The Path to Entrepreneurship

Part 3 in a three-part series on Entrepreneurship In Education for the course Education Theories, Trends, and Entrepreneurship at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences Education Entrepreneurship Master’s Degree Programme. Read part 1 by clicking here and Part 2 by clicking here.

There has been a large amount of skepticism toward the idea of teaching entrepreneurship in schools. Economics and finance are common in many high schools and even in some middle school programs, and of course colleges and universities across the United States offer degrees in business and related fields. But when it comes to entrepreneurship it is seen as not fitting into the box of formalized education.

We are beginning to see some change in this belief though. In middle and high schools there is interest in experiential, project, and inquiry learning models as being a core part of the curriculum. While these exist primarily at independent schools, public schools are incorporating student-driven projects as being an option as a graduation requirement. Capstone projects are also being used as culminating academic experiences at different divisions. By nature, these capstone projects utilize many skills typically found in entrepreneurship: creative thinking, design thinking, and collaboration.

In addition, business schools are starting to embrace entrepreneurship as having a critical role in their programs. Bucking the idea that successful entrepreneurs are those that dropped out of business school to pursue their ideas, acclaimed business schools such as Stanford, NYU, and the University of Virginia are teaching entrepreneurship as part of their MBA program. Through incubator programs, start-up competitions, and other experiential learning methodologies, entrepreneurship is starting to become more common in leading schools across the United States.

This embrace of entrepreneurship has the potential to be very impactful in our schools. First, it can promote the acquisition of 21st-century skills (future skills). Entrepreneurship is a great platform to teach the skills needed in a rapidly changing world. These include storytelling, curiosity, persistence, compassion, problem-solving, and creative expression among others.

Second, it can increase interdisciplinary learning and methodologies. In entrepreneurship, you need knowledge from a variety of fields whether it be mathematics for business modeling, English for writing, or social studies for world knowledge and cultural awareness. Entrepreneurship provides students the opportunity to combine learning from these fields.

And finally, it supports student agency and ownership of learning. By nature, entrepreneurship invites ideation and passion. While these aren’t the only things that make for a successful entrepreneurial venture, they are part of the equation. Through the development of entrepreneurial thinking, students can explore their individual passions and personality. This requires students to be agents of their own learning and to take a more active role in skill acquisition and application of their learning.

I was never exposed to entrepreneurship in my schooling. It was something that came to me later in my adult life as I struggled to navigate a changing world at the turn of the century. My first exposure came as an independent ‘ukulele instructor. I was working at an ‘ukulele shop and I realized there was a need for ‘ukulele instruction. I created a business in which I would deliver ‘ukulele instruction to kids, adults, and families. My customers were both locals and visitors. I also realized that the ‘ukulele was very popular in Japan, so I learned basic Japanese and began to do instruction for Japanese visitors to Hawai’i as well.

As I progressed I started to develop my own curriculum for teaching the ‘ukulele. I taught group courses and workshops on the ‘ukulele at an adult education non-profit in my community. As people in the community became aware of my skills as a ‘ukulele instructor, it led to opportunities to teach ‘ukulele at local schools. This culminated with co-directing an annual ‘ukulele festival involving multiple schools throughout Hawai’i Island.

These experiences in entrepreneurship culminated in bringing entrepreneurial thinking into the classroom. Once I transitioned into a full-time classroom teacher I began to look for opportunities to foster entrepreneurial thinking in students. I built a digital media class as well as a grade 8 capstone course in which students were able to design their own learning. Students practiced ideation, collaboration, critical thinking, and other skills that are an important part of entrepreneurship.

Today I have pursued my entrepreneurial interests even further. In the summer of 2018, I joined the team at the National Capstone Consortium. This partnership gave me the opportunity to design the summer summit programming. From there I took the initiative to build an online platform for members during the pandemic when we were forced to cancel the summit. Currently, I am enrolled in the Education Entrepreneurship program at Oulu University to gain a formal understanding of entrepreneurship and continue to expand the online platform for our members of the consortium.

As we face an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous future I think entrepreneurship will have an increasingly important role in not only our education system but in people’s individual lives as well. And I think it is only a matter of time before we see entrepreneurship existing as an area of study within our school systems right along with mathematics, literature, and science. In fact, I think future students will be better served if entrepreneurship can operate as a link between these siloed areas of study. This has the possibility to create a new generation of creative thinkers that can potentially solve some of the most pressing problems of our time.

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