CLEARWATER — At Palm Harbor University High School, exceptional students are already preparing themselves for a career in business, marketing, and other fields.
The public high school offers an International Baccalaureate program and an Advanced Placement track that offers college credit classes. The school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter is also popular with high-achieving students, says teacher Kevin Schacter. He mentors the school’s FBLA chapter and serves as FBLA district co-director.
“Our chapter of FBLA had 154 members last year, and based on growth patterns, this year we expect somewhere between 175 and 200 members,” he said.
Some of the standout students include 2019 school valedictorian Shady Mina, as well as rising seniors Matthew Werneken, Divya Arora, and Maya Srinivasan, he said.
“FBLA has led me and my peers to become leaders, entrepreneurs and managers striving to make a positive impact on our communities,” Werneken said.
Ethan T. Ghozali, who is entering his senior year at the high school this fall, is another FBLA standout. The young man was elected vice president of FBLA’s Southern Region, which oversees FBLA chapters in Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and seven other southern states.
Ghozali knows he’s part of a larger thing.
“It was a long process to get to the point where I could run for southern vice president,” he says. “My own chapter has to approve me, and we have a very competitive chapter at Palm Harbor. I had other friends looking to run.”
Ghozali first had to serve as president of the school FBLA chapter, was then elected Florida FBLA secretary, and then had to appear before the state board to gain approval to run for the southern region.
“Florida can only send one person to run for national office,” he said.
The vote for national FBLA offices, including the southern region, followed days of student campaigning at the annual FBLA/Phi Beta Lambda Leadership Conference in San Antonio, Texas. During the high-energy week in June, FBLA students from around the world compete face-to-face and online in business skills, including the creation of business plans, cost accounting, forensic accounting, entrepreneurship, business communication, website design, job interviewing, cybersecurity, and scores of other disciplines.
Ghozali participated in the management decision-making competition, a two-part contest in which future business leaders role-play solutions to specific problems facing a fictitious company. They must solve a problem in human resources, marketing, or information systems management.
He credits the friendly rivalry among FBLA members for his growth in business skills.
“All these competitions provide experience and prepare people to be in the business world,” he said. “You get to compete against other members and that’s probably one of the most powerful ways that FBLA prepares you for a field.”
As he campaigned in San Antonio, Ghozali introduced himself to thousands of other members and shook a lot of hands.
“All the national candidates set up booths in the hallways of the hotel, and people would go to each booth to talk to candidates,” he said. “I had the opportunity to talk to students from all over the country and all over the world.”
The week’s campaigning began with an opening session and campaign rally, followed by regional campaign rallies and live Q&As with Ghozali and other national candidates giving unrehearsed answers to questions from voting delegates. The delegates voted for their favorite candidates using smartphones and other data-enabled devices.
He has some plans for the FBLA Southern Region; he’ll hold the office until he graduates from high school in the spring of 2020.
“I want to introduce some new programs at the national level as well as help Florida FBLA with some initiatives,” he said. “I’d like to send out care packages that have material to help organize struggling chapters and launch new chapters. I want them to ensure they have the resources they need to grow and be successful.”
He also wants to connect the various chapters into a stronger network, “from high school to high school, and from high school to middle school, to share ideas and collaborate together.”
High-achieving people often have a hobby, if for no other reason than to help them relax and clear the mind. As he works out his next steps — to launch his own business, find work in a hatching tech firm — he gets out on the water.
“One of my favorite hobbies is sailing, and I sail competitively,” Ghozali says. “It’s very relaxing being on the water.”
Though he does not attend the school, he is on the Dunedin High School sailing team. The team consists of young sailors from around Pinellas County. They compete in various regattas around the state.
The path Ghozali took is open to other Palm Harbor students who join FBLA.
“I think what drew me to FBLA were the students involved,” said Alex Kranias, grade 10, who said he is quickly learning leadership skills. “FBLA allows me to work with students I look up to and call my friends.”
Srinivasan said FBLA lets her build business skills: “Approaching my fourth year in FBLA, I credit the people and mentors I’ve met in FBLA for the development of my business skills and overall confidence in public speaking and presentations.”
And this from Rachel Warren, a junior at the school: “FBLA is comprised of a growing community of young people striving to make a positive difference in the world.”
No matter what Ghozali and his fellow students in Palm Harbor pursue, they are off to a good start, Shacter said.
“They are motivated, organized, positive and enthusiastic,” the teacher said. “Ethan is a strong leader, and very affable. We have grown as a chapter, as he has grown in his leadership.”