The Entrepreneur's Way

Looking back, it is pretty incredible that the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership was created, has survived, and is thriving. Innovation in education takes incredible leadership and a lot of collaborative effort, and schools are not always great incubators for new approaches. I realize how blessed I am to have been part of the many iterations that it took to make CEL into a unique and essential program at SCH. 

When CEL was being created, I emphasized the need for students to learn to be digital creators, rather than just digital consumers. I defined a new media sequence to teach coding, design and fabrication, interactive media, and how to communicate with digital tools (video, web etc). In 2007, we created a New Media Department and the school opened the Vidcast Studio, a center for music and video production, as a first step in getting professional-level equipment and software into the hands of our Upper School students. At the same time, there was a worldwide “Maker” movement happening, and as an Apple Distinguished Educator, I had been exposed to how to bring coding, design, and fabrication into a school setting. As the CEL took shape, we hired experts to bring these new media skills to the students.

My knowledge of new media came out of my own artistic work as a composer and interactive media designer. I am fascinated with performance and how technology can be used to involve and teach an audience. Before CEL was started, the school supported many of my community-based projects using new media, including a video projection mapped to the side of the Fabric Arts Workshop building across from the Philadelphia Convention Center in 2010. We worked with students from the Mural Arts Program on this project, and it was viewed by hundreds of convention-goers who sat in the outdoor parking area (no longer there) once it got dark. 

I remember my students and I frantically waiting for the last render of the animations as the sun was going down. We were pushing the edge of what was possible, and the students rose to the occasion. It was a dream come true watching the projector being put into place with a lift and seeing the first light shine on the 10-story wall. I learned how a shared artistic purpose can bridge the gap between students from different socio-economic backgrounds. It was a powerful performance and a powerful experience for all involved.  

The group of administrators who encouraged these collaborations was the same group who created CEL—former SCH President Dr. Priscilla Sands, Director of Development Jenny McHugh, Chief Innovation Officer Pete DiDonato, and CFO Frank Aloise. They were the dreamers who provided the leadership for big things for the school.

There were also other dreamers whose skills helped to build the framework for CEL. I recently found a sketch of what was then called “The Innovation Center,” which was the result of working with SCH’s former Educational Technologist Jennifer Vermillion; former Head of Upper School Christine Heine; and outside consultant (and parent) Lee Nunery. These early brainstorming sessions were invigorating, and each of us brought our own expertise to the table. Priscilla was the driving force behind all of it. She soon reframed the center around entrepreneurship and pushed ahead and hired the first director of CEL. 

Fast forward 10 years and today I find myself as invigorated by our work in the CEL as when we began. It has been around the long wood table in the CEL space that I have had some of my most fulfilling days as an educator. Imagine a group of educators who gain their energy from collaborative work. Ed Glassman, CEL’s executive director, is our sometimes ringleader-sometimes peacemaker, asking the hard questions and getting back way too much information to process. My longtime colleague and friend, Peter Randall, chair of the Engineering and Robotics Department, is one brilliant man. I can only imagine Ed’s conversation at home after officiating Peter and my often-opposing views of how to advance the program. Ultimately, we rally around the fact that we are creating the CEL experience for our student’s future, and we recognize our own nerdy excitement when deciding what topics are key for our students in our changing world. This has meant that all teachers associated with the CEL need to be nimble to bring these experiences to our students.

For my part, I have learned user-experience design for the creation of phone apps, how to design and prototype a game and virtual reality experience, and how to say, “I don’t know.” It has been my pleasure to work closely with our resident architect/new media teacher, Juliet Fajardo, in the Capstone New Media Studio, one of six studios available to students to help them as they develop their Capstone projects. I have watched while she helped students figure out how to create a 3D-printed dress, design and build functional furniture, and even reimagine the design of a drug rehab facility. These students are an inspiration to me and the other educators in the room. 

It is a gift to watch students follow their passions and gain the confidence that comes with hard work. It is no wonder that many of those involved with CEL pursue their projects after leaving SCH. CEL will continue to grow and evolve through iteration, which I have learned is the entrepreneur’s way. My thanks go to Ed Glassman, who never says “but” and models the entrepreneurial spirit every day, and to Priscilla Sands who visioned this for our school.

by Ellen Fishman P’11, P’15 Director of Arts and New Media, SCH Academy


Over the past 10 years, the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) has become a cornerstone of the SCH educational experience. It is a program as substantial in its educational content as in its inspirational impact. In celebration of the CEL's 10th anniversary coming this May, we are publishing a commemorative booklet with the voices of those thought leaders who have had a role in shaping the CEL since its inception. We look forward to sharing these articles leading up to CEL’s milestone event as it continues to provide opportunity, devise creative solutions, effect positive change, and more for the future of education at SCH Academy.

Learn more: www.sch.org/cel

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