Summer 1998

With alumni help, OLAB Teaches the ABC's of Business to Generation Next

by Rob Herzog

At the time, the founders of OLAB (Opportunities to Learn About Business) had no idea that the program would become such an enduring part of the College's commitment to state-wide education. The program has evolved since its inception, but after 26 years and 2000 students, the mission remains the same. "Students learn that running a business can be fun, challenging and creative," says OLAB co-director and Associate Professor of Economics Bert Barreto.

In 1973, Wabash professors Ben Rogge 'H53, David Hadley, and Bill Bonifield envisioned a summer program similar to Indiana Boys' and Girls' State that would introduce high school students to the world of business. After joining forces with Indianapolis businessman Alex Carroll, and alums Jack Engledow '53 and Bob Hall '69, OLAB was born on the Wabash College campus.

This year, 54 high school students from Indiana, one from Texas, one from Georgia, and one from Missouri experienced a week-long, hands-on approach to economics, accounting, marketing, finance, political science, and public relations.

Many people are surprised to find that the participants pay nothing to attend. All expenses are covered through sponsorships from Indiana businesses and foundations.

What keeps the program engaging year in and year out for the students is "the game." It is a business simulation supported by a sophisticated computer program originally developed by Professor of Economics Steve Schmutte '66. Teams of four or five students compose a firm interacting in the electronic organizer market. "Labbies," as the participants are called, then make a series of decisions for eight fiscal quarters, including production, advertising and pricing. The computer model then calculates operating revenues.

Obstacles are also thrown in their way that affect their company's bottom line. Teams must ward off an imminent labor strike by negotiating with "union negotiators," as well as react to a crisis scenario regarding their product.

Involvement of Wabash alumni in OLAB has grown in recent years. In July, several alumni lawyers from Indianapolis spent an afternoon acting as union negotiators demanding higher pay and more benefits for employees of the firms. Participants included Jon Pactor '71, Chris Braun '81, Joe Impicchiche '80, Vic DeRose '74, and Chris Baker '74. Bob Minardo '87 also assisted the College with fund-raising. On the last night of the program, two younger alums, Jon Graf '96 and Eric Borgert '97, joined Pactor in hosting a cookout for the Labbies.

The impact of the program on the lives of the participants is difficult to gauge. Over the years, many participants have become Wabash students, including Scott Cougill '87, who met his wife during the program. Some are now working in the front offices of major corporations.

But all the students became more knowledgeable participants in the free market economy. "A core group of OLAB staff, Wabash alumni, and corporate donors recognize that this program changes lives," says Barreto. "Even if only a few kids say 'I didn't know that business was so much fun' or 'There's so much creativity and excitement in management,' or, my favorite, 'I'm going to study economics,' that's enough to keep OLAB going."

For further information on supporting Indiana's best summer college program, contact Assistant Director of Public Affairs Rob Herzog at (765) 361-6087, or by e-mail at

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