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SANTA ANA : Pseudo Firm Gives Students Real Skills

It’s a typical Monday morning at Universal Insurance. Office manager Adam Chavez is fiddling with the copy machine, policy writer Martha Huizar is typing up forms and agents are busy in their cubicles with paper work and telephone calls.

But there’s a catch to this picture of life in the office: It’s all pretend.

Chavez, Huizar and the busy agents are really students at Santa Ana High School who are running a simulated insurance company through a program called Project InVEST, sponsored by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Assn. of Orange County.

The program, now in its second year, is the only one of its kind in Orange County. School officials say Project InVEST has been instrumental in helping to guide students toward careers in business.

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“A good portion of the students now see their futures in a different light, in terms of opportunity,” said teacher JoAnna Aguirre. “This class is not just about what the insurance business can do for them, but it shows them that they can do anything they want. They are more aware that they can have a piece of the pie.”

Aguirre said she was attracted to the program by the doors it could open for Santa Ana High students, 80% of whom are Latino.

“There aren’t that many Latinos in the business world,” Aguirre said. “I realized that this could be a good vehicle to attract more students into business who, historically, wouldn’t be interested.”

In addition to learning the ins and outs of the insurance business by practicing selling policies to their family and friends, the students have gone on field trips to local insurance companies and listened to guest speakers.

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A regular speaker is Donna Ferguson, president of Ferguson Insurance. She was president of the brokers association two years ago when it was looking for a school in Orange County at which to begin the program. The association pays for desks, typewriters and other office equipment.

“We had been looking for a suitable school for years,” Ferguson said. “Santa Ana High School seemed perfect for what we wanted to do because of its Hispanic population and we felt this was a place where it could really help. The students benefit because they are being trained to go out into the world and we benefit because we can hire many of these students. They have young minds and are easy to teach.”

Although not all of the 65 students enrolled in the program plan to go into the insurance business, a job is waiting for them if they do. Those who complete the course are guaranteed at least an entry-level job in the insurance field.

Senior Carlos Torres, 18, said he took the class to learn more about his own auto insurance but has ended up planning on a career in the business, possibly as a policy underwriter.

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“It’s all pretend, but it’s very real because you deal with everything that’s used in the industry,” Torres said. “It’s different from other classes. We’re treated like adults and we’re in a business environment. You learn other trades like banking, accounting and computers.”

Senior Fransica Alvarado took the course and has decided to become an insurance agent.

“I had hoped that this class would lead me to a better career and it has,” Alvarado said. “It’s given me an idea of what I really want to do down the line. I feel like this is my big chance in life.”


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