High School Apprenticeships: Dakota Felder Explores Real-world Web Design

High School Apprenticeships: Dakota Felder Explores Real-world Web Design

During his senior year at eStem High School and in the Noble Impact program, Dakota Felder spent his high school apprenticeship in web design and development at design and development agency, Few. He will tell you that his experience went beyond his wildest dreams, and it has also led him to become a freelance web designer while exploring a “gap year” before deciding which college to attend. Dakota has built credibility through his hard work, and the bond he formed with his apprenticeship host has proven to be the launching pad into a profession he loves.

“Working here at Few has definitely been a life-changer for me… it’s been the highlight of my high school career.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice


Over the last year, the terminology of “computer science” or “coding” has been a hot topic for Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and rightfully so. Our world is changing at drastic paces, and the need for a computer-literate workforce is increasing faster than the valuations of some of the world’s biggest startups. Reading “Race Against the Machine” (2011) or listening to the a16z podcast will give you ample insight to understand, in the words of Marc Andreessen, why it may be so that “Software is Eating the World” (also in 2011).

On day one of the apprenticeship boot camp, Dakota made it known that his interest was in the technology field, and more specifically, web design and development. The “student-industry fit” with Few seemed perfect… and it turned out to be nothing less than the life-changer that Dakota references. Having the hard skills of web design and development were critical to Dakota’s apprenticeship, and the relationships he created and built will lead to long-term success.

“We did not take it easy on Dakota. We wanted Dakota to feel the pressure that everybody feels in this office.
David Hudson, CEO, Few

Dakota put in many hours of hard work that definitely exceeded the 2-hour-per-day commitment for an apprenticeship. There were many days he would participate in lunch meetings and after-school meetings, and he even volunteered for the Made by Few annual conference that took place over 3-days in Little Rock, including a coveted weekend, where he could have been doing anything else. These are just some of the commitments that Dakota made to his apprenticeship host, and they proved to be the most important relationship building opportunities.

“We provide real-world experience and real world experience is far more valuable than theory.”
David Hudson, CEO, Few

Understanding what makes a successful high school apprenticeship is also in direct relation to the hosts themselves. The team at Few is dedicated to its community and that shines through in so many different avenues, including the company’s willingness to participate in the inaugural Noble 301 Apprenticeship program. In addition, they set the bar high for Dakota and treated him like any other member of their team. This philosophy is paramount to the success of an apprenticeship, as we also believe that high expectations lead to high performance and accountability.

“The skills that I’ve been able to develop through the Noble Apprenticeship, those are things that’ll carry on the rest of my life.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice

It’s great that we’re focused on computer science and coding, but it must go deeper. We must have programs in place that connect the classroom to community. We must treat our high school students like the young adults they are while holding them to high expectations. Content is the information grab, but credibility is the relationship grab… we have to connect both.

His apprenticeship has ended, but Dakota is just beginning the entrepreneurial journey. Imagine if all high school seniors were able to take part in high school apprenticeships that connected them more deeply to their interests. Imagine if these students became the next line of entrepreneurs in Arkansas. Why are we waiting?

“I started with nothing, right? Now I’m doing paid work for people.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice

High School Apprenticeships: Hannah Young Discovers Soft Skills

High School Apprenticeships: Hannah Young Discovers Soft Skills

Senior Hannah Young sought out the Museum of Discovery for her high school apprenticeship because of her love for animals. Throughout the process, Hannah went from being quiet and reserved to becoming an effective teacher in her department while performing multiple presentations. In this apprenticeship, Hannah displayed the importance of going after her specific interest in animals and how that led to her development of both hard skills and soft skills. However, practicing soft skills proved to be the most critical measurement of her personal and professional growth.

“I really don’t think I’m the same person I was at the beginning of this year…I’ve learned a lot about dealing with people.”
Hannah Young, Noble Impact Apprentice

At every level of Noble Impact curriculum, soft skills are introduced and practiced on a daily basis. There are many different meanings of soft skills and the importance of developing them for the 21st-century knowledge economy. Whether it’s written about by top academics in “The Innovator’s DNA” or referenced by the Department of Labor with “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills,” this specific development is critical to success in the information age.

