunteers, and Valiente gives credit to USF students for boosting those numbers. Valiente first asked students in the USF chapter of accounting honor society Beta Alpha Psi to participate, knowing that the mission of Diploma-See Day aligned closely with the honor society's own principles.

One of the students who participated in the program, Gabe Patil, said he was excited to share the keys to success with the eighth-graders at Pearce Middle School.

"A lot of kids at that age want to be pro athletes," he said, noting that he outlined skills athletes need like math and team-building and how those skills are learned in school. "And it kind of dawned on them, OK, maybe school needs to be a part of my plan."

Ashley Pearson, who recruited Business Honors and Bulls Business Community students to the project, said she found the experience eye-opening, especially realizing how many of the students spoke little to no English.

"The whole process was just amazing," she said. "The students really were thankful for us being there, even if everything didn't go according to plan or we weren't the best teachers."

Richard George, executive director of Junior Achievement Tampa Bay, said he appreciated the volunteerism of USF business students and was impressed at the passion they showed as role models for the younger students.

"We made a beautiful thing happen together," George said. "We have studies to show that volunteers are helping show students the relevance of their education to their future success, and also giving them hope."