Chapter president Brittany Fiedler and faculty advisor Vicki West led Texas State’s Students in Free Enterprise team to a Final Four finish at the 2008 SIFE USA National Exposition.
SIFE Students Learn by Teaching Financial Skills to Others
Fifteen miles south of Juárez, Mexico, in a community known simply as Kilometer 33, members of the Tarahumara tribe live in isolation and poverty. Some find work in maquiladoras; others make their way into downtown Juárez to beg. Children spend countless hours alone.
In March 2008, opportunity came to Kilometer 33 thanks to a group of Texas State University students. They helped open a small grocery store, giving residents access to food and clothes at discount prices close to home. They also taught community members about the free market, financial responsibility and business ethics — lessons that could help people like Armando Vasquez, who co-owns and runs the store, create a brighter future for the community.
The students who helped open the store are members of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), an organization that is active on 1,500 university campuses around the world. They belong to the Texas State chapter — one of the most successful chapters in the nation.
In May 2008, the Texas State SIFE team placed in the Final Four of 140 teams competing on the national level at the 2008 SIFE USA National Exposition in Chicago. Using a 24-minute multimedia presentation, the team told judges — top-level executives of leading corporations — about projects completed during the year.
“Very glitzy,” is how McCoy College of Business faculty member and Sam Walton Fellow Vicki West describes the team’s presentation. “Our students’ presentation skills, in both content and delivery, could rival a presentation made by a Fortune 500 executive. We are very, very proud of them.”
Building a Future
The store near Juárez, the team’s signature project for the year, was one of more than 50 projects the Texas State chapter completed. Known as “Operation Build a Future,” the plan was to build a business from scratch, teach ownership principles, and train the employees in supply chain management and international trade.
“We used money from our own entrepreneurial operations to help the people in that community build a future,” says chapter president and presentation team captain Brittany Fiedler. “We felt the best way to do this was to develop a strong business plan and then help them learn how to run their own business. It has been a truly rewarding experience to see our ideas become reality and to see lives, both theirs and ours, actually change.”
Building and opening the store wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a Texas State SIFE alumna, Lidia Robles. She is the comptroller for her father’s logistics company, Robles International Services, Inc. Robles partnered with Texas State SIFE and Kingdom Flight, a humanitarian organization that donated land for the 1,000-square-foot store. For her work with the Texas State chapter, Robles was recognized at the national exposition in Chicago as the Outstanding Business Advisory Board Member.
Making an Impact
SIFE teams at the national competition described for the judges economic opportunities they helped create in their communities in the areas of market economics, success skills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, business ethics and team sustainability.
Among the projects included in Texas State’s presentation was Project Green Earth. With a $10,000 sponsorship from Dell, the team put together a package with facts about going green and an environmental quiz that went to every SIFE team in the world. Teams that completed the quiz correctly were entered in a drawing to win one of two new Dell computers. On the Texas State campus, the team held a Global Going Green Day to encourage students to recycle their old computers.
To teach financial literacy skills, SIFE members were inspired by the “Suze Orman Show.” A SIFE officer in a blonde wig played the popular TV financial advisor, visiting groups and asking them questions about credit scoring, credit card usage, saving and investing, and money management. Texas State SIFE won first in the nation for this project.
The group’s Interview Express project focused on improving workforce readiness for students, older workers, disadvantaged workers and the unemployed. The two-day event featured 10 stations, each one manned by a corporate executive, a SIFE officer and a new SIFE student. Moving from station to station, participants learned about workforce attire, interviewing tips, proper business introductions, the differences in business card presentations around the world and more.
A Winning Record
Founded in 1975, SIFE has grown into one of the largest university-based organizations in the world and is supported by some of the biggest names in American business. SIFE came to Texas State in 1994, and since 1997, the Texas State SIFE team has won every regional competition and gone on to nationals, placing in the top 20 teams nine of the last 11 years. They won the International Championship in 2000.
The national competition starts out with 900 teams from across the country, which compete in regional competitions. The second round of competition is on the national stage. The first round at nationals narrows the field down to 20 teams. “That jump from 140 to 20 is big,” says West. “Once you get in that top 20 you are competing against teams that are all former champions.”
“In our opening round at nationals we were up against a three-time international champion,” says Fiedler.
West is extremely proud of the 2008 team. She compares the win to the NCAA basketball tournament. “Making it to the Final Four is like winning,” she says.
Texas State students who participate in SIFE take a one-semester course for credit. After that, they are involved in the organization as volunteers. “There are huge incentives to be part of SIFE,” Fiedler says. “A lot of students don’t have real-world experience when they leave college. We get that through SIFE. When we go to an interview with a Fortune 500 company and they ask us to tell them how we handled a specific situation, we can do that because of SIFE.”
“SIFE gives the students access to opportunities with companies such as 3M, Frito Lay, CVS, Sprint, Campbell’s, Nestlé and others,” says West. “Texas State SIFE has really made a name for itself in these companies.”
Each year the Texas State chapter launches new projects and continues their most successful projects from previous years. Outgoing officers choose their own successors, which makes for a smooth transition from year to year. So who is a good candidate for SIFE? “They have to love capitalism,” says West. “They have to love free enterprise and hard work.”