Friday, January 10, 2014

FARRELL, Pa. — A pilot program designed to encourage high school students to become entrepreneurs and innovators could serve as a template for similar efforts across the state, educators say.

The Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV 21st Century Skills program was introduced Thursday to students at five school districts in Mercer County. The objective is to provide those interested with hands-on instruction and real-world experience.

“We want them to work in teams and compete with different business ideas,” said Sean Zippie, a senior at Penn State University and former intern at the eCenter@Lindenpointe, a business incubator based in Hermitage.

Should the two-year pilot program prove successful, Zippie said, it could expand across Pennsylvania. “If it’s a success, and I believe it will be,” he remarked, “it could grow to other school districts as well.”

Zippie made the rounds at five high schools yesterday — Hickory High School in Hermitage, Farrell High School in Farrell, West Middlesex High School in West Middlesex, Sharon High School in Sharon, and Sharpsville High School, Sharpsville — and explained the program to juniors.

Five students from each school will be selected for the program, and five teams will be created, Zippie said. However, what makes this program unusual is that the teams will be composed of students who represent the schools – no team will consist of students from the same school.

The program, which begins in September, will consist of lecture and interactive courses at the eCenter Monday through Thursday, Zippie said after his presentation at Farrell High School. “The goal is to get these kids engaged in business activities at the eCenter instead of spending their senior year wandering the halls,” he said. “We want these kids to have hands-on learning and get their ideas out there.”

Next year as seniors, each team will be charged with creating a small business that incorporates science, technology, engineering, the arts, or mathematics, better known as STEAM, Zippie reported. Throughout the course, the student teams should learn how to draft business plans, create product development strategies, and visit sites such as Google’s offices in Pittsburgh and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown.

“It should be a great experience for all of them,” Zippie said.

The program has a competitive element, Zippie continued. At the end of the school year, each team will present its business idea to a panel who consist of professionals, educators, entrepreneurs and investors.

The panel will then award $2,500 cash to the team — $500 per member — with the best idea and business program, Zippie said. “That’s a great opportunity and gives them some great motivation as well.”

Jacobie Green, a junior at Farrell, says he’s interested in the program because of the opportunities that come with developing his own business.

“For me, I never thought I’d be in the business field,” he said. “But, seeing this presentation showed me a new opportunity in life.” Green said he’s interested in music – he plays trumpet and French horn – so he’s leaning toward one day building a music studio business from scratch.

Tia Clumph, another junior at Farrell, says she likes the idea of interacting with students from other schools. “It’s good to learn about something you’ve never learned about before,” she commented. “I’ve never been interested in business, but after the presentation I heard today, I think I would like to do something with it.”

The program is the result in part of a $100,000 grant funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, said Cathleen Cubelic, director of curriculum instruction and assessment services at the Intermediate Unit, an educational central services agency in Grove City.

“In partnership with the Intermediate Unit, the Franklin Center, the area school districts, and the eCenter, we were able to create a program to support 25 students across five districts in engaging in this year-long academy,” Cubelic said.

Developing the program took about two years as the national push for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education accelerated, related Lora Adams-King, superintendent of the Farrell Area School District.

The superintendents from the five school districts met in early 2012 initially to address the need for STEM education opportunities for students in the Shenango Valley, she related.

“That evolved into STEAM entrepreneurship,” Adams-King said, noting the districts added the arts component to the program and chose to cooperate in developing the curricula.

“Most of the time, we’re seen as rivals,” she said of the school districts. “Now, we’re coming together collaboratively because we want our students to see that’s how it works in the workforce and in the business world.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

Click Here to See The Article on The Business Journal Website