Students from Marist, a private high school in Chicago, took a field trip to Tuthill Corporation in Burr Ridge, Ill. on Thursday, Nov. 10. The 50 seniors are enrolled in Marists' Innovative Design for Entrepreneurial Applications (IDEA) class, which launched in 2014. The class objective is to get students excited about becoming entrepreneurs. Jim Henneberry, Marists' instructor accompanied his two IDEA classes to Tuthill for the second year.
In IDEA class, students set out to discover concepts for a new product or service. Teams have assigned mentors who are local business leaders. Since the class's inception, a number of Tuthill employees have supported the IDEA program as mentors and guest instructors. At the end of the school year, Marist donates $19,000 to the top three IDEA teams to continue their projects.
Their ideas range from glow in the dark headphones to water coolers with multiple spouts to high school parking apps. However, coming up with an idea typically isn't the most challenging part of the process. The instructor divides the students into teams and they must find ways to work together, for the first time.
Marist brought their students to Tuthill to learn teamwork and communication tools which Tuthill teaches their employees. With the assistance of Tuthill's VP of Finance, Tony Belmonte, Tuthill employees facilitated a day-long retreat for the students to explore how to be open, honest and communicate with one another.
"You have all faced conflict before in your life?" Karen Beals, a Tuthill employee asked her group. The students nodded. "Is there ever conflict in your team?"
“Oh, yes!” the nine seniors resoundingly agreed, resurrecting examples of challenges their team has faced.
One of their first activities was the Learning Zones Ropes. In Tuthill's parking lot three ropes lay in circles inside one another. The smallest circle represented the "comfort zone," the middle circle is called the "learning zone" and the largest circle is the "fear zone."
Belmonte presented the students with the following scenarios and asked each student to stand in the circle that represented their comfort zone.
"Prom is coming up. You have to ask someone out," Belmonte said. Many students frayed along the outside edges of the circle representing fear and uncertainty.
"Snapchat issued a press release, and all of your Snaps were going to be made public." The students squealed as they jumped further outside the ropes of the fear circle.
"You must present your team's new idea in front of a group of investors." Most bordered inside the learning zone, while a few students stood in the fear zone.
Belmonte explained that the learning ropes is an awareness tool to help you recognize how comfortable you feel in certain situations. That awareness could empower you to stretch outside your zone in order to learn and grow.
As the students returned to the building for their next exercise, a few stopped to take team selfies in front of Tuthill's pond. Inside, they gathered around a board with a list of statements and read those that meant the most to them. "Don't gossip. Talk directly to the person involved," one student said. "I like that." Jennifer Sears continued, "Be honest with your team without [giving] negative feedback."
Conor Evoy said he learned a lesson he could take back to his team. "When an idea takes on a different life than my idea, [I need] to keep an open mind."
The business curriculum is integral to the class, Henneberry said, but it is also important for students to learn these communication tools. "I think this is tremendous," he said.
A Tuthill employee, Chad Gabriel said, "It feels great to be able to share our tools and experience with kids who are at such a pivotal point in their lives. Students will be able to work better in teams, navigate through life's difficult times with more grace and live more intentionally."
Joe Stack witnessed how these tools could help him in his personal life as well. As a senior, he is facing pressure to receive good grades and get into college. In a role-playing exercise a Tuthill employee, Kim ter Horst, played Joe's father, who was questioning him about whether he completed his homework.
Quickly, the two characters ended up in a quarrel.
“Where is your homework, Joe?”
“I did it already at school."
“You won’t get into a good college if you don’t get your homework done!”
When discussions get heated, ter Horst advised Stack to step away from the conversation and ask himself, “From my heart, what do I really want from this relationship with my father?”
“Support and love from my dad,” Stack answered.
Stack said the exercise opened him up to a fresh perspective. He summarized what he learned at Tuthill: "I could see both sides of the corporate world and the family side, [which] was very important to me," Stack said.
The retreat also provided an opportunity for the students to get inside a business and witness the inner-workings firsthand. "I forget that these young adults... truly are curious about what we do in our jobs," Belmonte said. A student approached Belmonte saying he was considering majoring in Information Technology. Belmonte was able to show him Tuthill's IT group and explain what they do.
"I actually really like Tuthill. I love the view over the lake," John Ciszewski said. "The people are really nice here. The most important thing I learned today was about team building and… how to improve your relationship and communication with your team," he added.
The students gathered in Tuthill's auditorium for closing remarks. Henneberry addressed his students. "This is practical life experience you wouldn't get until five years into a job. It's a tool for everyday life. It's like a hidden secret, what they have," he said. "I think it's very fortunate that they've been able to share it with you."