In addition to attending our two-week professionalism bootcamp at the launch of the school year, each senior that signs up for the Noble 301 Apprenticeship must engage in three distinct steps to provide the foundation for a successful apprenticeship:

  1. Identify Interest
  2. Research Industry
  3. Create Connection

The importance of going through these steps begins the journey of building individual credibility, and although many people call it the knowledge economy and the information age, we also like to see it through this credibility approach.

Credibility Model


Noble Impact Credibility Model

Hannah’s apprenticeship serves as a great case study that other students and teachers may look to when understanding the process. She had the courage to go after her interest, she conducted research on options, and then built her competencies by connecting herself to an industry that she truly cared about.

“I think it’s great that she’s had the opportunity to get hands-on super early so that she knows whether or not this is what she wants to do with her life.”
Nichole Ashley; Animal Room Manager, Museum of Discovery

Practicing soft skills is hard. Access and opportunities to the “practice field” is where Noble Impact curriculum intersects with the community, which becomes the ultimate playing field for soft skill development.

High School Apprenticeships: Jordan Young’s Pursuit of Photography

High School Apprenticeships: Jordan Young’s Pursuit of Photography

High School senior Jordan Young entered Noble Impact’s apprenticeship program with a passion for photography and exited the experience with a set of professional photography skills that will serve him as he continues to pursue his career in the field. While apprenticing with photographer John David Pittman, he learned about relevant techniques, provided his services to fellow classmates, assisted on professional shoots, and also scored his first paid client.

“I believe this has opened up a whole new realm of thought.”
Jordan Young, Noble Impact Apprentice

The Noble Impact apprenticeship program launched at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year with 24 seniors at eStem High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In partnership with local businesses and organizations, the mission was to connect the classroom to the community at the highest level possible. Therefore, 24 students were treated like adults and started the program with a two-week bootcamp that focused on professional communication and personal awareness regarding growth within their selected field.

Throughout the year, a tremendous amount was learned about proper means of assessment, communication with host companies, and what it means to have a successful apprenticeship. Also learned was the stark reality of what success doesn’t look. Truth be told, all apprenticeships were not successful, which has uncovered a deeper understanding of what it takes to ensure the highest likelihood of success for both the student and apprenticeship host.

To communicate Noble Impact’s vision of what an apprenticeship should look like, we developed a video series that consists of three videos that capture three unique stories. The first video portrays the story of photography apprentice Jordan Young and his apprenticeship experience with professional photographer, John David Pittman.

“It’s really been fun to watch the growth of this relationship go from an initial conversation to a kid that was kind of interested in photography to him learning how I do things…and then getting to do some stuff on his own and actually get paid for a job.”
John David Pittman, Noble Impact Apprenticeship Host

The importance of apprenticeships is amplified through the U.S. Department Of Labor‘s support of such programs. We believe apprenticeships are an experience that all high school students should have at their disposal. Students shouldn’t have to wait to pursue what interests them.

At Noble Impact, our apprenticeship program provides access and opportunity for all students that want to “open a whole new realm of thought” that Jordan, for one, has experienced… It’s time that every student has an option to be an apprentice while still in school.

On My High School Photography Apprenticeship: Booking My First Client

On My High School Photography Apprenticeship: Booking My First Client

First professional headshot booking in the records at 18 years old, whoop!

My Noble 301 apprenticeship experience, alongside photographer John David Pittman (aka JDP), has been getting more and more life-changing.

For the last few months I’ve been able to walk over to JDP’s studio after school in hopes of not only discovering the life of a photographer, but also how to find something you’re passionate about and turn that into a career. I’ve been essentially shadowing him when he’s in his creative realm, and it’s been pivotal in my journey of possibly pursuing my dream of becoming a photographer after college. Quite frankly, my apprenticeship with JDP is one of the coolest, most dynamic things going on in my life in regards to me finding myself as a person. I picture myself having a life of free will and the ability to create as I please and being able to work with JDP has added an avenue for me to be able to do just that. I’ve come to truly look forward to getting a text from him right before lunch time, asking me if I can come to the studio and learn a new technique or try out some cool lighting concept he’s been working on. Those end up being the best lunches.

