Education is the Key to a Lifetime of Opportunities
By Ashley Cooper | Photo by Todd Elliott
Patricia Leva’s earliest brushing with Junior Achievement came about while she was still in middle school. Having been a highly assiduous student, Leva naturally assumed she would be tested on the information presented by the JA volunteer who, at the time, was representing Kodak. So Leva listened attentively, as she always had, but as she listened, her incentive for being vigilant changed from merely wanting to receive a good grade to wanting to ensure that what she was hearing could be translated for her own life.
“I really understood, from that moment forward,” Leva recalls, “how important it is to understand what you’re learning in school and how to apply it to the real world.”
Patricia Leva is a delight. She seems to have an unending supply of energy, which I covet, but she is also engaging, putting those around her at quick ease, flashing a friendly smile and sporting an agreeable sense of humor. Leva is also incontestably passionate about her work with Junior Achievement. I asked her how she made the transition from being involved with JA as a student to becoming considerably more involved as President and CEO of the Rochester chapter.
“I had gotten my undergrad in business and I was also certified to teach business at the secondary level,” Leva explains. However, she had reservations about teaching students, hardly her junior, the elements of business when she lacked real-world experience.
“I really wanted to be able to add value,” she says, “so I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to go into the business world for a little bit, get some work experience, and come back to the classroom.’ ”
Leva began working as employee for Chase Manhattan Bank in Rochester where she had worked as an intern in years prior.
“I had some unbelievable mentors who really saw potential and kept coming to me with new opportunities. Chase is obviously a financial institution and with financial literacy being one of the pillars of Junior Achievement, we were encouraged to get involved in the community and Junior Achievement was an option.”
Leva consequently worked as a volunteer for JA as a Chase employee bringing “real-life” perspective to the classroom. She saw the merit in using tools such as the math skills her class had been learning at the time and showing the students how they manifest in the business realm. Leva states that she “began to feel strongly about the importance of kids understanding the relevance of that they are learning, and about being able to read and write financially, being economically self-sufficient, and able to achieve their dreams.”
That is what JA is all about.
Founded in 1919, Junior Achievement is a highly revered, non-profit organization that serves to educate students, developing the necessary skills in order to achieve economic success. Volunteers usually come from a corporate background or speak professionally from successful financial experience and teach programs in classrooms worldwide. This is done with the permission of the instructor as volunteers enable future entrepreneurs to visualize a profitable future for themselves. JA program curricula are carefully designed to supplement what is already being presented in the classroom.
JA also focuses on preparing students for the workplace, stressing the importance of attaining an education, presenting business ethics and principles, increasing economic awareness on a global scale, educating in terms of spending habits and budget-keeping, and helping to develop financially wise habits that will benefit and enrich the lives of students.
Leva explained that “many of the students we reach may not be otherwise exposed to the kinds of skills and experiences JA provides.” Kids in all grade levels have the opportunity to be involved with JA, which boasts of some notable alumni, including Habitat for Humanity founder Millar Fuller, Rick Santorum, and Dan Rather.
After having worked at Chase for fifteen years, Leva left and gradually became more enmeshed with the Junior Achievement until three years ago, when JA’s former president retired and it was confirmed that Leva, an enthusiast for the organization and true visionary, would make an ideal candidate for the open position. For Leva, JA was a good fit. She had, after all, experienced all aspects of the company having initially participated as a student, dedicated her time as a volunteer in the classroom, and finally, as a regional leader.
Patricia Leva also understands the markings of a good leader. She believes that a in order to successfully lead others, one must be trustworthy, passionate, inspirational, humble (she elaborates on this point by saying, “be proud of your team”), possess a sense of humor, have a vision, and establish a presence. She also adds that a leader continually finds ways to set himself or herself apart through perhaps “innovation” or “continual creativity.”
Since Leva has stepped in as president of the Rochester area, JA has flourished. Leva confirms that JA has grown in their student- reach (chiefly toward middle and high school students), “increased” and “diversified” their funding via unique events as the “Titan of Business Challenge,” and established “board-restricted funds to ensure the propensity of JA programs.” However, she presents a surprising statistic in that “opportunities for JA are endless as far as I’m concerned. While we reach 13,000 students, we still only reach about 6.5% of the market. We still have so much work to do.”
Leva is anticipating the 2012 Titan of Business Challenge that will take place April 30th at St. John Fisher College. Local high school students will participate in a competition that simulates the experience of being a CEO of a corporation. They are expected to make executive decisions that are no different from those a real CEO would have to experience. Students gain a wealth of knowledge in regards to the corporate world and through events such as this, are encouraged to pursue opportunities that will help them excel.
In terms of offering advice intended to empower women everywhere, Leva states: “Leading comes natural to some, and for others, it needs to be cultivated. Either way, education is the key to a lifetime of opportunities, and it should never stop. Seek out a mentor who is willing to give you tools and experiences that will help you become a better leader. And whatever it is you choose, make sure you are passionate about it.