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Business Community Helps Future Teachers Study Economic Development

photo of students at round table in class
Master’s students during Commerce Lexington’s economic development simulation

During a recent class at the UK College of Education, Andrew Johnson nimbly responded to questions from classmates. He sounded more like an economic development director than a college student, while his peers came across as business owners.

Johnson, who is working on a master’s degree in secondary education, was taking part in a simulation exercise facilitated by representatives from Commerce Lexington. He was one of several students tasked with playing the role of a community official, while others were acting as business owners considering moving their factory to Lexington.

“It’s important to our team that future educators understand the impact of new businesses to the community,” said Kimberly Rossetti, Commerce Lexington Vice President of Economic Development. “The students were engaged in the exercise and asked very important questions.  Our team was impressed with how quickly they got into the spirit of the simulation.  We hope that the overview gave the students a deeper understanding of Lexington’s economic development efforts.”

UK College of Education faculty member Mary Ann Vimont has been teaching a version of this economic development course for 33 years.

photo of student in class
Master’s student Andrew Johnson takes part in Commerce Lexington economic development simulation

“Economic education is important for teachers because it is a way to make learning relevant to the real world and helps teachers engage their students in what they are learning and why,” Vimont said.

Each year, Vimont arranges visits to local businesses and brings in guest speakers, such as Commerce Lexington representatives and business owners. They share about how companies go through the start-up process and the support they need to continue to thrive in the community. The Summer 2018 course included visits to Xometry (formerly Make Time), Keeneland, and Webasto.

Johnson, who aspires to teach social studies, wasn’t always engaged in school. That’s what fuels his desire to create lessons that will connect the dots between academic work and real-world issues.

“I was very much the student who was disconnected in this regard,” said Johnson, who has bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from UK. “Once I dove into local history, places I can visit and have my own memories, my love of learning was sparked. This course provides future and current educators with the tools necessary to spark such a love of learning in their students. Speaking for social studies teachers specifically, understanding and teaching economic development at the local level is a key element to sparking community engagement and molding active citizens.”