Juahmun Sturgeon fell in love with cooking as a kid spending time with his grandmother, Donnay.
The idea of a culinary career motivated him to apply for the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism at Wenonah High School as a ninth grader. Three years into the program, the senior’s dreams have moved beyond meal prep.
“I fell in love with the business side and customer service side, as well,” Sturgeon said. “Now I want to study business at Tennessee State University. Nashville is booming, and it’s the perfect city to get involved in business.”
Sturgeon’s dream is just one of many shared by students at the Academy, part of a Birmingham City Schools initiative that provides high schoolers across the district with real-world experience in food, business, architecture, finance, health sciences and engineering.
The Wenonah students came to Regions Field, home of the minor league Birmingham Barons, to get a behind-the-scenes peek into how businesses operate. The Experiential Learning Day opportunity was provided by Regions Bank and the Birmingham Education Foundation.
The Boxcar Café provided lunch, and proprietor Kelli Caulfield spoke to the students about her food and ice truck businesses, plus her own experience with a business incubator before launching on her own.
Tyler Gore and George Chavous of the Barons’ staff led the students on a tour of the ballpark, including the clubhouse and sponsored pavilions, before providing information on their job responsibilities in group sales and customer service.
They were followed by Joy Myers and Sabrina Zizo of Railroad Park, a nationally acclaimed 19-acre green space across the street from the ballpark that is considered Birmingham’s front lawn.
Myers led the students in an interactive class, where students designed, planned and managed an event of their choosing at the park, then presented the plan to the audience.
“Our students feel the customer service industry is important,” explained Angela Smith, the Coordinator for the Academy. “At the same time, we try to give them skills they will need in any industry.’
For graduation, students are required to complete 120 hours of work as paid interns. Many continue with apprenticeships with local companies arranged, in part, by the Birmingham Education Foundation.
Regions plays a role, as well.
“Regions has been awesome to us,” Smith said. “Regions does a lot of sponsorships and teaches our students about community involvement. As a result, our students have learned it’s much more than a bank where you deposit your money. It’s a brand that has an impact.”
Lee Ann Petty, Community Relations Program Manager for Regions, said that support of the Birmingham Education Foundation provides an investment in students.
“By providing meaningful opportunities for them to interact with professionals in their areas of study and to visit venues, they can see firsthand the career potential,” Petty said. “We were fortunate to partner with Regions Field and Railroad Park to provide these students with two unique experiences related to hospitality management that helped them apply what they’re learning in school to actual scenarios.”
J.W. Carpenter explained the Foundation’s partnership with the school district.
“The Ed (Foundation) aspires to build a diverse network necessary to give our Birmingham City School students the opportunities commensurate with their truly limitless potential,” said Carpenter, the Executive Director of the Birmingham Education Foundation. “We are very thankful for Regions’ multiple years of creative partnership on this front.”
For Sturgeon, the Academy has been a gateway to bigger opportunities. He’s held part-time jobs throughout high school and is earning credits at Lawson State, a local community college, thanks to a grant provided by one of his employers, Chick-fil-A.
Again, like the Academy, his internship with Chick-fil-A has provided real-world lessons.
“They’ve taught me how to deal with the public, with different situations and they’ve taught me to always find a solution,” Sturgeon said.