Since it’s official 2008 launch, the Rotary Student Program has been adopted by Rotary Clubs from Asia to Europe. Featured in presentations at various Rotary Clubs, Districts and Zones, the program has also caught the attention of Rotary International, which has provided added visibility on www.rotary.org, as well as through two Rotary International Conventions. Since launch, program adoption has steadily increased with participation commitments throughout District 6360, 6400 and now throughout the world with more than 60 countries participating. While exact data is difficult to capture for a program of this magnitude, www.rotarystudentprogram.org Google Analytics confirm website traffic of 125 countries and unique visitors climbing to a staggering 12,000, with the highest traffic coming from the US, China, Japan, Brazil, South Korea and the Ukraine. Separate of the website, program coordinators have received direct communication from various countries around the globe, including Africa, Italy, Mexico and a club in Ireland who toasted the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor for coming up with the program.
Through a simple 11-Step process provided on the website, clubs are given tools to connect with schools interested in connecting students the most successful people in the business world. Schools, students and parents welcome the program since the opportunity to sit down with professionals in “dream careers” fills a void often faced by most students facing their futures. Focus is on 11th and 12th graders – those facing major life decisions. Selected for outstanding essays on why they should be in the program, students are given rare access to top business professionals. In reverse interview settings, which include one Rotarian, one business professional and one student, thought-provoking questions are asked, seeds of inspiration are planted and in some cases, game changing decisions are made. In the meetings, students ask about career paths, career fit, specific studies and alternate paths that lead to that dream job. In many cases, the program reinforces dreams. In some cases, it reroutes them, but always at a critical time – well before the high investment of time and energy in college and career. While schools and parents value their children having this opportunity, business professionals, seeking that next candidate, applaud Rotary for leading it. The residual effect is that the program additional fills an employee candidate void in communities, opening the door for internships and returning students entering the professional world.
Since Rotarian involvement is limited to making the connections and sitting in on first meetings, students develop lasting mentors through the business professional – from entrepreneurs, to philanthropists, to pharmacists, to professional athletes, to Fortune 100 CEOs. The most notable professionals being Misty Copeland, the world’s most famous African American Prima Ballerina, recently named a 2015, “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time and Jeff Fettig, CEO of Whirlpool Corporation, a Fortune Magazine, “World’s Most Admired Company.” In 2011, Fettig mentored St. Joseph High School Senior, David Reimers, who was interested in becoming a Fortune CEO. Taking advice from the mentor meeting, David went on to attend Michigan State University to Major in Finance on a Whirlpool Scholarship. Returning home for the summer break, David secured a Whirlpool Summer Internship. A few years later, he graduated from MSU with a BA in Finance and returned to Whirlpool to start his professional career.
Through the process, the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, gained a new member – David’s father, 5/3 Bank CEO, Randy Reimers. The story gets even better. This Fall, Rotarian Randy Reimers will sponsor the youngest new member of the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor – his son, David Reimers. Randy claims that his son’s experience was so life changing, it inspired him to join Rotary, “Overnight, David went from a kid, to a man…that is how HUGE of an impact Jeff Fettig had on our son.” According to Jackie Huie, “This is one of many stories about the program’s success.”
Aside of meeting with business professionals, the students are asked to attend two Rotary meetings – both seated with their Rotary host. During the second visit, the student invites their parents and their business mentor. Through the process, parents and business professionals are impressed with Rotary and become Rotarians – like Randy Reimers. “It’s a subtle way to say, join us, we do great things,” according to Jackie.
How It All Started
According to Jackie, the true inspiration for the program, is her father, Don Johnson, Founder and CEO of JohnsonRauhoff, a Southwest Michigan based communications group with global accounts (www.johnsonrauhoff.com). Early on, Don gave his four children the opportunity to visit the family business, providing a behind-the-scenes chance to see the real life of an advertising agency. Heading to college, Don’s children confidently chose the advertising path, starting their careers elsewhere and returning to Michigan to work at their father’s business. An ongoing advocate of mentoring, Don has generously contributed more than $160,000 of company time to the Rotary Student Program, which receives no Rotary funding. “We believed so strongly in the program that we didn’t feel it was right to charge clubs to utilize it. We worked hard to make the tools simple to use and the steps clear. Besides, Dad has always told us that it’s easier to hit your target when you know where you’re going. We envision every young person in the world having that opportunity,” Jackie recently shared. “Too often,” she added, “I meet people who had a dream that never became a reality, because they simply didn’t know how to get started. We picture a world where everyone has the opportunity to explore their dream, to discover if that dream is or isn’t the right fit. There is no better network than Rotary to make that dream a reality and through the process, we can spread awareness about who we are, what we do and why others should join.”
