York’s Central Market is home to a flourishing community of business professionals and creative entrepreneurs. Among those entrepreneurs are local college students learning to run their own small business.

“Our goal has always been to make York city a college town,” says Central Market’s Chief Operating Officer Cindy Steele. Students involved in York College of Pennsylvania’s (YCP) Graham Innovation Scholars (GIS) Program are making this dream a reality by opening a spirit shop, Spartan Central, inside Central Market.

The shop will sell T-shirts, mugs and other spirit items from York College’s Bookstore. The budding entrepreneurs from the GIS program will be on hand for the official ribbon cutting on First Friday, Feb. 3.

College Students Connect to Community

Since 2013, YCP’s Center for Community Engagement’s first Dean, Dr. Dominic DelliCarpini, and Steele have been brainstorming ways to make YCP students feel more at home in York. In addition to managing the Center for Community Engagement, DelliCarpini developed the GIS program, with the generous support of successful businessman Don Graham.

“The GIS program helps students use innovation to customize their education and imagine their futures the way they want to be,” DelliCarpini says. “The standardized test system standardizes people. I think this is wrong; I think people are individuals.”

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He explains that one of the goals of the program is for students to create personal brands for themselves. “It’s not just building a resume; it’s developing a skillset, a tool box,” DelliCarpini states. The GIS program gives students the opportunity to get hands-on, out-of-the-classroom experience, learn from mentors and study abroad.

“I joined the Graham Scholars Program because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zones and try new things that would make me better as a person,” says Ben Hinkel, a sophomore majoring in international relations.

Benjamin O’Connor joined in order to “work with individuals that are as passionate about education as I am.” O’Connor is a sophomore and the co-chair of community engagement for the Central Market spirit shop.

“I love working with them. I feel like they make me smarter. They’re like an idea factory,” Steele admits. She’s previously worked with students to help promote products in the market and to provide entertainment for First Friday and other special events. Her positive experience with the students sparked the idea to open this student-run shop at the market.

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Overcoming the Challenges of Running a Business

So far, the students designed their space in the market with Kinsley Construction Co., decided what York College Bookstore items to sell and devised marketing plans to sell their products. The students are already learning that running a business requires strategy and time.

“Starting a business doesn’t happen overnight,” says nursing student Megan Chaney, the FYS (First-Year Seminar) fellow for the freshman Graham Scholar committee chair for the Central Market shop. “It takes so many people from different backgrounds and specialties to make it happen. Sometimes you feel like you are going around in circles and nothing is begin accomplished. Other times, it is overwhelming how many things need to be accomplished at once.”

Fellow GIS student Hinkle agrees, “It is a lot more involved and complicated than I expected.”

Lifelong Lessons Learned at Central Market

Although planning for the shop is challenging, the GIS students are grateful for the opportunity to face these challenges. Working with the community to run their own business allows students to gain professional skills that they can carry into their future careers.

Through trials, Hinkle discovered, “Not everything is going to always work, so I want to learn to think on my feet and solve problems on the fly.” In addition to quick thinking, another valuable skill Hinkle gained from GSI and working in Central Market is “how to work with an executive board group to make a profit.” Working with the GIS team will benefit him, he says, because communication and cooperation are applicable skills in any professional setting.

Spartan Central - York College “I’ve learned that many tasks throughout life cannot be done alone,” Chaney says. “It takes a strong team and support from the community to be successful.” Not only are the students learning the values of communication, but they’re also learning the basic fundamentals that go into starting a business.

As the students design their shop, choose their products and come up with marketing strategies, they’re learning “realistic aspects of business management,” Chaney says. She hopes her new skillset “will apply to any major and all parts of life.”

“I have only worked for corporations as an employee,” O’Connor adds. “This business will teach me things outside of my major as well, which is extremely valuable.”

Mentors in Our Community

In addition to running the shop at the market, GIS students will partner with mentors in the York community to get firsthand view of what it’s really like to work in their desired fields.

“Based on my major, I would like to get involved in the Glatfelter Institute of Public Policy,” Hinkle says. “While I have not yet been assigned a professional mentor … I want to form a bond with someone I can turn to if I need help in my future, personally or professionally.”

Hinkle currently volunteers with LifePath Christian Ministries and is assisting with the food drive. He is applying the public relations and business skills he learned through the Graham Scholar program to positively impact the community.

Chaney is enthusiastic about working with an expert in her future field as well. “I hope to gain insights about what the ‘real world’ is like,” she says. “I hope my mentor inspires me to fulfill my potential and seek new opportunities.”

How YCP Students Are Giving Back

As excited as the students are to see what York can do for them, they’re just as happy to give back to the downtown community. “I often go into the city, and I see places that could be improved,” Hinkle says. “I want to be an agent of change for the community.”

The students have already made a positive impact on downtown. “Our major contribution to the community has been our suggested improvements for the Central Market,” Hinkle explains. “In our freshman year, we presented ideas to make the market better for the community, some of which were implemented. This year’s freshman class presented their improvements to the York Food Bank.”

YCP and York City: One Family

Steele believes Central Market will be a great place to start making those improvements. “The community would benefit from turning York into a college town because it would bring more business into the city. It would make the town feel more alive and vibrant,” she says.

As the students’ involvement in downtown York continues to grow, so does the sense of family and positivity in the community.

“I’ve learned that there are already many extraordinary people in the York community,” Chaney says. “I’ve also learned that many tasks throughout life cannot be done alone. It takes a strong team and support from the community to be successful.”

The Graham Innovation Scholars at York College

View the video below to hear additional perspectives from students in York College’s Graham Innovation Scholars Program.

Story by Brandi Mummert for YRK Magazine; Graham Scholars photography courtesy York College of Pennsylvania; Central Market photo, YRK Magazine; Spartan Central photo, Brandi Mummert