Teachers are always looking for a way to make the material written in a textbook or shared during a lesson to come to life.
As Cheshire High School educator Mark Pizzi watched his students engage with Rob Neuner, founder and CEO of Boost Oxygen, LLC, on Monday, April 25, he couldn’t help but feel his new speaker series had a chance to do exactly that.
“Rob talked about how business really works,” said Pizzi, who is in his first year teaching at CHS. “He pointed to things that would never be in a book. Even the emotion (he displayed) when describing decisions that were made. You can’t get that from a lesson plan.”
Over the course of three days — April 25, 27, and 29 — Pizzi invited three professionals from the business world to speak with students in his Marketing and Personal Finance Class. The goal, he stated, was to expand on what students have been learning about over the course of this year, particularly when it comes to marketing and brand management. Tracey Madden, a global brand manager at Edgewell Personal Care (Shelton) who oversees the Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic Suncare business, was one of the three speakers, along with Danielle Tata, who works with IRI, a global leader in market research services, in the area of consumer packaged goods (CPG).
Madden and Tata spoke to students via a Zoom call, however Neuner, known for his appearance on the hit television show “Shark Tank,” where he secured a $1 million investment guarantee to help expand his Milford-based company, was the only one to speak in-person at CHS.
“You really can’t replicate the contemporary perspective (the speakers) brought,” explained Pizzi. “Some of the (materials) we have are a few years old, but our speakers were talking about things that happened two months ago.”
Before Neuner’s arrival, Pizzi’s students had watched and then analyzed the “Shark Tank” episode in which he appeared. Seeing Neuner in-person, and listening to the triumphs and pitfalls he’s had to navigate as he’s launched his own business, was an eye-opening experience.
“The level of transparency was really deep,” said Pizzi. “Rob shared with us about a dilemma he is facing … and he gave us an inside look at a very complicated situation.”
Pizzi explained that Neuner is currently deciding whether to seek FDA approval for his product, which is billed as “a portable 95% pure supplemental oxygen for all-natural respiratory support.” Seeking such approval would open up new avenues of opportunities for Neuner, but it would also place certain restrictions on him moving forward.
The Milford-based business owner also spoke about product placement, and his discontent with where Boost Oxygen is currently shelved at some retail stores. Something like that, Pizzi insisted, is not a detail that would garner much attention if taught as part of a lesson plan.
“It’s something I could describe, but could never communicate the way he did,” said Pizzi. “There is so much to be gained by hearing directly from someone like Rob.”
Leslie Paier is head of the CHS Business Department, and she raved about the impact just three days of student interaction with professionals could have.
“We touch on different (subjects) in our classes, from personal finances to inflation,” said Paier. “There are so many ways we can bring in what we are learning about … and this really helps them see the big picture.”
Paier stated that approximately 100 students participated in the speaker program, which was Pizzi’s brainchild.
“Mark is such a wonderful addition to our department,” said Paier. “We want the kids to extend beyond the textbook. We don’t just want to give them worksheets.”
“I’ve only been here a year, and one thing I really like about the school and the district, from the very top level down, is that there is a huge emphasis on critical thinking,” said Pizzi. “It’s something every teacher focuses on. It goes beyond just teaching the children the minutia. It asks, ‘Are we enabling kids to be critical thinkers?’ This was a small piece of that.”
While Neuner certainly made an impression, the feedback Pizzi received indicated that Madden made one just as big on the students, if not bigger. “They really enjoyed her dialogue,” said Pizzi. “The feedback I got was, ‘That was really excellent.’”
As part of her job, Madden is responsible for the marketing of products that account for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales per year, yet her interaction with the students was comfortable and relatable, Pizzi said. “It opened the eyes of a lot of students to the different paths available in (the area of) marketing,” he continued. “After (the series), I asked the kids if anyone had an interest in marketing now, and many of them said they definitely do.”
“The students saw endless possibilities,” added Paier. “You could almost see them thinking, ‘I can do this too.’”
Though Paier wasn’t able to attend all of the lectures, she was there during Neuner’s time with the students, and she described “feeling excitement in the air” as the students asked questions and learned the ins and outs of the business world. For Pizzi, he hopes his students carry that excitement on with them.
“In class, when teaching a lesson, you kind of have to go from A to Z,” he said. “Over the course of those three days, we could go from A to G to C to Z. It really was so rewarding.”