• Out of My Comfort Zone: A Summer Opportunity

    by Shannon Smith Creston Community High School Business Teacher | September 19, 2022

    I was planning to do what I normally do when school ends, which is to get my students ready for their National FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) conference at the end of June, take these students to the conference for five days, and then enjoy some much needed rest after two especially hard years in education.

    But then one of my Drake University friends reached out, asking if I might want a part-time, temporary position this summer working at Syverson Strege. I will admit, I was on the fence about this but then I thought back to my classroom. One of the phrases students see when they come into the room is “Great things never came from comfort zones.” I often remind students of this when they are struggling with a new concept or complaining that a project is taking too long. As I wrestled with this decision, I thought back to this phrase and said, “Okay!”

    Although originally getting a degree in Accounting and Management and working in Accounting, I eventually earned a second degree in Secondary Education in 2009. I have taught in Iowa public high schools ever since.

    I have worked at Creston Community High School for the past twelve years teaching all of its business classes: Accounting, Business Law, Business Communications, Economics, Entrepreneurship, and Financial Literacy. I am also the adviser for a business leadership group called Future Business Leaders of America, which had 86 members last year. This summer opportunity at Syverson Strege in West Des Moines has been a great learning experience in many ways and ties in well with subjects I teach.


    One of the things I noticed very early on during my time at Syverson Strege is how kind everyone is. I was a little nervous training for something new as I have been in the same position at my school for 12 years.

    Everyone was eager to help when I had questions and were quick to offer their thanks that I was willing to fill in this summer. They asked me questions and wanted to know more about me. They also were flexible with my schedule, as I already had some commitments lined up this summer before I knew about this opening.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised at how welcomed I felt because I saw this every day when the Syverson Strege employees were working with clients. They enjoy catching up with their clients, are flexible with scheduling, and look at individual priorities when it comes to each client’s financial plan. 


    From what I’ve been told, much of the financial education Syverson Strege provides to clients includes basic principles of financial literacy. One of my favorite classes to teach is the financial literacy class at my high school! With the passage of SF475 by the Iowa Legislature, all students are required to take a semester course by the time they graduate that covers specific financial literacy standards. These standards are focused on developing financial and career goals, creating a budget, analyzing credit and debt, evaluating savings and long-term investments, and managing risk.

    I enjoy this class so much because I don’t have as many students asking me, “When am I ever going to use this?” However, I always have a few “class clowns” who say their parents or their future spouse will just give them money when they need it and so they don’t need to learn about any of this. These 9th-12th grade students all come into the class with varying understandings about money. Some have never had a job or had any money of their own to handle like from an allowance or doing chores. On the flip side, other students have worked multiple jobs, and have already bought a car, including insurance.

    It is important to have this mix of experiences, especially for the students without as much financial knowledge. We have open discussions about money do’s and don’ts and really try to break the bad money habit now of “get and spend.” I hope by the end of the class, students understand that they have the basics of financial planning but it is something they have to review and update as their goals in life change. They only have a semester of class, but these skills need to be used over a lifetime and they need to continue their education on this important topic.

    After working at Syverson Strege, I will now be able to share my experience of seeing individuals utilize fee-only financial planning services to continue their learning, get financial advice, and help to ensure their priorities in life are met. Clients meet with their planners, at least yearly, to review their current status and goals. I’ve observed that this is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done deal where a client gets information once and hopes for the best.

    Developing Future Leaders

    One of the most important aspects of my job is being the adviser of our FBLA chapter. This is a co-curricular business leadership organization that “inspires and prepares students to become community-minded business leaders in a global society through relevant career preparation and leadership experiences.” I hope that some of my students will be in leadership roles like I have observed at Syverson Strege.

    Through FBLA, students are able to get a sense of the business world for the first time through tours, workshops and speakers, understand the work ethic needed to succeed, and explore different careers. Students are also able to apply what they have learned in business classes outside of the classroom or figure out, from being in FBLA, that business might be an area they want to look into for their future career. 

    Competition is another important feature of FBLA. In the spring, members are focused on choosing between 70+ events to try at the State Leadership Conference. The more effort they put into these events, the better their chances of qualifying for the National Leadership Conference in June, which changes locations each year (this year it was in Chicago and next year it will be in Atlanta). These competitions help students develop study and communication skills, explore career areas, and bring out the best in students.

    Just this year, I had students compete in the following events at nationals: Business Concepts, Business Law, Business Management, Financial Math, Local Chapter Annual Business Report, Organizational Leadership, Social Media Strategies, Sports and Entertainment Management, and Community Service Project. These events range from tests to role-plays to reports and presentations. As students become more confident, they take on more challenging events and most will admit, after all the hard work, the skills they learned prepare them for life after high school. 

    The Community Service Project is one of my favorite events because it helps show members that service and giving to your community are essential. We are lucky that we get to see the results of our giving, living in a small town. Students have seen how their cleanup projects have improved the appearance of the town or how money we raised helped to send over 50 veterans from Union County on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. They have felt the gratitude of these community members for their efforts and made connections with people they might never have known before. It’s been encouraging to observe a philanthropic spirit at Syverson Strege as well.

    Leadership programs like FBLA help develop individuals who work hard, provide new opportunities to grow, and emphasize the importance of giving. I feel that many of my members would love working at a place like Syverson Strege, like I have, because this company has many of the same values.

    I was reminded through this experience to continue to get out of my comfort zone, because you will learn and grow through the process. When a new opportunity arises, why not take it!

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