In the hands of the right educator, tech classes can yield more than coding and computer skills for their students. Just ask Mark Suter, who combined his students’ entrepreneurial energy with their tech skills, to produce professional – and successful – business people.
Mark, a computer tech teacher at Pandora-Gilboa High in Ohio, started an entrepreneurial, student-run tech club called Rockettech, to provide web and video production services to local businesses. The businesses reward the students’ efforts in the form of donations, which are reinvested into the club. As of September, 2015, Rockettech had already earned more than $14,000, in two years.
In an interview with The Journal, Mark said, “When the kids come into class, it doesn’t smell like school to them anymore. They’re thinking in an innovative way and we have a mutual trust. I trust that if I give them something, they’re going to do everything they can to succeed.”
Mark grew up in a small family business environment, and wanted to bring the creative energy of that environment into his teaching. “I realized that my students are really sharp,” he said. “So why not let them test their skills in the real world and see if we can treat this classroom like a small business?” He models both the Rockettech club and his computer tech classes after the environment students will experience once they take a job in the field. In real-life business, growth and innovation are likely to be “messy,” he said. But in his classes, it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail, because that’s how you learn.
The Putnam Sentinel reported that Suter knew there was risk involved with taking the students’ skills into the community, because the business managers would expect professionalism in all aspects of the work. His students rose to the challenge.
“The main objective of Rockettech is to provide new opportunities for students to perform in ways they didn’t know were possible,” he told interviewers for the Lima, Ohio website. “I want students to see themselves as young professionals, not just kids that don’t really make a difference… Whether they are financial entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, or just creating a name for themselves in a professional space, they are learning how to communicate and creatively solve problems.”
Mark empowers his student to learn and flourish by allowing them to lead each project on their own. The student selected to be “project lead” negotiates contracts, sets the project timelines and handles client communications. Mark also lets the students decide how they will reinvest their earnings, and his trust in them has been rewarded. “They’ve adopted the professionalism to the point where they’re asking if they should spend it on advertising, upgrading equipment, hiring a professional to increase their knowledge – all questions a small business has to ask themselves every day,” he explained.
Mark stresses that his students’ projects are not simulations – they’re real – and the local businesses count on them to produce results. The students have served a wide range of private and public sector clients, including several healthcare providers and the local power company. In addition to providing web design and video production, the students also train their business points of contact to maintain their websites. This training is provided through onsite meetings or customized video tutorials.
When The Journal interviewer asked Mark what advice he had for other educators, he said, “I think there is a great opportunity right now for schools to add a real-world component to computer science and STEM classes. The lesson to be learned is that yes, when you try something new and messy it’s going to flop sometimes, but when it is successful, it’s unbelievably satisfying, not just for the student but for the teacher. I get to see these kids light up at the knowledge that they have created something that has worth to other people, other than just something that their parents put on the fridge.”
In May of this year, Mark was selected as one of ten teachers to win the Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Award. As his prize, Mark was honored with a week-long “Innovation Immersion Experience” at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. If you’d like to nominate an educator for the Henry Ford award, you can start by watching this 30-second video.
In closing, Mark told the Putnam Sentinel, “I don’t know if there’s a ceiling to what we can do, so we’ll just keep expanding until we hit it. Then we’ll blow the roof off and keep going.”
For more on Mark Suter and Rockettech:
Mark’s website, “Always a student, sometimes a teacher”
Do your students have that entrepreneurial spirit? Have them check out Envision’s NYLF Business Innovation conference.