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Ending 'brain drain' is goal of this team
Ending 'brain drain' is goal of this team
By SUE HOFFMAN
Cleveland may be suffering from "brain drain," but five students at Solon High School have put their heads together to reverse that trend.
Incoming seniors Shannen Johnson, Benjamin Lehrman, Liza Neides, Cory Pomerantz and Andy Weyenberg comprise the team Cleveland Ohio Means Everything to Solon. The COMETS have been working for over a year on a program that will give fellow students a taste of what the city has to offer and make them want to return when they finish college.
Meanwhile, five students at Beachwood High School are working toward a similar result. Both schools are going head to head in a pilot for the Cleveland Apprentice Program, created by 2002 Solon High School graduate Brendon Eisner to end the brain drain.
Like the Donald Trump television show, both teams will work individually on a program that will get their entire student bodies engaged in Cleveland. The 10 students were provided with mentors, tours of the city and interviews with top city leaders and executives. At the end of the competition in May 2010, winning team members will be eligible for scholarships and prizes.
The COMETS will kick off their project, "Shadow Me Cleveland" in the fall. The program provides shadowing experiences for students interested in a variety of careers. The team's 2009-2010 efforts will include marketing the program to students, cultivating mentorship opportunities in the business world and linking students to businesses.
The program will culminate in one-day shadowing experiences during Ohio Graduation Test week in March, when many students are in study hall. While sophomores are taking their exams, freshman and juniors will have opportunities to step into the world of business, health care and other professions, according to COMETS members, in a similar way that 12th-graders do senior projects.
In a presentation they recently gave to 70 business professionals and educators on their program, COMETS told how Shadow Me Cleveland will give "a better glimpse of business opportunities Cleveland has to offer, show a hard-working city" and help participants "gain connections for the future."
The program also "benefits the professionals," Shannen said. "They'll get to see prospective employees."
And with the economic downturn, "it would be tremendously helpful if students can make connections with companies now," Cory said.
The Beachwood team also presented its project, which involves a large concert next spring, Solon students said.
"Sustainability is a huge part," said Mr. Eisner, who returned to Cleveland after graduating from the University of Michigan with a triple major in mathematics, economics and music theory. "The teams need to create something that will link students with the city for years to come."
The goal is to expand the program to additional schools each year, eventually linking the students in the suburbs to the city in unique and exciting ways, he said.
Mr. Eisner, who works for Progressive Insurance Co., said Cleveland Apprentice Program is being spearheaded by 10,000 Little (micro) Ideas to Keep You Believing in Cleveland, a grassroots organization led by emerging leaders. Mr. Eisner had successfully pitched the concept to the organization in May 2007.
In spring 2008, Mr. Eisner introduced the program to sophomores at both schools. Students on the teams were selected through a competitive process, he said. Over 100 students at both schools applied, including more than 60 at Solon High School.
"After the applications were narrowed to 13, we were called back for in-person interviews," Liza said.
The five students selected at each school went through a learning process about the city before they put pen to paper. After a kickoff event at Pickwick and Frolic and a scavenger hunt downtown, the teams spent three full days interviewing 21 local leaders, ranging from major corporate chief executive officers to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
Back to the drawing board, the students had to decide what their goal was for Cleveland.
"We determined that brain drain, education and unemployment were the three biggest problems, Benjamin said. "We decided to focus on brain drain."
The team, which met weekly through the school year, also took a look at "the great sides" of Cleveland, Cory said. In addition to its many offerings, "it's accessible, affordable and traffic's not a problem."
The team surveyed 260 Solon students about their visits to the city, their careers of interest and their knowledge of Cleveland.
Eighty percent said they would be interested in doing their senior project at a Cleveland-based business, Benjamin said. "They want to get involved but don't have the opportunities."
The survey also showed that most students needed to be more educated about Cleveland, since only 80 students knew the correct name of the mayor.
The fields of interest selected by survey participants will help guide the team in the search for shadowing experiences. "A lot of people are interested in health care," Cory said.
Liza said the COMETS are ready for action, but that competition isn't the only goal.
"Initially, it was about the competition," Shannen said. However, as the COMETS learned about the brain drain in Cleveland, they became motivated by their desire to help their city succeed, she said.
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