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UK College of Education, STEAM Academy Team for Entrepreneurism Challenge

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The UK College of Education’s partnership with Fayette County Public Schools’ STEAM Academy was in full swing during the school’s two-week January term. Teams across the entire school were formed to participate in an Entrepreneurism Challenge, organized by UK College of Education assistant professor Dr. Justin Bathon.

The challenge took high school students through the process of forming a startup business or nonprofit, culminating in a “Shark Tank” style presentation to community judges. The preliminaries included market research and number crunching, as well as workshops on Web design and presentation skills.

“It was a mix of us teaching business content and them working to build a new company. We provided the framework for them to pitch viable business models on topics they’re passionate about,” Bathon said. “We took the reins off in terms of how they approached it, but we assessed with an extremely detailed rubric. We gave them a massive, rapid design challenge with fairly high stakes and the kids responded beautifully. Coming up with initial ideas is a lot of fun, but I was particularly proud of how they pushed through the hard work of reaching a viable business model around those ideas vetted in actual customer needs. It was in those areas where they really grew the most.”

Bathon is an associate professor in the college’s Department of Educational Leadership Studies and Director of Innovative School Models. He holds a law degree from Southern Illinois University and a Ph.D. in Education Policy from Indiana University.

The Entrepreneurism Challenge judges, selected for topical expertise, ranged from local business owners to non-profit managers. Several UK professors and staff also assisted in the judging as well as parents of STEAM Academy students. They looked at three main components:

  • Students’ idea or concept;
  • Business plan, including advertising, products, and documentation; and
  • Quality of presentation.

One group proposed Ready Tent, a business that would design backpacks for the homeless population, strategically stuffed with tents for protection from the elements. While working on their plan, the students were further moved to action when a man in Lexington died from exposure to freezing temperatures.

“If there’s a way to help, we want to do it,” said junior STEAM student Drew Hamilton.

The STEAM Academy, opened in fall 2013, incorporates mastery learning, personalized instruction, internships, and dual/college credit opportunities.  The goal: to ensure that students will graduate college and career ready, and experienced.

Student voice and student agency are central to the school model. Students take ownership of their learning by engaging in real-world problem-solving projects that interest them in a variety of ways from design challenges like this event to the selection of internship locations.

The University of Kentucky College of Education and its Next Generation Leadership Academy is helping to create the innovative infrastructure and instructional model. In addition, teachers work with faculty members and other UK personnel who provide training across a range of instructional innovations including project‐based learning, performance assessment, and technology integration. Ultimately, the STEAM Academy serves as an incubator–where pre-service and master teachers gain experience in a digitally heavy, project-based, college-relevant learning environment and as a lab–where UK faculty can research and pilot new innovations.

Beautification efforts, too

As the entrepreneurial juices flowed, STEAM students also used some old-fashioned elbow grease to spruce up their campus. Some grabbed buckets and brushes to work on classroom murals while classmates built wooden planter boxes outside. Other projects included painting tabletops in the local high school colors, transforming discarded pallets into benches, turning rows of lockers into book spines with familiar titles, and creating huge block letters to illustrate STEAM on the front of the building, which is a former elementary school.

“We just looked around to see what we have and what we could do to make STEAM our own,” said STEAM director Tina Stevenson.

Tammy Lane, Fayette County Public Schools, contributed to this article.