Meet Abby Zwier, co-founder and director of student engagement at C.E.E.D. (Spelled out: the Center of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development).
In that role, Abby sets up programs and events—like MECA Challenge, which she talks about below and the upcoming Village Fall Fest on Nov. 15—to help expose student to entrepreneurship and give them opportunities to engage with Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community.
The current conversations surrounding education are wrought with controversy and concern. Issues like student loan debt, common core curriculum, accreditation, talent gap and college and career-readiness remain among the most talked about topics. Here in Kansas City, it’s become clear that the status quo with regard to education cannot continue. And so we’re having conversations about education reform and kindergarten readiness, one of the KC Chamber’s latest additions to their “Big 5.”
Although each issue is profoundly different, they all ultimately center on the same, long-standing question: how can we help our students be successful?
Having a professional background in educational technology, I am intimately familiar with the ways in which this goal is being pursued both nationwide and globally. Companies, organizations and communities have dedicated themselves to solving these problems and finding ways to support student success.
Kansas City is among them, and Kansas City is setting itself apart.
I’ll tell you why. Our burgeoning entrepreneurial community is jumping into this ring headfirst, and with the innovation, passion, and open-mindedness that entrepreneurs bring to the table, these efforts are making a real difference.
Many of Kansas City’s education-related programs are pioneered by entrepreneurs with a passion for education, and they are changing the face of our community and the lives of our students.
I see this happening in two main ways:
1. Entrepreneurs innovating to solve challenges in education for students
Take, for example, Blue Valley and Northland CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). These programs are an example of how industry and educational systems can work together to produce personalized learning experiences that prepare the next generation of professionals for 21st century opportunities. Junior and senior level students from all Blue Valley and Northland high schools have the opportunity to deeply explore areas of interest in a profession-based learning approach, which includes internships and project-based work for real businesses. The CAPS program is working tirelessly to ensure that Kansas City students graduate with the skills and experience necessary to be successful in the real world.
The Lean Lab is another example of entrepreneurial activity committed to solving educational challenges. Lean Lab is an innovation lab where educators can develop new school models, services or products that better K-12 learning for Kansas City students. Already, several ground-breaking startups have emerged from the Lean Lab, including ELL Teacher Archive, EchoGrade, and SWAG: Students Writing to Achieve Greatness.
2. Entrepreneurs providing education for students about entrepreneurship
Specifically, a new company (which, shamelessly, I work for!) is committing itself to helping students gain awareness about entrepreneurship and offer opportunities for them to get involved in the entrepreneurial community. CEED, the Center of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development, wants to help students discover the world of entrepreneurship and build a pipeline of engaged, entrepreneurial talent for Kansas City. We are doing this through programs and events created with students in mind.
One such event is MECA Challenge, a student innovation competition that brings together high school and college-age students to solve real business problems for Kansas City startups over the course of a weekend. At the end of the competition, the students present their solutions to the startups, a panel of judges, and an audience of community supporters. In addition to their experience throughout the event, the students create lasting relationships with entrepreneurs and get seeded into the entrepreneurial community, while startups gain real value and fresh perspectives regarding their challenges.
Another opportunity for students to explore entrepreneurship is available in the Explorer Post 816, a career-focused form of scouting for both males and females. Explorer Post 816 offers students the opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship by visiting and interviewing Kansas City startups, and then digging into project-based entrepreneurial activities with those startups. The post is student-led, but operates with CEED as its charter organization and several volunteer entrepreneurs to facilitate meetings and make connections to startups.
Preparing our students to be lifelong learners and to find fulfilling life paths is at the heart of all of our conversations around education. We must create environments where they learn to problem solve and stretch their thinking in new and interesting ways. We must provide opportunities for them to discover their passions and then connect those passions to a fulfilling future.
The investment of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community in helping solve these problems is one of our biggest assets. We should be proud of the work being done here and look forward to the future with hope and enthusiasm!