'Take control of their learning'

Loudon High School teacher Laura Degnan, from left, Elam Huddleston and Colton Gentry review a presentation on the computer.

Students at Loudon High School are getting valuable learning experience as they work together to simulate business operations in teacher Laura Degnan’s Virtual Enterprises course.

The class spans two semesters, with the first part focused on creating a business plan on what to sell and how to market it, and to gain a better understanding of the overall economics. That also includes creating a resume and cover letter, along with interviewing and applying for jobs in the company. Websites for products go live in November.

“Within each firm you have different departments,” Degnan said. “Just like any business has administration department, resources department, accounting department, we have that, and so each business has its own set of departments and they operate separately.”

This semester 18 students have worked toward trying to live out the plan set before Christmas break.

“Our company is a virtual company so we sell virtual products to other students actually across the globe,” Degnan said. “We have had international customers, we’ve also been international customers, we’ve bought from other countries. All the students who take Virtual Enterprise actually have a job and earn a virtual paycheck.”

The course is based off Virtual Enterprises International, which is a company stationed in New York. LHS students are able to interact with students around the world participating in a similar course.

“The whole thing creates a virtual economy and so to keep it running we all have to buy from one another,” Degnan said.

She hopes the course helps students “take control of their learning.” Although she offers guidance when needed, she wants students to find ways to get their job done through problem-solving. She noted one student’s first experience designing a website.

“How many times have you been in a job and been 100 percent trained on something you were supposed to do? Nobody is, so you have to go find answers,” Degnan said. “If you’re not sure what to do, you go find answers and then if it doesn’t work you keep working at it, and that’s one of the things that they learned to do in here.”

Elam Huddleston, LHS senior, was tasked to design logos that were voted on by students.

The class has helped him develop skills in accounting, marketing and representing himself as a company.

“From a business standpoint it’s how to come up with products and also how to get out there and learn the skills that I don’t know, but also help other people,” Huddleston said.

He said the most enjoyable aspect was when the class traveled to Pigeon Forge in November for a trade show with like-minded students from around the country.

Students were tasked to develop a trade show booth and interact with others trying to buy and sell products, Degnan said.

“I think they learn a lot about business, but I think they also learn a lot about themselves,” she said. “Usually with the trade show when they first get there they’re a little shy, a little bit maybe timid about going up and approaching people and actually selling, but by the time we leave each time I’ve taken kids up there they’ve really risen to the challenge.”

Colton Gentry, LHS junior, worked in human resources and said he learned collaboration skills.

“That’s basically the biggest in the business, because this business is all about interconnected roles and how you can help each other and as a company we grow stronger because it’s more about the collectives than anything else, but it’s not to the point where an individual can’t succeed,” Gentry said.

He hopes to go into law after graduation, adding that he could use entrepreneurial skills to establish a law firm.

“Considering my classes last semester it was probably the most I’ve learned in a class last semester because these are all real skills, these are all real skills that you’ll take into the world,” Gentry said. “You know how some classes like in English or math you’re like, ‘Oh, how am I going to use this for the rest of my life?’ Well Virtual Enterprise you know you’re going to use this because this is a business world and we’re living in it.”

Once this semester ends, students will close the store and ensure it’s ready for opening in the fall — even though a new business will start from scratch. They also reflect on their experiences, Degnan said.

“I hope they walk away with confidence in their abilities, to collaborate with others,” she said. “I don’t want them to have as much fear about working with other people and really showing what they can do.”