SM East teacher, department connect students to Lancer alumni, Kansas City metro community via Zoom

Students in the Shawnee Mission East business department are visiting with guest speakers such as Charlie Hustle Chief Marketing Officer Katie Martincich about pre-selected topics, including COVID-19 business efforts. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hair.

Shawnee Mission East digital design teacher Jennifer Hair scrolled through Twitter one night to see former Lancer Andy Rieger, co-owner of J. Rieger Co., adapt his business to produce hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic. She sent him an email on the off chance he could meet, and he immediately agreed.

That sparked the business department’s weekly effort to connect its students to Lancer alumni and other business leaders in the Kansas City metropolitan community: There’s a department-wide topic each week, and guest speakers hop on Zoom meetings on Thursday’s, Hair said. Whether the guest speakers discussed their COVID-19 efforts or non-pandemic related topics like time management, Hair said the recurring theme seemed to be perseverance and resilience — something that resonated with students who might be scared to fail, she said.

Hair got the idea to bring in speakers after seeing a tweet from former Lancer Andy Rieger of J. Rieger Co. regarding his company’s COVID-19 efforts. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hair.

“Our mantra in our classes is, ‘we don’t know the answer, but we’re going to figure this out,’” Hair said. “Having that tenacity, having the problem solving, having the passion to do whatever it takes — troubleshoot, fail along the way, but you keep going — that was the main message that we saw throughout all of our speakers. You just keep going, if this doesn’t work, you try something else.”

Topics that have been discussed to date include local Kansas City marketing and community engagement with Charlie Hustle, and strategic thinking with Vincent DeSantis of Global Business Group. The department relates all of its content, including reading and assignments, to each week’s topic, Hair said.

Additionally, some of the current seniors participated in a panel discussion with students from Terry Byfield’s Indian Hills Middle School class to discuss what life in high school looks like, Hair said. This brought the conversation about what it means to be a SM East graduate to what it means to be a Lancer, and answered middle schooler questions about how to get the most out of high school, she said.

Students have responded well to the department’s efforts, Hair said, as those students who normally wouldn’t participate in class are engaged and asking questions. It also offers them an opportunity for human interaction during the pandemic, as well as a way to show them what former Lancers have gone on to do as members of both the Shawnee Mission and the Kansas City metropolitan communities.

“[The guest speakers are] Shawnee Mission graduates, they are Lancers,” Hair said. “Just like Rob Riggle came on to shout out to the [Shawnee Mission South] Raiders, building that community is also important during this time.”