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Ice House: Students Take Experiential Learning Out to the Ballgame

Prentiss Earl III

Prentiss Earl IIIThis is the second post in the Ice House Series, to see the rest of Prentiss' series, click here.

Kauffman Labs is not your typical classroom, but then again, Nancie and I are not your typical instructors. In fact we do little in the way of instruction in the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program (IHEP) and focus more of our energy towards facilitation. Students are encouraged to explore, experiment, solve problems and learn from one another. It's not what they're used to, but I think they liked it. It gave them the opportunity to expand their idea of education beyond the confines of absorption and regurgitation. It's about learning from the experiences they have with each other.

The second week of class, we threw the students a curve ball by holding class at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Entrepreneur Day at The K is a gathering of 1,000+ entrepreneurs, 40 local mayors, corporate sponsors and assorted dignitaries. I couldn't think of a better place to introduce students to the idea of building community and cultivating resources than with the people who are starting, supporting and growing companies in their hometown. The students' excitement upon arrival was quickly tempered when they realized they would have to drop their guard and talk to unfamiliar faces. I must say though, to their credit, it didn't take these young adults long to find their groove. After a few hotdogs, some soda and minimal coaching, students dispersed and began selling themselves, their ideas, projects and dreams to the other attendees.

IceHouse_EDayK2Lexi and Mayia, two students from Kansas City, Kan., are interested in becoming health care professionals. They connected with an entrepreneur who had connections to a family foundation that awarded academic scholarships to high school students interested in health care careers. In that instance, Lexi and Mayia really felt the value of telling their stories, networking and building community. Shy and unsure of themselves at the beginning of the night, they were unstoppable forces by the seventh-inning stretch. It was awesome watching their confidence soar.

Wasilah, a 14-year-old fashion designer, pitched a VC from Dundee Capital, based in Omaha, Neb, on an idea for a new line of sneakers. Impressed with Wasilah's story and pitch, the Dundee representative told the 14-year-old he was at the same point of product development as a 30-something entrepreneur he'd been working with for the past few months. It was amazing to see the confidence and courage the students exemplified when they applied lessons learned in class to a real life situation.

By the end of the night, entrepreneurs were approaching me with excitement and enthusiasm after meeting our students. People were impressed with our "kids" ability to engage and build community. I can’t even count how many people offered to help mentor, guest speak and connect more with our students that evening. And the students were equally excited. The night far exceeded their expectations and provided a platform for future learning and growth. When we were leaving the stadium, I asked the students how they pressed through the fear of approaching complete strangers. Mayia responded, "you are the kind of teachers we don't want to disappoint because you believe in us.

IceHouse_EDayK1I think the most important lesson we've learned as facilitators is to get the students out of the classroom as early and as often as possible. Experiential activities are powerful teaching and learning tools. Aristotle once said, "For things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn them by doing them." It's in these uncomfortable, real world experiences where students begin developing the skills necessary for opportunity discovery. Lexi and Mayia found an opportunity that will help them finance their post-secondary educations, an opportunity that would have been missed if they had decided to not participate in class that day. Forcing our students out of the classroom early and often increased their level of engagement in the classroom, and positively impacted their confidence and self-perception in a short period of time. Every week something unexpected happens in class, forcing students to prepare for the unexpected. But isn't that what life is—unexpected?

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