Southeast, Junior Achievement Partnership Promotes Entrepreneurship Education


High school students Jonah Turner, Evan Turner, Devin Van Den Bossche, Isaae LeGrand and Kaleb Day created their company BeeChainz as part of a Junior Achievement’s Company Program hosted at Southeast’s Catapult Creative House.

Southeast Missouri State University and Junior Achievement (JA) Southeast Missouri District are partnering to promote entrepreneurship education throughout the southeast Missouri region.

To commemorate this partnership and foster relationships with local businesses, Southeast is hosting a “Junior Achievement Trivia Night” Feb. 21. The event will be held in the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, and catered by Chef Lisa Essmyer, instructor of hospitality management, and Southeast hospitality management students.

Trivia Night will bring more than 160 University, business community and representatives of the Junior Achievement of Southeast Missouri region together to support JA programming. Proceeds from the event will go towards the yearly operating funds for the program, which are applied locally.

JA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices, focusing on work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

JA’s programs place volunteers in K-12th grade programs to help students understand how to manage money, explore what it means to start a business and be better prepared for the future of work. In the southeast Missouri region, JA served 8,127 students in the Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Perryville schools districts from 2018-2019.

Three Southeast faculty and staff members — Dr. Natallia Gray, associate professor of healthcare management; Dr. Nick Johnston, assistant professor of hospitality management, and Leah Powers, operations manager of Catapult Creative House — serve on the local advisory board for JA programs in the southeast Missouri region.

Additionally, several Southeast students, staff and faculty have volunteered through JA in Cape Girardeau and Jackson schools over the past two years. They include Gray; Johnston; Powers; Dr. David Yaskewich, chair of the Department of Accounting, Economics and Finance; Dr. Chen Wu, associate professor of economics; Eduardo Millet, visiting assistant professor of management; and Dr. Asit Bandyopadhayay, Management Information Systems (MIS) instructor.

Southeast has especially enjoyed a partnership with Becki Arends, JA Southeast Missouri District Manager who is also a 1995 Southeast graduate and has served JA since 2012. With Arends’ leadership, educators, community members and businesses – notably AT&T, Arnold Insurance, Century Casino and Montgomery Bank – are coming together to invest in and support future generations, said Gray.

JA’s focus on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and job readiness aligns with the University’s business programs and degrees as well as its faculty talent and expertise, said Gray.

“We believe in the power of education and importance of financial literacy – and JA gives us an opportunity to connect with local students and educate them on the importance of community, financial literacy and entrepreneurship,” Johnston said. “As Southeast faculty members, we also have the opportunity show them the path to a college education. For some students, we may be the only person from outside of their school that has made that connection.”

In spring 2019, Dr. Natallia Gray volunteered through Junior Achievement to teach kindergarteners entrepreneurship concepts at Alma Schrader Elementary in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. (photo credit of Alma Schrader Elementary)

JA also allows Southeast faculty to teach entrepreneurship concepts in a fun, unique setting for elementary and middle schoolers.

To teach second-graders production and division of labor, Gray administered an activity where the young students used sticker ingredients to create doughnut pictures. As part of the activity, they learned how to produce and count the rate of production defects. Additionally, the class timed their production to see if more donuts were made working by themselves or as a team in an assembly line.

“As an economics professor, I loved teaching production and division of labor in this way,” Gray said. “It was a lot of fun for me to be able to explain these ideas to eight-year-olds in a way that also gave them hands-on experience.”

In fall 2019, Southeast’s Catapult Creative House hosted JA’s Company Program, allowing local high school students to explore entrepreneurship concepts, learn how to develop and operate a business, and use the vast resources available at Catapult Creative House, located at 612 Broadway in downtown Cape Girardeau. Catapult Creative House is the University’s groundbreaking creative arts and industries incubator, designed to bring together students and faculty from a variety of disciplines (art, business, fashion, construction management, interior design and hospitality management) to immerse them in the entrepreneurial experience.

Working with Powers, the students launched BeeChainz, an innovative keychain company made of 3D printed recyclable, polylactic acid filament. BeeChainz sold at Catapult Creative House and the students also partnered with the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation to ensure 10% of all profits are donated to support the conservation of Missouri pollinators.

High school students Jonah Turner, Evan Turner, Devin Van Den Bossche, Isaae LeGrand and Kaleb Day created their company BeeChainz as part of a Junior Achievement’s Company Program hosted at Southeast’s Catapult Creative House.

Opportunities such as JA’s Company Program foster young entrepreneurship talent and build relationships between University resources and community members, Powers said.

“When young students interact with professors, volunteers and business owners, they get to see hands on where these lessons can take them,” she said. “We can inspire them to think outside the box at a younger age and embrace the importance of financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. This is also an opportunity for the University to continue supporting future generations of students and build a greater connection with the surrounding community.”

The partnership between Southeast and JA is an opportunity to make a positive impact on students of all ages, said Johnston, who said he witnesses the excitement and gratitude from students and their parents in and out of the classroom.

“Former students or their parents have stopped me to say how much they appreciated the experience,” he said. “When seeing the students, I like to quiz them on some of the concepts we covered, and I am always very impressed with how much they retain. Even the parents will comment about specific parts of the lessons. As an educator, I can’t think of a better compliment.”

Trivia Night is a fundraising event but also an opportunity to highlight the work accomplished by JA volunteers and encourage University, business and local communities to support future JA programming in southeast Missouri schools, Gray said.

“We hope to connect members of the University, local businesses and private communities with JA to support the children in our area,” she said.

For more information about Junior Achievement programs, contact Becki Arends, Junior Achievement Southeast Missouri District Manager and Southeast alumna, at