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College students attend conference in Natchez

NATCHEZ — Future Mississippi businessmen and businesswomen dipped their toes into some real world competition and networking in Natchez this week.

Copiah-Lincoln Community College hosted the statewide Phi Beta Lambda annual conference at its Natchez campus for the first time from Wednesday until today.

The conference brought to town 236 college students and advisors from 32 colleges, all who were a part of the nation’s oldest and largest collegiate business organization, PBL State Specialist Charlotte Overby said.

PBL is also the college-level extension of the popular high school club, Future Business Leaders of America.

Mississippi also boasts the largest PBL membership in the country, President of the Mississippi PBL, Co-Lin student Cameron Alderman said.

Alderman said the Mississippi’s large network of junior colleges is partially responsible for the state’s success of the PBL organization.

Alderman said PBL is a good club to pad a resume, of course, but it has also taught him how businesses work in the real world.

“PLB arms me for the future,” Alderman said.

Thursday was competition day at the conference, when the PBL members, mostly teenagers or in their early 20s, dressed in their sharpest suits to compete for a chance at a scholarship.

Students gave presentations in front of judges at the Natchez Grand Hotel conference rooms and took written tests at Co-Lin’s campus on two subjects from a variety of more than 50 categories. The top two winners in each category earn a chance to go to the national PBL conference this summer in Orlando to compete for scholarships.

Overby said she has seen employers hire PBL winners on the spot, simply for their notoriety in the club.

Corey Johnson and Shadrick Benjamin, both Co-Lin students from the Wesson campus interested in computer network components and telecommunications, said they have enjoyed their stay in Natchez so far.

Johnson said they have been taking in Natchez, browsing local bookstores, antiques stores and checking out the river view from the Natchez bluff.

Benjamin said it is his first time to Natchez, he said he would like to return.

“The locals here are very nice,” he said.

Benjamin said being a PBL member will hopefully help him get a foot in the job market door.

Johnson said PBL will help prepare him for a job in the information technology field.

“It lets you dip your toes in the business world and understand what goes on,” Johnson said.

PBL State Department Chair Jan Guyse said the competitions explored areas such as job interviews, public speaking and small business presentations.

She said having Natchez host the conference for the first time was a nice change since it is usually in Tupelo. The PBL conference will be returning to Natchez in 2012 as well, she said.

She said competition is good training for the students, but networking can also open doors for the future.

Those interested in joining their college’s PBL chapter should contact their school’s advisor, Guyse said.

Students at schools without a local chapter should contact Guyse at the Mississippi Department of Education in Jackson about starting their own group.

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