“Quite frankly, my apprenticeship with JDP is one of the coolest, most dynamic things going on in my life in regards to me finding myself as a person.”

Since my apprenticeship began about 5 months ago, I’ve been mentally and physically gaining the experience it takes in order to become a full time photographer. The bigger skills from lighting and how to set up a professional shoot, all the way down to what computer hard drives work the best. Over the course of these last months, I’ve been on site at JDP’s photoshoots, taken the headshots of numerous Noble 201 students, witnessed the behind the scenes of planning a shoot, and studied numerous photographers in which my mentor, JDP, has been inspired by. I’ve learned just about as much from shadowing him as my senior year of high school thus far — interesting dynamic, right? If only I could work in this realm everyday… I couldn’t imagine how much service I could be providing, but alas school isn’t going to do itself.

Jordan Young Photography Apprenticeship
A look at key points in my apprenticeship training, which got me prepared for my first professional session.

Early in my apprenticeship, I was offered the opportunity to book my first professional headshot session with creative sensation, Dan Ndombe, also known as Dan Newbie on YouTube, where he makes music videos using household goods, like wine glasses, pots, pans, bottles, and rubber bands.

This journey of gearing up for taking Mr. Dan Ndombe’s headshot has finally come to an end, and I couldn’t be more proud of the experience. Dan, a simple pleasure to work with, was the ideal subject to test my newly developed skills, while also providing him with a service and product — a headshot — he can use in the upcoming future for his website, speaking engagement, social channels, and so forth.

Our headshot session took place in late February at JDP’s studio, during one of those lunch periods I look forward to. JDP and I portrayed Dan in the light of being approachable yet professional, much like he is in day-to-day life. Prior to the shoot, we had a consultation meeting, in which he expressed his trust in us with his personal image and simply wanted us to do as we felt to portray him in the best light possible. To have that amount of trust put into me was huge for my first shoot, and I really appreciated Dan for it.

When it came time for the actual shoot to begin, Dan walked in and I could tell by the look on his face he was excited to have his headshot taken; he kept that same energy the entire shoot. From the first shot, he bought into and thrived in the atmosphere we made sure to set, cracking jokes and making conversation the duration of the shoot. I kept in mind the little things JDP taught me and things I read in the book he recommended me, “The Headshot” by his good friend, Mr. Peter Hurley. Throughout the shoot, I was thinking about everything from posture, positioning, and angles to expression and major desirables — they all played a major role, as did me understanding what needs to be changed from shot to shot. The one-stop-shop on how to effectively capture someone’s essence, “The Headshot” is a must read for any up-and-coming photographer who wants to learn about a world focused on facial perception.

Dan Ndombe Photoshoot JDP and Jordan Young
A look at some of the photos that came out of my first professional headshot shoot, with Dan Ndombe.

After about 30 shots of JDP and me alternating to provide perspective of what to look for during the process, we felt like we captured the Dan we had been catching glimpses of from shot to shot. He was all there: The gentle smile, confident eyes, razor sharp clothes, and kind demeanor. It was a rush of euphoria to be able to step back and look at the picture on the tethered laptop next to me and say, “Yup, there he is. That’s it.”

Even surpassing that, was the feeling I felt when I swiveled the laptop to let Dan see it and watched his face crack a big grin and say, “Man, you guys are good.” It was music to my ears, and I simply couldn’t stop grinning.

It was beyond rewarding to have the opportunity to do something I thoroughly love doing during a given lunch period, but it’s icing on the cake to be paid for providing a service due to your artistic ability. I could work in a studio everyday at lunch and wouldn’t miss a single burger because of it.

