Melissa Cooper, treasury management account executive, Associated Bank, recently participated as a semi-finals judge in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) Citywide Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

NFTE is an organization that inspires young people from low-income communities to take an interest in entrepreneurship. These students work closely with educators to re-engage their learning, have an introduction to business concepts, and open up their possibilities for the future.

Cooper got involved with the organization during the 2013-2014 school year with a group of Associated colleagues. The journey began when she helped a classroom full of students with their projects at Schruz High School.

During the year, NFTE students write and prepare their business plans to present to companies at the Regional Final Competition. Here they’re judged by a prestigious panel of judges and an audience of over 100 top industry and educational leaders.

The event provides great experience for the students. Throughout the year and in preparing for the finals they learn fundamental presentation skills that they can carry over to their careers.

“As a judge, my experience was great. I had the opportunity to work with these students throughout the year and watch their presentations blossom,” Cooper said. “In the end, it really shows how much thought and preparation the students put into their ideas.”