The benefits of integrating entrepreneurship (e-ship) programs into existing educational curricula have been well researched and documented. Here we will continue our discussion of the previous article on the E-Youth Framework (Community College Entrepreneur, Spring/Summer 2008) to motivate, provide skills and link youth to opportunities through in-school, out-school, summer and incubation programs. Here are some of the challenges and benefits of such efforts.
In-School: Although incorporating e-ship programs into traditional K-12 curricula can be a procedural challenge, the benefits of a well-designed program can greatly outweigh the costs. Offering an e-ship elective or incorporating business examples into existing courses has resulted in positive outcomes, such as increased test scores, increased student participation, decreased drop-out rates and career planning. A semester unit developed by a graduate student in the Gifted and Talented Program at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education incorporates many standards-based concepts into an entrepreneurship semester course for grades 7 through 9.
Out-School: The flexibility available after hours allows instructors to experiment with different teaching pedagogies that may more closely match the learning styles of students interested in e-ship, who in many cases are gifted/talented students that require a degree of program differentiation for effective learning. The out-school setting is a great opportunity to infuse students with enthusiasm by arranging industry field trips, inviting guest speakers, establishing student clubs, coordinating business plan competitions, and perhaps getting parents involved in the e-ship learning process.
Summer: With school out, students are able to concentrate fully on the material being taught and workgroup discussions. Students who enroll in summer e-ship courses are in many cases already evaluating a business concept they wish to develop. The chance to work with these students is very rewarding as there is a better chance of an actual startup to emerge. Also, these students are eager to learn as much as possible, and more importantly, willing to apply newly acquired skills. Several colleges and universities offer e-ship summer camps for student candidates and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Incubation: A great learning experience for students is to immerse them in the innovation process by visiting and working within a business incubation setting. Close contact with real world entrepreneurs is a tremendous opportunity for students to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the life of an entrepreneur. Real world war stories go a long way in teaching students how passion and perseverance are key ingredients of e-ship success. Furthermore, a visit to an incubator links students to the process of discovering real world opportunities that may be difficult to simulate in a classroom.
Although it may be true that not all students exposed to e-ship programs will launch a real business, the skills obtained via these programs can contribute to forming well-rounded, productive citizens. Similarly, not all students who participate in sports programs will become professional athletes, but the skills learned in competition (teamwork, perseverance, focus, etc.) become personal assets that can benefit them in all facets of life. A great quality we have found in K-12 students is that many are high achievers who want to continue learning beyond the course offering and classroom setting. Our challenge as instructors and mentors is to keep that fire burning.