The Noble Impact Apprenticeship: Challenging Students To Be Creators

The Noble Impact Apprenticeship: Challenging Students To Be Creators

When we launched our inaugural apprenticeship program at the beginning of this school year, we started with the belief that high school seniors could add value to companies. Not knowing exactly what that value would be, we thought to create an apprenticeship that put students in the drivers seat. Meaning, we would coach up the professionalism and communication process but they had to create and cultivate connections in order to land an actual apprenticeship.

As you might imagine, the process of creating and cultivating relationships was not the easiest assignment. We emphatically took the position of coaches and not rescuers, which we do in all classes (see The Empowerment Dynamic for reference). However, we knew that some might require more guidance than others in regards to networking and connecting with the community.

Noble Impact Apprenticeship Partners

A look at some of Noble Impact’s inaugural apprenticeship partners.
The first person to sign on as a participating company was John David Pittman. His willingness became the catalyst to show students that apprenticeship opportunities were real. As the students began to reach out to different companies, we knew there would be challenges but also knew there would be success stories, and both would provide great insight about apprenticeships.

Dakota Felder Few ApprenticeshipOne of our success stories has been the apprenticeship between senior, Dakota Felder and Little Rock design and development firm, Few. Starting the relationship was not the easiest for Dakota and he actually blogged about the uneasiness he felt in his initial meeting. Since then, he has been in the trenches, experiencing everything from client relations to company culture to helping run the Made by Few design conference. His openness to learning and being coachable has given him opportunities to create products for clients.

In addition, he has challenged himself to step outside his comfort zone, which is difficult for everyone, especially high school students. His professional work can be summed up by a quote from a local CEO of a digital media company after seeing Dakota’s latest product, a brochure about Noble Impact (see embedded below):

“Tell that kid he’s HIRED. Nice work. That looks like it was produced by a full-service ad agency.”

Not knowing what to expect in the beginning of Noble 301 has not deterred us from responding with enthusiasm to student potential. We believe that apprenticeships have the ability to benefit the entire community as long as students are willing to commit to building their credibility, which is what we’re starting to see through tangible outcomes. The students are ready, it’s just up to us to provide them with access and opportunity.

If you’re interested in participating in the apprenticeship program as a for-profit company or non-profit organization, please feel free to contact chad@nobleimpact.org.

For an example of the type of work our apprentices produce, see Dakota Felder’s latest product, a Noble Impact brochure, embedded below.

2015: Looking Back On A Year Of Noble Impact

2015: Looking Back On A Year Of Noble Impact

This has been a year of growth for Noble Impact. Going into our third year, we’re laser-focused on striving toward our mission of providing every student with a relevant and purpose-driven education.

Some of the highlights from this year include expanding our curriculum into the middle school setting, launching high school apprenticeships, testing the usefulness of digital portfolios in the classroom, introducing our new website and blog, and launching our first Civic Innovation Challenge, modeled on previous problem-solving events we’ve hosted.

We want to thank our community for teaming up to make our work possible. Without the countless community partners and our students — all of whom are driven toward making a difference — our work would not be possible. As we reflect on the past year of work, we are simultaneously gearing up for a new year and refreshed goals. We invite you to be a part of that change. Find us on social media or come see us in Little Rock at the Arkansas Venture Center. You can contact us at: hello@nobleimpact.org.

In the meantime, here’s a look at what 2015 has brought for Noble Impact and its scholars.

Expanding Into Middle School

Noble Impact Middle School

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
— Benjamin Franklin
 

We have learned a lot since launching Noble Impact’s entrepreneurship course at eStem High School in the 2013-2014 school year. Most importantly, we learned that we can’t wait until high school. We have to start earlier and invest in the long-term creation of every student’s entrepreneurial skillset and public service mindset.

This year, we worked with eStem to expand Noble into middle school, a long-term investment in student growth starting in 5th grade. Stay tuned as we continue to expand throughout the K-12 education experience. Early exposure to problem-solving and project-based learning environments sets our students up best for success.

