Sam Fiore, Jackson Boyer, and Brad Shaffer.

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Excellence

Three Sheetz Fellows return to the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, this time in mentorship roles.
By: Marissa Carney

Each semester, students in Penn State Altoona’s Sheetz Fellows Program participate in real-world projects to enhance their academic experience.

This year, three members who have a personal connection to the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) are using it as one of their team projects.

Jackson Boyer, Sam Fiore, and Brad Shaffer are graduates of YEA!, a national program sponsored locally by the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. Through the year-long experience, students in grades six through twelve generate business ideas, conduct market research, write business plans, pitch to a panel of investors, and launch their own companies.

Now in its seventh year here in Blair County, there are twenty-one area high school students enrolled. Classes are held through May at the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence in downtown Altoona.

Boyer went through YEA! in 2017 as a freshman from Bellwood-Antis High School. He is now double majoring in accounting and business with a focus in financial services and a minor in entrepreneurship. “Being back with the YEA! program in a mentorship role is something I am honored to do and has been a great experience thus far. Thinking that I might have a positive impact on the lives of these students and help prepare them for the business world is powerful.”

Fiore also graduated from the academy in 2017 while at Bishop Guilfoyle High School and is majoring in business with a focus on accounting and minors in entrepreneurship and economics. Shaffer, also from Bishop Guilfoyle, was in the YEA! class of 2018. He is majoring in business with a focus in entrepreneurship.

As graduates of the program, Boyer, Fiore, and Shaffer are taking not only the experiences they had through YEA! but as Sheetz Fellows to help students in the current class develop their business ideas and plans, offer advice, and guide them toward success.

“I hope that through my role I can help ignite an entrepreneurial spirit within the class and build on their networking and problem-solving skills at the same time,” says Shaffer.

“Entrepreneurship is also about thinking outside the box and looking at the world in a different way,” adds Boyer. “While building their business is a great part of the program, I want to make sure they also use it as an opportunity to grow themselves and the strengths they already have.”

As part of their project, the Sheetz Fellows are also creating a training program for future YEA! mentors and developing new marketing ideas to engage more students and build awareness for the program. YEA! meets once a week, and Boyer, Fiore, and Shaffer must complete progress reports for each class that include how the group is functioning, if their goals are being met, and how they are making a difference.

Donna Bon is director of the Sheetz Fellows program and sits on the YEA! steering committee. She explains that one goal of Sheetz Fellows is to afford students an opportunity to take what they learn in and out of the classroom and put it into practice.

“As a faculty member, you think you’re doing all the right things and teaching them the right way, but you don’t often to get see students putting it all into action. They’re leading by example through sharing what they’ve learned, and that’s really energizing for me.”

Boyer, Fiore, and Shaffer are hopeful that the students they are mentoring will continue on a path toward entrepreneurship or business and consider Penn State Altoona and the Sheetz Fellows Program.

“From the things I've learned, to the people I've met and the experiences I've had, none of it would have happened if not for YEA!” says Fiore. “I want to foster deeper connections between YEA! and the Sheetz Fellows Program because I have experienced firsthand the benefits of each. It is my hope that the students explore both Penn State Altoona and the Sheetz Fellows Program and realize the wonderful opportunities that exist here for them.”