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Tycoons in Training: Teens Discover Business at McCombs

Brittany Castillo and her peers descended upon the Texas State Capitol Extension Auditorium in full force on a hot, bright day in June, having stayed up until 4 a.m. the night before preparing a presentation on healthcare reform for executives and state representatives.

But Castillo isn’t a lobbyist or a hospital administrator. She’s a soon-to-be senior in high school from San Marcos, Texas, and she’s at the Capitol as part of McCombs’ Subiendo Academy for Rising Leaders.

The lively group of high school students, each wearing a burnt orange polo inscribed with “Subiendo,” told the audience the story of a woman who spent more money on a two-day hospital stay than she would have for an entire year of tuition at UT. “Now that you see cases like this, don’t you think our healthcare system needs to be revised?” asked Castillo.

Her team’s plan hopes to aid those not protected by President Obama’s Healthcare Reform Bill, and one section includes increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol. “No matter what the price is, people will want these products, and the taxes can be used to offer basic coverage to those who wouldn’t otherwise have insurance,” Castillo added.

2011 Subiendo studentsSubiendo (Spanish for “climbing” or “going up”) is filled with moments like that one, when young students connect to a world beyond their day-to-day lives and get a glimpse of what their futures could hold.

It’s one of three McCombs summer programs for high schoolers aimed to “spread the tentacles of a college education through communities that aren’t typically touched by this experience,” explains Stephen Walls, marketing professor and co-director of the McCombs Future Executive Academy. Sponsorship by companies including AT&T, ExxonMobil, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Wells Fargo, Ernst & Young, Southwest Airlines and Target allows these programs to be offered free of charge to participants.

Of the 100 high school students who attended the Subiendo Academy in June, more than one-third will be the first in their family to go to college.

For students, the week-long camps are a chance to stay on campus, meet professors and industry leaders and participate in classes, networking events and community-building activities.

For the McCombs School, it’s an opportunity to connect with top students from underrepresented communities and introduce them to the idea of studying business in college.

“Our goal is to help [the students] pick a direction and channel their energy” into a positive direction, adds Walls. “If these are the kids that are going to be taking over, that makes me feel better. They’re smart, energetic and interesting in being helpful and involved. They have so much potential.”


Subiendo, part of McCombs’ Hispanic Leadership Initiative, is a leadership program designed to provide the skills to address the needs of the next generation of students, including the growing Hispanic population—the largest and youngest minority group in Texas.

"The leaders of tomorrow must be prepared to address the needs of this rising generation," says Veronica Stidvent, director of Subiendo. "It is imperative that these emerging leaders receive the necessary education and training to realize their potential."

Impressed by its inaugural program in 2010, a group of donors provided $250,000 to Subiendo, which enabled enrollment to double this year.

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“Many students have an idealistic vision of working with public affairs but don’t have the opportunity to work with realistic situations until they came to the Subiendo camp,” says Jeff Patterson, a Subiendo guest speaker and executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference.

Students wear their best business attire and venture around McCombs with a binder full of brochures covering financial aid, application checklists, school statistics and even personalized business cards. After learning about the power of networking, the students feel comfortable handing out their business cards to high-profile executives by the end of the week.

“Subiendo is a triple play for the university,” says Tom Gilligan, dean of the McCombs School of Business. “We inspire a student population that is poised to assume business and societal stewardship, taking advantage of McCombs’ core strength in leadership growth, while perfecting a best-case model for a philanthropic partnership between the university and the corporate world.”

This year the students met with distinguished leaders including Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, business legend Red McCombs, George P. Bush, partner at Pennybacker Capital and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas legislators Carol Alvarado, Trey Martinez Fischer, Eddie Rodriguez and Mark Strama.

On the final day of the program the students presented public policy proposals at the Texas State Capitol on one of three topics—education, energy or healthcare. Groups of about 10 students each worked together throughout the week to explore innovative solutions to current problems in those sectors.

Catalina Lisaraga, a 17-year-old senior from Austin High School, explains that her group wants to implement a Friends and Mentors Program in Texas to provide young children with mentors who will work with them both in and out of the classroom. “We want the mentors to not only be companions. We also want them to encourage young students to pursue higher education,” Lisaraga says.

“Presenting our proposals has been the highlight of my week,” Lisaraga adds. “It’s an honor that legislators make time to come observe and discuss our proposals.”

McCombs Future Executive Academy

The McCombs Future Executive Academy (MFEA), in its ninth year, aims to provide high school seniors with an introduction to business, with topics including marketing, ethics, management information systems, accounting and finance.