Founding Rotary Club
The program took life in 2006 when members of the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor decided to raise the bar on student lunch hosting. Recognizing the many experiences, talents and network within her own Rotary Club, Jackie Huie shared the idea of the program with Rotary Student Guest Chairman, Janet Zielke. Thinking Jackie was on to something or, according to Jackie, “that I was crazy and just needed to discover that myself,” she was asked to Chair the program and test the concept. Taking a 2007 first trial run with a handful of St. Joseph High School students, the program quickly grew in popularity and by 2008 spread to 5 schools in Southwest Michigan. “It got to the stage that I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without being approached by parents who wanted to know more about the program,” Jackie told us, adding, “It’s also pretty neat, because through the process, Rotary has become popular in Southwest Michigan and we are growing beyond our 150 membership without needing a membership drive. It seems that every other week, we have 3 new members coming in.”
Discovering that 90% of students globally lacked career mentors, Jackie has worked with her club’s mentoring committee to expand the program, providing free tools to other clubs around the world. Global awareness was ignited after a presenting the program to an RI President at Rotary International Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. In 2012, Jackie and her then 12-year old son, Grant, were given a rare opportunity to hold a private meeting with RI President 2011-2012 Kalyan Banerjee. During the meeting, Kalyan gave Grant his greatest treasure of an elephant statue from India and gave Jackie advice on how to make the Rotary Student Program expand. The RI President recommended reaching out to the RI Chairs of Vocational Services, Strategic Planning and Membership Growth. Through outreach, it was the Vocational Services Committee, led by RI Board Member Paul Netzel, that took the greatest interest.
After a meeting with Paul Netzel during the 2012 RI Convention, in Bangkok, Thailand, Jackie was invited to return to RI Headquarters to present the program to the RI Vocational Services Committee. During that visit, Jackie was interviewed by a RI reporter, who wrote a Rotary.org homepage feature on the Rotary Student Program. After
posting a Rotary Showcase, Jackie was invited to present the program at two popular Rotary International Convention Breakout Sessions, in which she and her Rotarian husband, Mike Huie, were speakers – RI Convention 2015, Sao Paulo, Brazil and RI Convention 2013 Lisbon, Portugal. During the presentations, Jackie and Mike shared the fringe benefits of the Rotary Student Program, including participant parents and business professionals joining Rotary and students joining Interact.
The residual positive impact of the program continues through Interact. In a record- breaking 2-week period in 2012, a 60-member Interact Charter was formed in Southwest Michigan through the 5 High Schools and students that had participated in the Rotary Student Program. The charter has since expanded reach to multiple Southwest Michigan schools and grown to what is projected to now be over 160 students. Lead by Rotarian Advisor, Maria Kibler, founding Committee Member of the Rotary Student Program, the Interact Club takes annual mission trips to the Dominican Republic to help Rotary District 6360 Rotarians install Bio-sand Water Filters.
Rotary International Convention
In 2013, Rotarians Mike and Jackie Huie were invited to present the Rotary Student Program to two standing room only sessions at the 2013 Rotary International Convention, Lisbon Portugal. On June 4-11, 2015, Mike and Jackie Huie were again invited to present the program at the 2015 Rotary International Convention, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Countries reaching out after the 2015 RI Convention, include Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ghana, Nigeria, Panama, Sri Lanka, US and the new Rotary Student Program Facebook page had a 1,560% lift in one week. Rotary International officials have continued to show interest in the program. RI Chief Strategy and Enterprise Projects Officer, Joe Brownlee, has agreed to meet to further discuss how it can help build membership internationally – membership growth being the #2 goal of Rotary behind Polio Eradication. Moving forward, sights are now being set on the 2016 Rotary International Conference in South Korea, with the first priority in growing membership in District 6360.