Launching Apprenticeships

Noble Impact Apprenticeship Partners

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
 

While we were piloting Noble Impact’s course in Middle School, we also launched an apprenticeship program at eStem High School with more than a dozen partnering organizations, including Few, Apptegy, Strengthen, the Museum of Discovery, John David Pittman Photography, Freiderica Pharmacy And Compounding, CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, River Market Boot Camp, and the Venture Center.

Here’s the important part — We did not hold the students’ hands in this process. From researching the companies to initiating communications, the students were in the driver’s seat the entire time. Our long-term goal for apprenticeships is for organizations to not view them just as volunteerism, but opportunities for Noble scholars to provide real value.

Testing Student Digital Portfolios

Bradley Poindexter Portfolio

“Education is all a matter of building bridges.”
— Ralph Ellison
 

Noble Impact’s curriculum is designed on a bridge of engagement between the classroom and community. This year, we discovered that students needed a more effective tool to communicate between those two worlds. Enter the digital portfolio.

In the first semester, more than 500 Noble Impact scholars in 5th to 12th grades created personal digital portfolios, using website building tool Weebly to test whether portfolios engage students and power community connections. Read one student’s account of how her digital portfolio helped her connect with her favorite filmmaker in NYC.

You’re going to be hearing more from us on this topic. Until then, check out VP of Product Erica Swallow’s op-ed in the Huffington Post: “The New High School Essentials: LinkedIn, a Resumé, and a Digital Portfolio.”

Introducing Our New Website & Blog

Noble Impact Home Page

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”
— Ira Glass
 

A few months ago in a staff meeting, Noble Impact’s co-founder Chad Williamson said something that resonated with everyone: “We are a factory for student stories.”

Those stories reside on our new website, launched in July. If you haven’t visited nobleimpact.org lately, take a few minutes to peruse. There is a ton of great content.

In addition to doing a better job of telling our story, we wanted to provide a platform for innovative ideas and diverse perspectives. That’s why we launched the Community Blogging Program.

In the last four months, 13 guest bloggers, including teachers, parents, students and entrepreneurs, have published 47 posts about topics ranging from reimagining youth talent development to how students are using LinkedIn. If you’re interested in joining our network of talented writers and thought leaders, send us a note.

Launching the Civic Innovation Challenge

“Every citizen has the duty to be informed, to be thoughtfully concerned, and to participate in the search for solutions.”
— Winthrop Rockefeller
 

In July, we launched our first Civic Innovation Challenge on the opportunity gap in education. Noble Impact scholars were joined by civil rights activist and “Little Rock Nine” member Minnijean Brown Trickey. [Watch the video above for an inside look into the event.]

The Civic Innovation Challenge combines the very best of real-world learning, critical thinking, team collaboration, and community engagement. We leave the theoretical behind and introduce students to some of the most pressing challenges facing our society.

Looking at 2016

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt
 

In the coming year, we’re focused on offering more Noble Impact courses to students earlier on in their education and will be doubling down on digital portfolios. We also look forward to continuing to build our network of community partnerships with the Noble Apprenticeship program.

If you’d like to join along in our 2016 adventures, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, where we maintain a dialogue about the future of education and how we’re playing our part — from the latest articles on innovation in education to what’s happening in our classrooms.

What If… We Reimagined How We Attract And Retain Young Talent?

What If… We Reimagined How We Attract And Retain Young Talent?

This post is part of our community blogging program, which chronicles the thoughts of students, parents, and community leaders on the intersection between education, entrepreneurship, and public service. Here, Venture Center Director of Digital Strategy and Membership Steve Rice writes about his experience working with Noble Impact and young talent in Central Arkansas.

The Talent Drain

Nearly every community faces the obstacle of attracting and retaining talent at one point or another, and companies invest millions of dollars in attraction and relocation of talent. Retaining the best talent is an eat-or-be-eaten world. But what if the way we’ve always done it isn’t the best way? If there were a better way, what would it look like?

Noble Impact has stepped out to rethink education and what that would look like, and I see this as a great opportunity for the business community to begin to reimagine talent attraction and retention. What if we as the education and business communities worked more closely together to nurture and cultivate the raw talent that already exists in our city?

