Connections were hard last year for many. Day-to-day socializing and collaboration often looked different in both work and school. (But, we’re doing it! #optimism #self-five.)Connections, or building connections, are an important part of what makes INCubatoredu an authentic entrepreneurship education experience that drives deeper learning. Connections between a student’s passion and agency, between a school or district and the community they serve, and among students and real-world industry.
Volunteers offer their time to coach and mentor INCubatoredu students for support and are the conduit to a real-life, ‘boots on the ground’ perspective throughout this year-long course.
We caught up with one of these volunteers - John Knight, Senior Vice President in Commercial Lending in Midlothian, Texas, and mentor at the 'MILE', (Midlothian Innovative Learning Experience). Read on to learn more about this innovative learning environment, and how students benefit— through his lens. He shares not only what he does but why it matters. The student team he mentored hit it out of the park this year...drumroll please…(pun intended—read on!)
What’s your involvement with INCubatoredu and why do you do it?
I serve on the booster club board for our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and I mentor an INCubatoredu student team at 'The MILE' in Midlothian, Texas. The MILE is a separate building within Midlothian ISD housing four of the district’s CTE programs, and it engages students from both of the district's high schools. I support Demi (Pratt), the INCubatoredu teacher, who leads the course and provides me with the framework I need to add value. Jonathan Douglas and Whitney Krupala supported as co-mentors.
I am very passionate about education and ensuring the best outcomes for students. The opportunity to provide authentic experiences and communicate with students about the 'real world' is rewarding for me and helps prepare them for the future. It is amazing to see students have breakthroughs and learn complex concepts that most people don’t experience until adulthood, if ever!
'It is amazing to see students have breakthroughs and learn complex concepts that most people don’t experience until adulthood, if ever!'
What do kids gain from this and why does it matter?
As kids are spending large amounts of time socializing on phones and devices, it is critically important that students get face-to-face time with adults and learn to interact in a professional manner (even if it is through a computer this year!).
I work with my students to make sure they learn not only applicable business concepts, but also, critical life lessons. I believe after this course, these students will be more thoroughly prepared to interact with people and to understand the complexities of the business world. These skills will better prepare students for the workforce and allow them to navigate that world more seamlessly.
'These skills will better prepare students for the workforce and allow them to navigate that world more seamlessly.'
How would you describe the student journey in this course?
It has been fascinating. During the first sessions, I saw their excitement and eagerness to learn. As the year progressed, I saw their enthusiasm grow, the team relationship transform, and their comfort level grow in asking for explanations and the 'why' behind my answers.
The more we worked together, the more we developed trust. This allowed us to have very open conversations about their ideas and approach. They began asking questions about my work experience and my educational path, and even asked for advice on potential next steps for their futures — we formed very close bonds. In my opinion, they are light-years ahead of where I was when I graduated from high school.
'...they are light-years ahead of where I was when I graduated from high school.'
INCubatoredu is a phenomenal student entrepreneurship program and provides incredible opportunities to challenge students and provide a framework to try things, potentially fail, and move on with that new learning. The curriculum provides a guide for the instructional delivery by the teacher and a comprehensive framework for the mentors to bring their practical experience to the table. The result is a more thorough, experiential education opportunity for the students.
Tell us about the team you mentored.
I mentored Mallet Head, a team that created an interchangeable mallet used for percussion. Mallet Head is made up of two juniors and two seniors from both high schools in Midlothian. This might be one of the most unique things about The MILE— it allows students who would not normally interact to come together in one setting. In addition to the four INCubatoredu students, we have two students from our engineering class on the team. The team won the school’s final pitch event and went on to compete in the INCubatoredu National Pitch in July, as one of the top five finalists.
'... (the program) allows students who would not normally interact to come together in one setting.'
Share a time when the team pivoted?
At the beginning of the year, the team wanted to create a calendar app. They knew it would be hard to create an app, especially one that would be competing against Outlook, Google Calendar, etc. The team was moving forward but never loved the idea. Around Thanksgiving, one of the entrepreneurship students, who is a percussionist in the school band, saw his bandmate’s invention from the engineering program and knew it was a hit. They pitched the idea to the team and a beautiful partnership was formed.
What struck you about the team’s development over the course of the year?
You could see the learning really rack up, and their ability to ask deeper questions develop over the year. My role was to lead self-discovery questioning, instead of telling them the answers. I was impressed with the confidence they gained and the new thoughts and questions they would ask as the year progressed.
'...their ability to ask deeper questions develop over the year.'
What are the team's plans?
Mallet Head is continuing to work on their product and get it to a commercially viable stage. They have secured a provisional patent, and are working to formally set up their LLC. The hope is to have a completed product with an easily replicated production process so they can start marketing and selling no later than summer 2022.
In your opinion, who benefits from taking this class?
I believe all students would benefit from participation in this class. A program such as this allows students to better comprehend what it takes to successfully create and bring a new idea to life.
Even in the event the student never starts a business, this class will help them understand all of the decision-making and steps that must be undertaken in order to run a successful business.
'Even in the event the student never starts a business, this class will help them understand all of the decision-making and steps that must be undertaken in order to run a successful business.'