As a manager for National Learning and Professional Development at RSM LLP, Erica Costanzo develops learning strategies and curricula. Her first experience with Junior Achievement (JA) was learning to balance a checkbook in seventh grade in Anaheim, California. She absorbed the financial lessons and took notes on how JA made learning engaging for students—a skill that she continues to use today.
Her participation in JA continued through most of her high school years. She served as a classroom volunteer and accumulated numerous honors in the late 1990s. She was a student ambassador at a JA dinner honoring singer Gene Autry and a speaker at the JA partnership breakfast at Disneyland.
In high school, her JA companies sold products. As company president in her junior year, she looked for an inexpensive item that would make money quickly.
“I happened to be driving with my mom and brother, and we saw mistletoe growing on a tree. I realized we could get the mistletoe basically for free and package it in little bags with ribbons,” Costanzo says.
The result was an incredible profit that garnered her Santa Ana’s Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 1997. Looking back, she’s proud that she was already thinking about working more efficiently and profitably. Costanzo was awarded the Walt Disney Company Foundation Junior Achievement Scholarship in 1998.
She says one of the best things JA does for students is to help them gain confidence. And, she says JA gives volunteers something as well.
“There’s a satisfaction in helping another human. Let them learn from the good, learn from the bad. Sharing your stories not only binds us together, but it also allows other people to say, ‘I can do that too,’” she says.
Today, whether she’s developing courses or collaborating remotely during the pandemic, she continues to rely on the skills she learned through JA to make communication more effective.
“I think about what else could we do besides just PowerPoint and words on the screen? Having those examples from my Junior Achievement days have been wonderful to lean on. I think about different audiences and what they might gravitate toward,” Costanzo says.
For RSM’s volunteer day in September, the company partnered with JA to record classroom videos.
“I did two videos. One was on lessons of the stock market, and the other was data gathering. I was thrilled to help Junior Achievement out because I felt like they had done so much for me and because I was able to give back even in this kind of crazy world,” she says.
Then, JA asked her to record a six-part video series on budget and career goals.
“I am now highlighting some of the core content that was so impactful for my seventh-grade self. This has now come full circle.”