Lifetime of Learning: Business Education Partnership

by Christy Howard Womack

BEP logo

In 1988, the Business Education Partnership (BEP) Foundation was formed with the help of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce to form valuable relationships, promoting true collaboration between educators and businesses. Its mission was to foster interest in and to promote and support programs in public schools of the City of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County that will prepare students for the business world.

At that time Emil Hassan was the Senior Vice President of Nissan and he was serving on the board at the Chamber. Discussions centered around the need to attract more high technology businesses to Rutherford County and to do that, they knew they needed more collaboration between the business community and the school system. Visionaries at the time, they saw the connection between education and workforce development and the skills gap that was developing between the graduating students and the employees that the high technology businesses needed.

One of the first programs of BEP was the minigrant program. “I got the idea late one evening, when I was home and the doorbell rang. At my door were two very young neighbors who were selling magazines to help their teacher raise funds for a special project at school. I thought if a teacher wanted to go above and beyond the curriculum to do a special project, they shouldn’t have to worry about the funding, or even to pay it out of their pocket,” said Hassan.

The next morning at a board meeting of the BEP, Hassan suggested the idea for the minigrants, along with pledging the initial funding from Nissan, and a great program was started.  Many years later, Nissan continues to fund the BEP Nissan Teacher Minigrant Awards.

The BEP Foundation’s energetic and innovative programs provide business leadership and knowledge to aid in the creation of exceptional educational experiences for students, teachers, and school counselors which link curriculum to the community and to jobs to help prepare tomorrow’s workforce and future leaders.

“BEP is honored to be associated with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, and we are grateful for the Chamber’s support of our organization.  BEP could not offer such great programs without the dedication and support of our partners in the business community, particularly the members of our board of directors and our advisory board. We are inspired by their dedication and their passion for education,” said Executive Director Amelia Bozeman.

Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture serves as secretary on the BEP executive board.  Latture said, “We support BEP’s mission to help prepare students for the 21st century workforce; BEP’s innovative programs have provided Rutherford County’s students with a clear advantage over their peers in other areas.  As a result, we have an educated, skilled workforce that continues to attract new businesses and to encourage our existing businesses to expand their operations here.  Excellent educational opportunities yield economic growth and an enhanced quality of life for everyone.”

BEP runs several programs including the BEP Nissan Teacher Minigrant Awards, STEM Factor, SPARK, Youth Leadership Rutherford, and BEP Summer Business Camp Presented by State Farm.

BEP Nissan Teacher Minigrant Program
BEP Nissan Teacher Minigrants offer funding for teachers who demonstrate innovation in teaching concepts beyond the core curriculum through meaningful learning. Nissan’s generous investment in the future of Rutherford County allows the BEP Foundation to offer grants to public school teachers from the Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County school systems. According to an MTSU study, the average BEP Nissan Teacher Minigrant impacts 417 students in Rutherford County. Minigrants are awarded twice annually with grant applications opening in January and September.

The awards are competitive, which pushes teachers to raise the bar higher and higher when looking for projects that go above and beyond the normal curriculum. “We want to keep innovation going,” said Hassan. “We don’t want to tell teachers how to teach, but we do want to support the teachers and to look for areas where we can add value.”

As BEP Chairman of the Board, Hassan has a unique understanding of the quality of projects that are submitted each year. He has read every mini-grant application that has been submitted in the 27 years of the program. “I have a passion for education, and that’s why I’ve supported BEP. But if you’re in business, you should also support education for practical reasons. Business people recognize that we have to be proactive to make things happen and that bettering the minds and skills of our students benefits our whole community’s quality of life. Our name, ‘Business Education Partnership’, accurately describes who we are: we engage our partners from the business world as well as from education.  We are happy that Murfreesboro City Schools Director Linda Gilbert and Rutherford County Schools Director Don Odom both support our organization; they actively serve on our executive board, and they are a great help to BEP,” Hassan said. 

Some of the teacher minigrants that have been funded include Homer Pittard Campus School’s after school science clubs and Josh Hoevelmann’s classes at Stewarts Creek High School, who learned the basics of assembly of audio cables and soldering. Web Hutchings gave his Oakland Middle School students hand-on experience with robotics. Sarah Dickerson was able to provide the LaVergne High School students with sustainable agriculture education for years to come. Christina Hurt from Siegel High School did a project with her students called “What’s In Your Water? An Analysis of the Stones River.”  At Hobgood Elementary School, Meredith Gilliland’s students are “Engaging Earthquake Science”, and Donna Beers’ students at Bradley Academy are learning presentation skills through “Hear Ye, Hear Ye! I Have a Story to Tell!”

STEM Factor
STEM Factor is a summer conference for educators that connects teachers with area businesses in STEM fields. STEM Factor allows teachers to see real-world examples of what they are teaching in classrooms to enable them to develop hands-on, robust learning experiences for their students that help make important connections between the classroom and real life.

