Tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are gaining valuable problem-solving skills today

Buckeye Local School District in Ashtabula County has a high school entrepreneurship class orchestrated by the Korda Institute for Teaching. Students in the class work in teams to solve real community problems.

One challenge was to assist a local farmer who wanted to bring solar energy to the county. Through this authentic learning experience, the group collected data, performed research, formulated solutions and demonstrated know-how, delivering findings to the farmer and school, as well as the community and government representatives.

Students absorb important content in the classroom every day, but putting this content to work is where knowledge and skills are solidified. This practice, known as authentic learning, allows educators to introduce scenarios that unleash student talents on business or nonprofit concerns. Through these dynamic learning experiences, students draw upon their own interests, work in team environments, connect to real-world challenges and envision themselves in a work environment.

Critical thinking

Success in solving complex problems requires active engagement, coupled with interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration. Students take charge of their own learning, formulating critical questions and well-reasoned solutions with teachers, mentors and experts serving in advisory capacities.

Partnerships in the community are an essential element of authentic learning. Entrepreneurship Education Consortium engages 10 Northeast Ohio colleges and universities in designing entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship activities for undergraduates from all disciplines.

At EEC’s annual Entrepreneurship Immersion Week at Kent State University in summer 2019, student teams stepped up to address specific challenges presented by the Fund for Our Economic Future’s Paradox Prize and Kent-based Smithers-Oasis. The fund’s Paradox Prize challenged community members to devise solutions to the transportation challenges workers face in getting to a job if they have no car, or in owning a car if they have no job. The winning student idea offered at EIW involved formation of a group busing model.

Smithers-Oasis presented one of its core products — absorbent foam for florists — to see what other uses might be possible for this product. The winning suggestion explored the idea of utilizing the foam as an insulation material for lithium batteries.

“EIW was a good fit for us because it was an interesting approach to simulate real-world business situations,” says Denise Patterson, director of corporate marketing at Smithers-Oasis. “We understand the importance of being a valuable member of the Northeast Ohio education community, and by partnering with EIW, students gained a better understanding of the day-to-day problems of companies.”

Creating access

While Northeast Ohio can point to shining examples of authentic learning for high school and university students, more students should have access to these super-charged learning experiences that will prepare them for the future of work. Young Entrepreneur Institute and Stark State College are among the organizations spearheading programs that will seek partners in the local business community. Businesses and nonprofits can benefit from the unique perspectives of students, while simultaneously enriching the educational experiences of our region’s future leaders.

Deborah Hoover is president and CEO at The Burton D. Morgan Foundation