By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
It was back in early 1993 when Central Texas College established its first chapter of Students in Free Enterprise, a nonprofit service organization found on college campuses around the world.
SIFE's mission - utilizing student projects to promote entrepreneurship and improve communities - apparently caught on with fervor at the Killeen campus.
By April 1993, the young CTC chapter had undertaken enough meaningful projects that they earned rookie of the year honors at a regional SIFE competition.
Since that time, CTC's SIFE club has established a clear legacy of success. At regional competitions, where professional business leaders evaluate different school's SIFE projects, the college has apparently dominated. In addition to placing first at every regional since 1996, the 2009 CTC team was named national SIFE champion among all two-year colleges.
Dr. John Frith, head of business administration at CTC and a longtime SIFE sponsor, says the club's success is rewarding to watch.
"It's a great thing to see these kids grow," Frith said. "The purpose is to help college students learn how to manage, present, organize and conduct various projects, and to see them grow from day one until the competition - it's extremely rewarding for me to see that happen."
But there is more to SIFE than simply winning competitions, Frith stressed. The central purpose is positively impacting communities. Over SIFE's history, the organization as a whole has required projects to focus on specific skills such as entrepreneurship, market economics, financial literacy and business ethics. Earlier this year, however, the top leaders sent down word that the mission would be streamlined under one overriding objective: finding people in need and helping them change their standard of living through environmental or entrepreneurial approaches.
Chastity Clemons, SIFE coordinator at CTC, said the new direction means students taking a much more hands-on role. Whereas in years past, SIFE projects mainly took place in local schools, they now deal with a host of nonprofit and charity organizations.
"Now there really is a hard connection with different groups and the students are fully involved with the community," Clemons said.
Just one of the newest projects is called Building Lives and teaches local youth between the ages of 16-17 how to start a small business. After recently completing a five-week program on building home decorations with recycled products, students in Building Lives opened their own "store" Dec. 18 in front of JC Penney in Killeen.
"They have learned everything from startup funding to developing a product line to purchasing materials, to marketing the finished product and everything in between," Clemons said.
Another example of SIFE's work is Project HOPE, which collaborates with the Killeen Food Care Center to teach what it takes to manage tight food budgets and still eat properly. Project RISE, an effort to reach out to troubled teens, and Project Upgrade, which teaches job-hunting skills at the Killeen HELP Center, are other examples of the more direct approach.
By Clemons' account, many students who participate in SIFE end up viewing their involvement as one of the defining aspects of their college experience. Clemons, a former SIFE member at CTC who decided to accept the full-time coordinator position this fall, said she is a prime example of such a trend.
"It really is so addicting," she said. "I started out as SIFE student and now I'm back still doing it. Once you get involved and see the changes you make in people's lives, it's just an awesome reward."
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.