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Young Alaska business leaders earn national recognition

Carey Restino | Arctic Sounder

If the idea that things are better taught by doing holds true, several students participating in the Native Alaskan Business Leaders organization are ahead of their peers in everything from knowing how to put together a business plan to being conscientious members of their communities.

The group, which is run through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, includes some 20 to 30 students from around the state, many of whom participate in weekly events and efforts to inspire continuation of education, leadership, experience and culture.

They have excelled, it would seem, as the Alaska chapter participated in the American Indian Business Leaders annual conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., and won the National AIBL Business Plan Competition for their plan titled "Yukon Native Treasures." As if that was not enough, however, the group also won the Chapter of the Year award, for the second year in a row.

Betty "Liz" Ross, a business ethics instructor at UAF who is the group's faculty advisor, said she is extremely proud of the students who participated.

"They developed a full business plan," Ross said, noting that they included financial figures, detailed information and even provided judges with samples of Native art work that would be produced as part of the business. "Their overall presentation was so well polished. I was just thrilled at how well they did with their presentation skills. It was so personalized."

The group goes well beyond focusing on the financial aspects of business, however, and focuses a good bit of its time serving the communities its members live in. The students collected toiletries and other items for the Fairbanks women's shelter, and one member, Jerica Aamodt, who now goes to school using distance education classes from Barrow taught high school students in her area how to make baby mukluks.

"It is part of their culture, and the experience shows leadership," Ross said.

Aamodt said her friends at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who participated in the group were involved in many different school activities and inspired her to participate in the Native Alaska Business Leaders group.

"I believe if they can take classes, have a job and be involved in extracurricular activities, I can do it too," she said. "I've always wanted to do more and joining the UAF Native Alaska Business Leaders group not only helped me in the long run, but inspired me to be a role model for those around me."

Next year, the group plans to reach out to homeless youth in the Fairbanks area and provide them with materials they need to be more comfortable, Ross said.

"They are always thinking in the future about giving back to their local community," Ross said, noting that this community involvement is a big part of being a business person in a small community. "That's one of the reasons the girls scored so high. Business is not just about making money, it's more about giving back to the community."

Ross said the group has been challenged by fundraising, despite its success on a national level, but said she doesn't let that slow them down. More support from the business community would allow more students to participate in national conferences, however, and would encourage the efforts to inspire this next generation of Native business leaders.

"These kids are amazing," Ross said. "You can really see the work they put into things. They are far exceeding what I ever tried to do at their age."

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder. Carey Restino can be reached at crestino(at)reportalaska.com.