Rice Summer Business Institute celebrates a decade of discovery

At the reception table in the hall outside Anderson Family Commons, there was a lot of hugging going on. Also squeals of recognition and laughter, some back slapping and hand shaking. It was a reunion after all. Though most of the merry-makers were on winter break from high school or college, some came straight from work dressed in suits.

Whichever stage of life they’re in now, whatever potential has been realized, it’s a far cry from the summer they first stepped onto the Rice campus.

Reconnecting

January 3, over a buffet dinner at the Jones School, the Rice Summer Business Institute (RSBI), and its graduates, families, teachers, and corporate friends celebrated the start of the tenth year of introducing ambitious high-school students from low- and moderate-income communities to the world of business. For two weeks every June, the program brings rising juniors and seniors from Houston high schools — Chinquapin, Davis, Harmony, KIPP, Reagan, Sam Houston, Wheatley, Yates, YES Prep — to the Jones School for first-hand exposure to the fundamentals of business, finance and energy.

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Rahsaan King, a Harvard freshman studying, economics, statistics and social studies, participated in RSBI as both student in 2012 and teaching assistant in 2013. He has done non-profit work with inner city Houston students and is now founder and CEO of studentsofstrength.com, a network of scholars from top tier universities who serve as mentors, tutors, and academic support systems for struggling middle and high school students. “The Rice Summer Business Institute gave me the formal training and experience that prepared me to pursue my passion for social entrepreneurship.”

King introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans, who spoke about the notion of adversity, how to face a challenge and how to sustain success. His four points to staying on track were to stay humble, stay focused, stay balanced and keep going. “The path to realizing your potential lies with those four points,” Rootes said. “You all have incredible capacity for success.”

Gaining perspective

When Jill Foote, executive director of RSBI, looks back, she can’t believe it’s been 10 years. She can’t believe four former RSBI students are now enrolled at Rice as undergraduates. “These students have been able to accomplish amazing things. They have tremendous attitudes. It makes you realize what’s important in life.”

Along with a venture capital new business ‘pitch competition,’ a sports management case study, a competitive analysis of an episode of Pawn Stars, and a capstone team stock analysis and presentation, students at RSBI also take field trips to companies, including underwriter Bank of America Merrill Lynch, corporate sponsor ConocoPhillips (a sponsor since day one), Reliant Stadium (home of corporate sponsor McNair Foundation/Houston Texans), and the Federal Reserve.

“Our sponsors, our schools, even our faculty — everyone is changed by this program.” What has had the biggest visible impact? “To watch the kids’ horizons expand. To watch them step through a series of doors — it’s extraordinary. Because of the business institute, they’re able to visualize what is possible for them.”

Lessons learned

Testimonials from former students bring the real message to the people — a room full of family, friends, faculty and graduates of RSBI.

Rudy Ramirez, a 2006 graduate of RSBI, formerly with JP Morgan Chase now in investment banking with Key Bank, said, “I grew up in the Fifth Ward. Going to RSBI motivated me to pursue finance and business. It made me realize I could do this.” He added that he values the relationships he made while a participant. “I can still come back here and talk to my professors.” His gratitude for the program has also made him motivated to give back.

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Paloma Mendoza, a 2011 graduate who came back in 2012 as a teaching assistant, studies civil engineering at Vanderbilt. “I learned you don’t have to be over 30 to be a leader; networking is important in a career; and I could be a successful professional.”

Kierra Lee, a 2008 graduate of RSBI who had, days earlier, graduated cum laude from Texas A&M, said with resounding emotion, “The summer business institute was a foundation for me, to see my potential.”

Now that Dr. Foote and James Lenz, associate director of the finance center and Rice MBA ’07, have tracked down many of the RSBI alumni, they’re looking forward to celebrating the students’ success stories for years to come, especially the first RSBI graduate who comes full circle as a Rice MBA.