Ready for the workforce: New Tech High to teach entrepreneurship

June 12, 2017
Argus Leader

Schools want students to be ready for the workforce when they graduate, and in Sioux Falls, that means teaching them to think like business owners.

New Technology High School, a project-based learning school in northwest Sioux Falls, last month announced plans to develop an “entrepreneurial mindset” class.

The class will have real-life examples of what it’s like to think like an entrepreneur, and it aims to teach skills like resourcefulness, persistence and making mindful choices. It also hopes to improve student engagement, attendance and graduation rates.

And ultimately, it’s Sioux Falls businesses who will reap the benefits.

“It’s creating that entrepreneurial culture … and I think that’s what will be the key to success for Sioux Falls in the long run,” said Rich Naser, president of the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship in Sioux Falls.

 The pilot course will be open this fall to 20 students from New Tech and Roosevelt High School, and school board members already foresee the class expanding to more students and schools in the future.

“I expect we’ll see this at CTE (Career and Technical Education Academy) or in all the high schools in a couple years,” Board Member Doug Morrison said during a May meeting.

It’s not just future business owners who will benefit from the course. It’s workers and businesses in all industries.

“Entrepreneurship” is a mindset, said Shelly Gardner, business professor at Augustana University and instructor of the college’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Academy, a six-week program for professionals designed to help participants discover problem-solving opportunities and think like entrepreneurs.

Naser hopes the course helps future workers see themselves more as part of a collaborative business team.

Businesses want employees who can think about their role not just within the business, but within the business’ broader mission.

And when it comes to teaching those skills?

“I don’t think that you can start too young,” Naser said.

Augustana University and Zeal’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Academy served as the inspiration for New Tech’s pilot course.

Last fall, 11 students from those same schools participated in the Mindset Academy, in which they learned to think like entrepreneurs, talked with local business leaders and received college credit for their work.

Carter Pfitzer, who graduated from New Tech earlier this month, said taking the course changed the way he thinks about his work.

Pfitzer said the course helped him think critically about everything from how he deals with failure to how he presents himself in conversation.

“You learn how to overcome obstacles,” Pfitzer said.

Pfitzer valued his experience in the Mindset Academy so much that he was among students telling the Sioux Falls School District’s curriculum council they should extend these lessons to more high school students.

Teaching entrepreneurial thinking at the high school level is also a way to provide more students with that skill set.

Colleges have increasingly been offering entrepreneurship courses, but not all students go on to college. Gardner said New Tech’s course could give students with good business ideas a chance to “take that and just fly” right out of high school.

Those skills will also help students make decisions when looking at college and career choices.

“It really opens things up,” Gardner said.

For Pfitzer, he hopes to take the entrepreneurship skills he’s learned to a career in filmmaking, and he’s confident he’s got the mindset he needs to succeed, in part, thanks to his entrepreneurship class.

“A lot of school focuses on preparing you for college,” Pfitzer said. “This is preparing you for the rest of your life.”

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