Our President & Founder, Chris Burkhard was honored last night as a Distinguished Alumni by Junior Achievement of Delaware during the organization’s 26th annual Delaware Business Leaders Hall of Fame induction. In a Facebook announcement leading up to the event, JA shared, “We are excited to feature Chris Burkhard of Outside-In® Companies this year, with a new category of recognition, The JA Distinguished Alumni Award. He is the epitome of what Junior Achievement stands for.” Chris, a self-proclaimed “JA Kid”, has experienced virtually every role in Junior Achievement, from student to his current alumni status. We interviewed Chris to hear about his JA journey that led him to earn this award.
How did you get involved with Junior Achievement?
My dad was on the Junior Achievement of Delaware board for 20+ years. When I was 13 or 14 and a freshman in high school, he volunteered me to go to a JA program at Newark High School. That was where it all started.
Tell us about what it was like to be a JA kid.
I wasn’t much of a student at the time, I did OK, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t all that excited about being dropped off for the program. But I ended up really liking it. I liked being a part of the company program where we built a company, designed a product and then sold it. I also distinctly remember that I didn’t like the manufacturing part of the program. I recall not wanting to go to the first couple meetings and I definitely didn’t want to tell my mom that. But, like I said, I ended up really enjoying it.
Do you remember the company or product that you created?
We created and sold Birdhouse Kits. In those days, there were about 30 kids in the program who were broken up into small groups, each of which created their own company. I can’t remember the name of our birdhouse company. And as the Head of Marketing in the group, it’s really driving me crazy!
How is the program different today than it was when you were a student?
The program has really come a long way. Back in the day, the company program was more ‘templated’. There were a bunch of questions and we filled in answers. Today, the program encourages the kids to think and process through the decisions you really have to make when you start a company. Looking back, I realize that the program was modeled more after big, public companies. The concept of an entrepreneur wasn’t the same back then. I also remember that we issued stock certificates in the program! Today, it’s equity shares.
What roles have you held in JA?
I started as a student in the program. Next I was a volunteer in the classroom for may years – I taught 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders. I even taught with my kids. I became a board member around 2003, Chair Elect 2010-2011 and was the Board Chairman in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Now I am what they call “Chair Emeritus Council.” Over the years, I worked on growing programming in Cecil County, entrepreneurial innovation in other parts of Delaware, and was on the leadership council of the board for many years.
If you had to sum it up, what has #JA done for you?
JA helps kids figure out who they are and what they want to be — and it must work because look at me, I’m a “JA kid”. I was a teenager when I was first introduced to JA, and just like any classic teenage boy, I was into sports and girls. I wasn’t all that interested in going to a school program that my parents wanted me to go to. And I didn’t yet appreciate what my dad had accomplished as an entrepreneur. But after going to a few sessions, JA became the first thing I tolerated as a teenager. A few years later, I began to build an appreciation for my dad and what he accomplished. Fast forward to today, and now building businesses and working with the next generation of JA kids is a passion.
You know the concept of “flow” and how when you lose track of time doing something you love? That’s how I feel when I watch the kids as they start to ‘get it.’ I see how much the kids learn and how much harder it can be than school, but how it can be that much more interesting to them. I have come to understand that the schools have their hands full and when you see these kids learn something that the school environment does not teach, it’s really amazing. I had a parent tell me that the most her son learned in high school was through his JA experience. That’s what it’s all about. When you put a mentor and a child with curiosity together and start to see the kids respond with interest – that’s what it was all about. Finally, it was really fun to hang out with my daughter while she taught a JA program. Perhaps I’m passing the torch, but if not, JA has been a great family experience for me.
What do you hope for JA in the future? What do you hope for the next generation?
Today, the teenagers that sign up for JA are the ones that are smart, the ones that are trying to do well and get a leg up. This is great. But we also have to reach the Chris Burkhards who aren’t interested and don’t think its cool. How about the kids that don’t know about the program and don’t have families that will sign them up? Also, as JA expands the way the program is delivered through technology and race to make the concepts easier to consume, I hope we don’t forget the power of the volunteer. As we develop online and create better tools, I hope JA doesn’t forget the connection between the kids and their mentors.
About Junior Achievement of Delaware
Through a dedicated volunteer network, Junior Achievement (JA) of Delaware offers in-school and after-school experiences for students in grades K-12. JA experiences focus on seven key content areas: business, citizenship, economics, entrepreneurship, ethics/character, financial literacy, and career development. Junior Achievement of Delaware serves all three counties in the State of Delaware, as well as, Cecil and Salem counties in Maryland and New Jersey respectively.
If you’re interested in volunteering or signing a student up for a JA experience, please visit Junior Achievement of Delaware’s website here.