In the past, we as the business community have often ignored the student community until they come to our doors, degree in hand. At that point, we tell them, “get some experience” and dump them into a pile with other job seekers.

What if there is a better way? What would it look like?

A Better Way

Noble Impact students ideate on changing education

What would happen if we worked together to help students begin to identify and nurture their real-world interests, strengths and aptitudes? And what if we began to do this as early as primary school?

What if, in addition to helping them to identify their interests, we taught students how to tell their story? Imagine that we showed them how to position their skills and the knowledge they are gaining in the classroom within the context of the modern workplace and market. How would their chances of success change if we taught them how to work on teams, set goals, prioritize and achieve objectives? How would it set them ahead of their peers if we helped them build a platform to display those skills and achievements before they left high school?

Imagine that our students had already learned both soft and hard skills to give them experience and prepare them for the job market even before they arrived as freshmen at the doors of our halls of higher learning.

This is the path Noble Impact has begun to identify with the apprenticeship program and their new scholar portfolio development product. This program seeks to create relevant, purpose-driven learning opportunities for students in the Noble program, and provides the scholar with a digital tool for presenting their successes in a narrative that employers are looking for. The scholar enters the workforce fully equipped to achieve success. This is the early stage of talent acquisition and retention.

Bradley Poindexter's Digital Portfolio from Noble Impact
A digital portfolio created by Noble Impact 301 scholar Bradley Poindexter.

Partnering with Noble is a perfect blending of the mission of the Venture Center to create a pipeline of viable, scalable businesses that drive real, economic impact in our city and community. In order for businesses to grow and succeed, they need a local pool of strong, knowledge-based talent. Our goal is to leverage our community partners like Noble Impact to create an environment in which the best, brightest and most talented minds of our state are educated, grow, and then build their professional lives right here in Central Arkansas.

Through this process, we have learned a lot, but there are three things that we have learned that stand out as key components that will incentivize young talent to stay closer to home as they move into and build their careers. These are insights that any community can use to improve the success of talent retention from the very earliest stages of a student’s academic career.

How to Keep Local Talent

1. Connect Students to the Community

At the Venture Center, as we observe the talent and potential of the young professionals in the Noble Impact apprenticeship program, we are able to leverage our connections in the community to connect students to professionals in our community.

For example, just last week, we had the pleasure of introducing Noble Impact 301 scholar and young fashion designer Kennedy Smith to local couture designer, Linda Rowe-Thomas of fashion house Romás. These types of “intentional collisions” help to connect young professionals to business experts and influencers in their community.

2. Give Them a Reason to Stay

Once students are connected to their community, it is easier to provide reasons for them to stay in and build their career in the community where they have begun to make connections.  Identifying what a student wants or what she is looking for in the future allows educators and community partners to work together to help provide the incentives that will help to retain the student in the state.

3. Give Them Experience

Apprenticeship programs like Noble Impact’s embody all three of these components to talent retention. A real-world, project-based and results-focused apprenticeship program connects students to their community, partners with community members to give the student reasons to stay and build their career in the city and it provides them an opportunity to gain valuable, hands-on experience prior to entering the workplace. Noble Impact apprentices are contributing and leading to projects at local businesses that include Few, Apptegy, Strengthen, the Museum of Discovery, John David Pittman Photography, Freiderica Pharmacy And Compounding, CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, River Market Boot Camp, and yes, the Venture Center. This is real-world, hands-on learning.

What If?

Asking ‘what if?’ opens us up to a wide world of potential. That is what Noble Impact has begun to do as it reimagines education through its apprenticeship program. Community partners like the Venture Center and established businesses broaden and strengthen the pool of local talent when they support and enhance the work that Noble has begun.  There is a part for each of us to play in the success of our community.

You can create the same impact in your own community. We hope you’ll join us on this exciting adventure!

A Case For Apprenticeships In Modern Education

A Case For Apprenticeships In Modern Education

Our current assembly-line education system needs a modern day makeover. I believe that by implementing project-based learning and a more apprenticeship-like curriculum, we can better prepare our students for the workforce and the real world.