In addition to the educational workshops and recreational activities, the 50 students split into cohorts and worked throughout the week on a marketing campaign for Austin technology firm Bazaarvoice (owned by Brett Hurt, BBA ’94).

Working in teams, the students create marketing plans to help Bazaarvoice promote their technology and services to nonprofit organizations. “It’s a chance for the students to work in a disciplined business process…and it provides the company with a better understanding about certain ideas,” says Walls.

“My favorite activity is the accounting lecture by Dr. [Michael] Clement,” says Christopher Wang, a senior from Franklin High School in El Paso. “We apply real-world business concepts to the Lemonade Tycoon game,” an exercise that simulates starting a business.

The students are divided into two companies, each with a CEO. Wang leads the L3mond Company against the opponent, the Lemonz Company, to try to make the most profit. Wang, interested in pursuing entrepreneurship after business school, explains that this one-of-a-kind activity is “an experience you don’t get often.”

In another workshop, students fill a conference room in McCombs, with a wall of windows overlooking Gregory Gymnasium and Jester Dormitory. Marketing professor Kate Mackie teaches the students about the role of marketing in the context of a firm.

Mackie lines the front of the room with nine ketchup bottles of different brands, and together the class creates a marketing situation analysis of the customers, competitors and company background of each brand, their first introduction to “the three C’s.”

“I still remember a similar marketing program that Dr. Mackie did three years ago when I attended MFEA,” says Emily Carson, a marketing and radio-television-film senior and graduate of the program. Carson says she still sees professors and students around campus that participated in the program with her. 

“This program opened my eyes to everything McCombs has to offer,” says Carson. “I know that McCombs will take care of me and that people here are dedicated to making sure I have a good future. If I had any fears about making the right college choice, this program definitely erased them.”


For more than 15 years high school seniors have attended the Discover Yourself in Accounting Majors and Careers (DYNAMC) program to learn and practice principles of accounting and finance.

Students hear from FBI and IRS forensic accountants who discuss the stereotypes and potential careers of accounting graduates. (They have been known to remove their jackets, revealing a side arm and quickly banishing any notion of the boring work of accounting.) Long-time sponsor Ernst & Young invites students to its Austin office to meet partners and talk to college interns about their experience as accounting students.

Ernst & Young also launched an accounting challenge competition that enables students to work throughout the week in teams to serve as potential stockholders and use trend and ratio analysis to make investments in a company.

“We want you to learn from your research and really understand these concepts so that you can take these accounting skills with you,” says Katie Koehler, former DYNAMC counselor and current Ernst & Young intern. “You’ll be working in teams for the rest of your life, and every semester if you come to McCombs,” she adds.

Mentors provide guidance and teach the students the qualifications to be a successful accountant—the need to be technologically savvy and be a strategic planner and decision-maker, a good communicator and be well-rounded with a background in all aspects of business.

Recruiting these students helps us “to continue to improve our diversity [at McCombs]. It enriches our academic programs and meets the needs of employers increasingly looking for a diverse, well-educated workforce,” says CeCe Ridder, director of student life.

An Even Younger Head Start: Engaging Elementary Students

The BBA International Program, funded by the Center for International Business Education and Research, allows McCombs students to host an “Around the World in Six Weeks” after-school camp each spring as part of its educational outreach efforts. McCombs students aim to provide kindergarten, first and second grade students with an understanding of world cultures and cultivate their interest in studying abroad.

Each week the campers “travel” to a new country and read books and create crafts reflective of the country’s culture. Students at Matthews Elementary School learned about pyramids, danced to samba music, used chopsticks, made castanets and explored Australia’s fauna.

Because it’s never too early for a head start.

The Halliburton Business Foundations Summer Institute

McCombs reaches out to non-business students at UT with the annual Halliburton Business Foundations Summer Institute, which allows students to complete five of the eight business courses needed to receive a Business Foundations Certificate. The intensive eight-week program enrolled a record 91 students this year, with students representing all but one school on campus.

Students benefit from a number of learning opportunities not offered during the regular school year, including team-building opportunities, résumé and business communications workshops, mock interviews and etiquette luncheons. “This background in business makes the students more valuable in all phases of their career,” says Regina Hughes, program director and senior lecturer of finance. “We prove that with recruiting.” This year’s recruiting companies included Halliburton, Dow Chemical, Google, Bazaarvoice, American Airlines and Facebook.


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