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Student entrepreneur club president’s five takeaways from national conference

By Kayla Sosa

Back in November, the Grand Valley State University Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to attend the national CEO conference. Club president and GV senior Ben Parsell learned a lot as a leader and an entrepreneur himself. Here are his top five takeaways.

1. It’s important to see what other professionals are doing, in order to learn new ways to expand your own organization’s horizons.

For GVSU’s CEO Club, there have always been a handful of leadership positions available, and the rest of the members were just general members. Parsell now wants to form committees so that every member shares some kind of responsibility within the organization, and feels more involved and connected.

“(For example) having a finance committee that helps the finance officer maintain an ongoing budget throughout the year, make projections so that we can understand what costs, what fundraising we can do to go to places like Kansas City,” Parsell said. “So, give somebody something to do each meeting … I would like to see as we continue on, the idea that a committee structure would lift some of that responsibility of the president, and they can focus on the overall strategy of the club and where it’s going to go in the future.”

2. It’s important to travel and explore new places to advance as not only an entrepreneur, but as a person.

“The opportunity to get out of the Grand Rapids bubble and be exposed to not only a new city, but new people, new ways of life, walks of life, is extremely important,” Parsell said.

Parsell said most of his opportunities to travel have been through the student organization. So far, he’s been to Tampa twice, California and now Kansas City, with the CEO club.

3. It’s necessary to bond with your team outside of work.

Eight students bonded for over 15 hours in a van on their way to Kansas City. Parsell said this was a unique opportunity to talk more personally with his club members. They even had a collaborative Spotify playlist, so they got to listen to a little bit of everybody’s music taste.

“I think flying can be very stressful, too,” Parsell said. “Especially in my shoes, I’m trying to make sure that everybody has their boarding pass, make sure that your carry on’s going to fit, you don’t have to check a bag, everything with that. So, when I’m in the airport, I’m in total focus-mode until we get through security. Then when I’m driving, it’s like, yeah, I’ll carry on a conversation and actually have fun with it.”

4. Passive income is a smart, innovative way to make money without too much work on daily basis.

One of the topics Parsell learned a lot about was “passive income,” where entrepreneurs spend a lot of time initially developing an online business that sustains itself for the most part, allowing the owner to make money without having to tend to the business for much time every day.

“For me, those would be fun projects I could come up with,” Parsell said. “Maybe it’s not meant to be my main focus, but it would be something fun to do on a weekend and have it run … I’d definitely like to share that idea with people who didn’t go to the conference.”

5. Empathy is one of the most important aspects of a leader.

The leader of a national company with a local franchise in Grand Rapids, College Hunks Hauling Junk, was one of the speakers at the CEO conference. Parsell said he told a moving story about having kindness and empathy in the workplace, and he realized that there’s more to being a leader than just putting out fires, assigning tasks and getting work done. There’s a bigger picture aspect that all leaders must keep in mind.  

“The day to day stuff doesn’t matter, but holding kindness and love for other people and leading them through that is what really matters,” Parsell said.

To learn more about the CEO club, visit their website.

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Spotlight: Immersive Language Learning

By Kayla Sosa

After being immersed into the Portuguese language studying abroad in Brazil, Grand Valley State University student Olivia Seaver was trying to think of ways she could keep up with learning and retaining languages once she came back to the United States.

“When I went there, I didn’t know any Portuguese at all,” Seaver said. “After three months of hearing only Portuguese, I was already somewhat fluent. And also with Spanish. By spending time with my boyfriend, who’s Mexican, and his family, i started hearing Spanish all the time and I started picking it up in that way.”

From personal experience and research, Seaver said that the best and fastest way to learn a language is through total immersion – doing all things in that language so that you eventually are forced to learn and understand.

“Now that I’m not in another country, to keep up on my Spanish and Portuguese, I’ll watch a Disney movie in Spanish or listen to music in Portuguese, so I know that’s another good way to keep up with it.”

Additionally, Seaver found in her research that the best time for someone to learn a language is between the ages of two and 12.

Through those practices – immersion, storytelling, music and a focus on children – Seaver hopes to start an after school program for kids that will help them learn another language.

“It would be kind of like a daycare, but that daycare would be completely in Spanish,” she said. “All the teachers, all the caretakers, everybody’s only speaking Spanish, they play movies in Spanish, they play songs in Spanish, they organize games and activities – like Apples to Apples – in Spanish.”

One challenge looking forward, Seaver said, is that kids that are a little older and closer to 12 years old will have a harder time at first learning the language.

“It can be very difficult and frustrating at first,” she said. “In my experience with language learning, it’s kind of flat in the beginning, but then it’s exponential.”

After initial research, Seaver did a community survey to garner the interest or need for a program like this in Grand Rapids.

“I found that 90 percent of people that I surveyed said that they would put their kids in a program like this if it existed,” Seaver said. “More surprisingly, 94 percent said they wished they would’ve had this experience as a kid.”

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Seaver giving her idea pitch at the CEO competition on October 10. 

Recently, Seaver placed second place in the GVSU Idea Pitch Competition hosted by the GVSU CEO club, an student-run entrepreneur club on campus. With a fresh business idea – she came up with it a week before the pitch competition – and a $750 check, Seaver is ready to test the waters.

“I said in my pitch that I would work on a pilot program with some elementary school Spanish teachers that I know,” she said. “I’d like to look for Spanish teachers here at Grand Valley and work with them. We don’t necessarily need lesson plans, but you need to plan activities.”

Seaver would then use the money to buy the appropriate materials for games and activities to do with the kids, and of course to pay the teachers involved in the pilot program.

Seaver is a senior at GVSU, double majoring in Management and Spanish. You can also find her working as a conversation partner at the GV ELS Center in Allendale.