My Apprenticeship Experience

I moved to New York City in early September 2012 to start my apprenticeship at Holstee, a sustainable design and lifestyle company. Through a program called Enstitute, I lived with 10 other apprentices, who each worked for various companies such as Bitly, Thrillist, and Unified Social, to name a few. Each of our individual apprenticeships were different, but they all had one key thing common — we were all getting a very in-depth look into how startups actually work and seeing into the day-to-day of the entrepreneurs who run them.

My apprenticeship led me to travel to Mexico for a month, help launch a Kickstarter, and gain exposure to things and concepts that up until that point, I had only read about in class. I sat in on pitch meetings with VCs. I helped interview new hires and took notes during exit interviews. I saw what it was like to take a product from a sketch in a notebook to a physical prototype. I even apprenticed under another entrepreneur in Dublin for six weeks and learned how business can vary from culture to culture. The year-long apprenticeship adventure set me up for success by teaching me real-world, marketable skills.

See A Problem, Fix A Problem

My apprenticeship experience changed my career trajectory. So, why aren’t we starting students out with real-world learning much earlier?

Education, at all levels, needs to be revamped for the modern world. The current, outdated system created for a different time period no longer makes sense in our modern, faster-paced society. Too often students learn facts and interesting anecdotes without any real hope of practical application. This lack of opportunity forces students to stress over marks on multiple choice tests in lieu of manifesting creativity. This outdated system leads to stunted career paths and increased student loan debt.

I was the kid who sat in the back of class on his laptop, reading blogs by Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk and occasionally answering a question or two to keep the teacher off of my back.

The class met once per week for three hours, where we went over 100 PowerPoint slides each class period. My brain was fried, my classmates were exhausted from working all day, and most of us didn’t fully understand why we were there. I once pressed my professor for an example of how we could apply the day’s theories in the modern workplace. The response was startling.

Eventually, she concluded, “It’s not my job to provide relevant examples, it’s simply my job to present the material.”

What good is information with no practical application? Why are we as students forced from the age of five to memorize facts, dates, and definitions without any route to attempt application of what we are studying?

I believe that classrooms need to better simulate the real-world for which they are supposed to be preparing students. We need more learn-by-doing lesson plans. We need to implement apprenticeships and hands-on learning into modern education.

Capstone Projects: A Step In The Right Direction

My last semester of college, my main focus was my Senior Capstone project — a real-world simulation where a group and I actually performed experiments on the freshman (muhahaha). The experiment focused on finding relationships (or lack thereof) between a certain type of memory and key characteristics of depression. We administered surveys, performed interviews, ran statistical models, and presented our findings to numerous faculty and students, who then subjected us to a tough line of questioning. The project brought my engagement up to a whole new level and opened my eyes to the hands-on education I had been yearning for over the last 18 or so years. We need more classrooms settings to follow this same line of thinking and teaching.

High school students explore lots of different subjects in order to find out what they want to study in college. But outside of Student Council and clubs, most classes don’t actually enable students to “do” anything. Teachers lecture, students read, tests are taken, and then the process is repeated.

What would happen if every time a student wrote a paper, they were then required to use that paper in order to teach what they had learned to the other students? I bet the content would shift dramatically, and the depth of learning would be that much greater. if the goal went passed simply trying to obtain an “A” to real-world application, perhaps students would finally be truly engaged and intrigued to learn more.

Too often, students are simply aiming to check off boxes on a grading rubric. “Did you write at least 500 words? Is the paper in proper MLA/APA/etc format? Are sources properly cited?” Who cares?

Preparing Students For 21st Century Life

Assignments should focus on preparation for the future, not completing rote tasks. Assignments should focus on actual learning. Grading rubrics should instead address topics like: “Did you obtain a firm understanding of the material, so much so that you could then use this knowledge to infer and devise solutions to future problems?”

