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Steering students toward entrepreneurship

Posted: December 15th, 2017 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson | Editor

Patrick Henry High School teacher Adria Van Loan-Polselli’s Engineering Design & Development class is a year-long capstone course where students come up with an invention of some kind, build it, and then market it with a business plan. In essence, they are learning to become, not only engineers, but entrepreneurs.

November was National Entrepreneurship Month and throughout San Diego County, Grantville-based Junior Achievement (JA) of San Diego began a program putting local entrepreneurs into classes to inspire students toward entrepreneurship.

Junior Achievement volunteer Sarah Lindsay speaks to Patrick Henry engineering students about entrepreneurship. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

On Nov. 29, Van Loan-Polselli’s class was visited by Sarah Lindsey, vice president of the Mt. Helix Branch of Synergy One Lending. Lindsey is a member of JA’s Junior Executive Society who became active with the group last year and helped launch a student program about the stock market.

“To be able to give people information in regard to starting a business, financial information to help them make better decisions; I didn’t have any of this growing up,” Lindsay said. “I didn’t have Junior Achievement. I didn’t know anything about finance until I moved out of my parents’ house and went to college. So to introduce that to others at a younger age, I just like to be a part of it. It’s a good thing to do with my time.”

In her presentation to the engineering class, Lindsey shared the struggles she experienced starting her own nonprofit to help people with complicated mortgage information during the recession, which followed the collapse of the housing market.

“My nonprofit failed,” she said. “But I don’t like the word fail. I like, ‘I didn’t win, so I learned.’”

What she learned was the reason she does things — like start a nonprofit or volunteer with JA — what she called her “why,” is that her true passion is educating people about mortgages, not just making money.

“I love to help people,” she said. “I just happen to have a background in finance.”

For Van Loan-Polselli, that was the lesson she most wanted her students to take from the presentation.

“It really got them to think about their ‘whys,’” she said. “Why they picked their project, what are the intrigues on it.”

Student Jackson James found the presentation inspiring and in line with what the engineering class is doing.

“We’re starting a design process and right after that we’re doing business plans, so this really showed how we need to know why we’re doing that,” he said. “We want to make [the business plan] around why we want to make the product and not just because the teacher said so.”

Douglas Prodor, part of team making a white board eraser with a built-in sprayer for its capstone project, said hearing from an entrepreneur reinforced how to sell and market ideas.

“It showed how to get people interested and involved in what you’re doing and get behind your passion as well,” he said. “This presentation emphasized that.”

For JA of San Diego, getting people interested in their entrepreneurship program was very easy.

“Here in San Diego, we had 47 classes sign up for entrepreneurial launch lessons,” said JA learning coordinator Jenni Preciado. “We’ve only been able to fill half of those. We are still working on getting entrepreneurs for the others, so we‘re going to stretch the program out into the month of December and January to get to all the classes that wanted one.”

Preciado said the National Entrepreneurship Month program has attracted a variety of entrepreneurs, including finance professionals, inventors, scientists, computer professionals, shop owners and serial entrepreneurs who start company after company. Many of them made presentations to engineering classes from the national Project Lead the Way program, which Van Loan-Polselli is also part of. Other programs, like AVID and classes that teach business skills in high school, also requested that speakers come to their schools.

“Our feeling is that it doesn’t matter what the discipline of the class is, if the entrepreneur is telling their story, that is going to help inspire a student whether that be selling mortgage or building computers or whatever,” Van Loan-Polselli said.

Inspiring entrepreneurship is the JA program’s No. 1 goal, said Preciado, who then pointed to recent research conducted by ORC International, which shows that while nine in 10 parents would be extremely or very likely to support their teen in becoming an entrepreneur as an adult, only 30 percent of teens are interested. According to the survey, teens find starting your own business too risky and doesn’t pay enough. JA hopes that by bringing in entrepreneurs to share their stories, it will steer young adults toward entrepreneurship. For student James, it seemed to work.

“A lot of us are thinking about finding a good firm to work for, but this really opens it up and lets us know that we don’t need that one basic thing that everyone’s doing, we can branch off and do our own thing,” he said.

In the meantime, students and teachers in classes like Engineering Design & Development can look forward to being supported and inspired by the JA program.

“Partnering with JA is great because now I know I can outreach to them,” Van Loan-Polselli said. “When these kids are finished or mostly finished with their projects and they want to present it to someone, I can go to JA and say, ‘Hey, I need a panel of people to come in.’ They can be finance, engineers, marketing, etc. I can create a panel and these kids can present their project, their business proposal, they can demonstrate their working model and get professional input.”

For more information on Junior Achievement of San Diego’s entrepreneurship program, visit jasandiego.org.

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at jeff@sdcnn.com.

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