When students can more effectively grasp the material, they can think beyond a book, a whiteboard, or a test, which ultimately means they will be more adept at the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are crucial for success today and in the future.

The SPARK (Students with Professionals Acquiring Real Knowledge) Program came from BEP volunteers who expressed the need to “spark” student interest in exploration of different careers. As the newest program of BEP, SPARK is an interactive program that helps students make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and how those lessons are applied in real-world careers and experiences. BEP’s SPARK volunteers are ready to share their career experiences with students and help them develop an understanding of how they can build careers based on their own interests and favorite subjects. BEP’s SPARK program has received regional and national attention for its approach to education and workforce development.

“I know that some teachers are worried about taking time away from test preparation and teaching their curriculum,” said Hassan. “However, through SPARK, we can open the students’ eyes to see what can be done with the curriculum and how it can turn into a career for them. SPARK can help increase students’ comprehension of concepts.”

Still in its infancy, more teachers are trying the SPARK program within their classrooms and most of those teachers return again and again to the program once they see its true impact on the students.

BEP Summer Business Camp Presented by State Farm
Students who attend this two-week summer day camp sponsored by State Farm will have the benefit of meeting and working with volunteers from our business community. The camp provides students with the opportunity to explore business as a career option and to understand how the world of business works. Summer Business Camp enables students to “connect the dots” between business concepts and how they are applied in actual situations and careers, helping students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that will help them throughout their lives.

During camp, students are placed into teams; each team then creates a “business” for the competition. Each team must choose someone to fulfill the following roles:  CEO, CFO, Vice President of Marketing, Vice President of Sales, and Vice President of Human Resources.

Volunteers who serve in similar roles in our business community assist students in developing their business ideas, writing business plans, developing marketing strategies and financial plans, and creating PowerPoint presentations of their work for the final competition.  On the final day of the camp, teams present their business plans to a panel of volunteer judges, who will then decide whether to “fund” the businesses. Although no actual money is awarded for the students’ hypothetical businesses, all members of the winning team receive laptops as their prizes.

Regardless of whether the students receive the prize for having the best business plan, the robust learning experiences they gain through the camp open their eyes to the world of business and enable them to attain knowledge and skills that many adults do not possess. They have the distinct advantage of understanding financial statements and basic accounting, marketing strategy, creative and critical thinking, and public speaking.

BEP Summer Business Camp participants enter high school with the ability to:

  • Work in groups
  • Understand and fulfill work responsibilities
  • Develop positive work habits and behaviors
  • Understand the basics of the business world
  • Think creatively and critically to solve problems
  • Interact with successful adult leaders
  • Speak to large groups
  • “Think on their feet” as they support and defend their plans to competition judges 

All of these skills are in high demand from today’s employers, and participants will rank far ahead of their peers who have not had the advantage of attending BEP Summer Business Camp. Sponsorships from BEP supporters enable BEP to offer summer business camp at no charge to any student, which allows students to attend camp regardless of their families’ resources.  Students who will be going into seventh or eighth grade in the fall are eligible to apply for the camp.

Youth Leadership Rutherford
Youth Leadership Rutherford is a selective personal development, civic education, and community engagement initiative for high school seniors in Rutherford County.  Focused on specific areas of community concern, the program explores contextual issues of leadership to open the minds of students and to enable them to become more visionary leaders. Applications are due each February for current juniors in high school to be a member of Youth Leadership Rutherford during their senior year.

Counselors’ Leadership Institute
BEP Counselors’ Leadership Institute (CLI) is a summer conference designed to equip school counselors with information on workforce trends, skill gaps, and career options that will enable them to more effectively guide and assist students. Additionally, CLI features valuable information on how to effectively assist families with human needs and services.

The Future
So what does Chairman of the Board Emil Hassan see for the future of the organization? Not one to rest on his laurels, he hopes to see BEP come up with at least one new program each year in the next ten years. “We want to find programs that add value to our education system, and then we will fund it. If it works, we’ll find a sponsor to ensure its longevity.”

Executive Director Amelia Bozeman clearly respects Hassan and shares his vision for BEP. “We would not be where we are today without Emil’s tireless advocacy for the students of Rutherford County. We believe that education is the great equalizer. By providing meaningful, advanced educational opportunities for students, we can help them develop skills that can change the economic trajectories of their families forever. This is the truth: a good education enables students to achieve the American dream.”

BEP Foundation

Advisory Board

Adam Coggin

Lindsey Fournier

Aimee Hoover

Adam Milam

Amy Painter

Tina Patel

Jessica Prater

Tara Stone


Board of Directors

Emil Hassan, Chairman

Jimmy Jobe, Treasurer

Paul Latture, Secretary

Wayne Blair

Dr. Gloria Bonner

Butch Campbell

Don Clayton

Julie Corcoran

Gordon Ferguson

Dr. Patrick Geho

Dr. Linda Gilbert

Phil Holt

Tara MacDougall

Lee Moss

Don Odom

Dr. Lana Seivers

Kirt Wade

Amelia Bozeman, Executive Director