Now, I’m an entrepreneur. In fact, I have been ever since I was a child, it just took me a long time to come to this realization. No one told me “where companies come from” or that the creative solutions I was coming up with could potentially turn into a career. I always have multiple, simultaneous side projects in action, some of which currently include a digital marketing consulting company, freelance resume and cover letter writing services, and a business making skinny ties. In order to scale each of these ideas, I need to hire savvy people to help me out, and the task has proven difficult in the past.

As an entrepreneur, I’m not looking to hire walking dictionaries and encyclopedias. I’m looking for people with grit, tenacity, problem solving and reasoning skills, who can think creatively. We need people that can actually get things done and that aren’t simply aiming for an “A”. The skills listed above are only a handful that I picked up in multiple apprenticeships through Enstitute, a learn-by-doing program for young adults (which I mentioned above). My hope is that by addressing the lack of practical application in the classroom early on, others will not have to wait as long I did to truly start learning.

I believe that we should start implementing apprenticeships and project-based learning into our high schools. Any major change into the education system will be met with tons of pushback and will have to get through layers of red tape, so we should start with ideas that are more progressive and open-minded. I believe that high school apprenticeships can solve a lot of the issues we currently face in education, namely lack of engagement and real-world connecting, and I believe it’s possible to make apprenticeships work systemically. This type of learning should not be limited to after-school programs, such as the one I self-selected into, but should be an option for all students interested in getting their hands dirty.

Header image courtesy of Holstee

How The Startup Community Enhances The Noble Impact Experience

How The Startup Community Enhances The Noble Impact Experience

For some students, the search for apprenticeships through the Noble 301 program (a part of the Noble Impact organization) has not yet turned up concrete opportunities; nonetheless, we have all learned many valuable skills. In class, my peers and I have built personal pitch decks, learned the ins and outs of networking, and met with the founders of several local startups to learn more about that portion of the local entrepreneurial community.

In the process of reaching out for opportunities, one is frequently faced with the request, “tell me a little bit about yourself.” Often times, this is met with jumbled, unorganized, and drawn-out responses that may or may not reflect one’s best and most redeeming qualities. In class, these Noble Impactivists were required to build a 60-second pitch deck that briefly but effectively conveys who they are, what they are passionate about, and what their value to a potential partner company is. At the end of this process, many students pitched themselves to Graham Cobb, Chief Operating Officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, who was able to introduce some to possible apprenticeship matches. Through the process of focusing their own ambitions, these students learned more about themselves as individuals and as a classroom-based community.

The students who already knew Chad Williamson, the eStem High School Noble 301 facilitator, know that networking is what he cites as the best way to build one’s resources for personal benefit and to gain future opportunities. The members of the Noble 301 class were all required to build LinkedIn profiles, create bio pages, and add their profile to a comprehensive Noble ‘class showcase’ sheet. Chad is hoping that these resources can be used by students and Noble Impact to effectively reach out to others in the community in order to obtain more unique and personable opportunities. In addition, these bio pages and LinkedIn accounts are tools that students can use for professional networking through college and the rest of their careers.

What the Noble 301 class seems most enthusiastic about is being able to meet and collaborate with startup founders in the local community – but maybe that’s just because it sometimes involves things like taking a trip to a corner office on the 31st floor of Simmons Tower (as was the case with meeting the kind folks from Apptegy). The class has had guest speakers at the Venture Center that include David Allan from Apptegy; Wayne Bashay, founder of Bodies by Bashay; Big Piph, local musician and producer; and Jordan Carlisle, creator of the Strengthen app. The best of these speakers had impactful stories to tell, filled with fistfulls of life lessons (and apprenticeship offers for the ever-so-eager pupils).

A majority of these high schoolers were already familiar with the concept of startup companies; some of us have even founded our own companies over the years. Already, this has lead to increasingly ironic situations involving innovative startup owners explaining the concepts of “traditional businesses” and “office jobs” to these aspiring young students. But this irony is not to be made fun of.

These students are a part of a generation unlike any other; they have access to an unprecedented number of resources and opportunities for self-development. Nowadays, business isn’t something just for those who read Fortune