The Business Professionals of America (BPA) program has been around since 1966 as a student organization preparing youth with professional, business-related training. The program aims to help students develop leadership, service and organizational skills, according to East Ridge High School business teacher Lynn O’Driscoll.
BPA simulates real business practices for students in competitive environments, assigning them with projects and roles. Participants learn to function within a group and collectively work toward goals. O’Driscoll runs the program at East Ridge and serves on the regional board. She’s helped her students compete at BPA’s national level, aiding them on various projects and connecting them to outside resources.
“She’s very supportive” says senior Nathan Liu. “If you’re willing to put in the work, she’ll go the extra mile to help. But unless we ask for help, we’re mostly learning to do things on our own. It gives us real-world skills.”
Liu, who has been a member of BPA for two years, joined through encouragement from his friends. He was already operating an automotive detailing company where he discovered a passion for serving his community through entrepreneurship. His first BPA events help him form more connections and develop networking skills as he interacted with business professionals and other students.
“I liked being in a competitive environment,” Liu says. “All the students are driven and ambitious. When you see others doing big things, it inspires you to do more and work harder too.”
Monika Burt was also encouraged to join BPA by a friend. She and her friend, who had a brother in the program, decided to become members as freshmen. It was the only business-centric group offered at East Ridge and both girls had an interest in business. That interest grew after their participation, where they gained hands-on exposure and understanding of a business environment.
Students are also given the chance to take on leadership positions, such as junior Amy Guo’s role as region president. She works with BPA programs at other schools to plan an annual conference that offers various exercises, including web design and business administration training. “Planning the event taught me a lot about cooperating with others and communicating with advisors; you learn to be a good team player while still putting your ideas out there,” Guo says. “Previously my interest had been in STEM fields, but I’m starting to understand the versatility of business. I like how business incorporates a lot of different skills like networking, math, design and technology.”
Through the program, Guo was able to learn video production and practice web design, qualities that BPA considers important for future marketers and internet campaigners. She also enjoys the service-related aspects of the group, which has involved working with nonprofits such as organizing a raffle where all proceeds were donated to Special Olympics.
O’Driscoll believes devotion to the program is evident through recurring turnout. A majority of students return each year. “They appreciate having independence,” O’Driscoll says. “It’s different than a school project where they’re guided step-by-step. We teach them how to guide themselves.”