No matter the country, ethnicity, or financial status, the need is the same everywhere. Students are entering college and career with visions of their future but no real way to verify the fit or right steps to take.
The Rotary Student Program was designed to help young people connect with business professionals living their dream career. By exploring the possibilities in the earliest stages of the career development and selection process, 15-18 year olds have the chance to confirm or redirect their dreams.
In live, virtual reverse-interview settings hosted by Rotarians, student participants gain rare access to professionals that are considered experts in their fields —from CEOs of global corporations to small-business owners and startup entrepreneurs. Through the program, students explore dreams from every possible direction—from becoming an NFL football player to becoming a global peace leader, from becoming a medical professional to going into the entertainment business, from working as a public servant in politics to starting a private family business. With the Rotary Student Program, the exploratory opportunities and possibilities are endless.
In 2007, the first Rotary Student Program launched in the United States, through the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, Michigan, Rotary District 6360, USA.
For many years, it had been tradition that the Rotary Club hosted high school students at lunch. The objective of the hosting, was to share the virtues of Rotary and the Community and Global Service Initiatives of the club. The program was called “Rotary Student Guests” and in 2006, it was run by “Student Guests” Chairman, Janet Zielke.
One day in 2007, Rotarian Jackie Huie, suggested to her friend, Janet, that the club do more for students. Her suggestion was to provide a service to students, by utilizing the Rotary network. The idea was to ask students about their dream careers and help them make connections with local professionals with expertise in those areas. The bigger vision was that every young person in the world had the opportunity to connect with a professional in a dream career. The vision was well received and Janet suggested Jackie “run with it,” taking it as far as it could go. The word “Guests” was dropped from the title and the idea of the “Rotary Student Program” was launched.
To kick off the new program Jackie recruited two well-connected Rotarians to provide recommendations - Bank Vice President, Maria Kibler and Environmental Engineer, Rick Villa. In initial discussions, the three concluded that the program needed a high school advocate to test the concept. A first meeting was set up with Rotarian, Al Skibbe, the Superintendent of St. Joseph High School, St. Joseph, Michigan. Thinking a hands-on student advocate was needed to give advice, Al invited St. Joseph HIgh School Guidance Counselor, Susie Schweir.
After getting sound advice from Al and Susie, a Rotary Student Program Committee was formed. In addition to Jackie, Maria, Rick and Al, additional well-connected Rotarians were recruited, including Judge David Peterson, Politician Al Pscholka, Retired Business Executive Rae German and Hospice CEO Linda Beushausen.
The test pilot at St. Joseph High School went off flawlessly, with the first 10 high schoolers. Within a year, the Rotary Student Program gained the interest and support from 5 additional schools and 2 additional Rotary Clubs.
Not long after, it was realized that the career connection void was not just in Michigan or in North America, but was global in scale. After gaining the attention of Rotary District 6360 leadership, the idea of expanding the program was presented to Rotary International President 2011-2012, Kalyan Banerjee. On February 2, 2012, a meeting with President Banergee was set up at Rotary International Headquarters, Evanston, Illinois, USA. Included in the meeting was Jackie Huie and her then 12-year old son, Grant Huie. It was a break-through moment.
After the meeting, Jackie was invited to present the Rotary Student Program to the Rotary International Vocational Services Committee, led by Vice Chairman, Paul Netzel. Joining Jackie and Paul, were Rotary International representatives from Argentina, Italy and Japan - all who confirmed the need for Career Mentors was global in scale. From there, program attention was heightened when it was presented at two Rotary International Conventions - one in Lisbon, Portugal (2013) and one in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2015). Convention Speakers were Jackie Huie, her husband, Mike Huie and Rotary District 6360 Governor 2013-2014, Terry Allen, USA.
The greatest spikes of interest in the program fell around the Rotary International Conventions and the release of the April 2017 issue of Rotarian Magazine and online Rotary.org features, like https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-pairs-students-top-mentors. Since program inception in 2007, the RotaryStudentProgram.org website has been trafficked by over 26,000 visitors, coming from more than 157 countries.
The program has been adopted by clubs from around the world.
What is Rotary Club?
Founded in Chicago in 1905, Rotary International has over 32,000 clubs in 200 countries and over 1.4 million members worldwide. Boasting a vast membership of well-connected business professionals, the organization provides humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards, and helps build goodwill and peace in the world. Participating clubs share the global motto “Service Above Self”, which exemplifies activities to support local, district, national, and international projects and initiatives.
About the Rotary Student Program Founder
A Rotarian since 1994, Jackie has worn many hats in Rotary, including Past Club President, Rotary Student Program Founding Chair, Youth Services Chair, Interact Club Advisor and District 6360 Chair for Career Mentoring. In her professional life, Jackie is a member of CHIEF and YPO Gold and is Chairman and CEO of JohnsonRauhoff, a Strategic Content Agency founded in 1969 by her late career mentor father, Don Johnson. Starting her advertising career working for Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, then Tracey-Locke, Los Angeles, Jackie is best known for her 1985 redesign of the iconic McDonald’s Hamburglar. In 1990, Jackie returned to Michigan to help her father build the business he started in the basement of his home. In 1997, Jackie married Mike Huie, who became a Rotarian and left his Global Business Unit Director job at Whirlpool Corporation to join JohnsonRauhoff and eventually become its President. Mike and Jackie Huie have three children - all who have held leadership positions in Rotary and have become Rotary Student Program Mentors; Taylor Huie (23), Stryker Biomedical Engineer, Duke University Class of 2021, is a Past Charter President of the Interact Club of St. Joseph High School as well as the Charter President of the Rotaract Club of Duke University, Rotaract District Representative for the State of North Carolina and was a Speaker at the 2019 and 2020 Rotary International Conventions. A new Rotarian, Taylor is Executive Director for Ascension Rotaract, Zones 28-34 (Maine to the Caribbean); Grant Huie (21), Virginia Tech University Junior in the School of Engineering is studying Computer Science; and Rhett Huie (19), a Freshman studying Acting at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The Huie family has hosted two Rotary Youth Exchange Students; Thiago Pires, from Brazil and Mateusz Gibiec, from Poland. In 2013, the Huies sponsored Mateusz to stay in the U.S. to complete high school, graduate from college and start a career. He is now a Sales Engineer with Dynatrace in Florida. True to the spirit of the Rotary Student Program to ‘never give up’ on a good idea, Jackie jokes that her favorite pet will always be an English Bulldog, named Oberon.