As the executive director of the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, I am fortunate enough to work with hundreds of budding young entrepreneurs, engineers, and designers each year. No matter what the project, our mission as educators remains the same: to instill in our students an entrepreneurial mindset. Each day, we create opportunities, case studies, and hands-on projects that challenge our students to become more resourceful, to apply creative problem solving, and to tackle real-world challenges at SCH, in their local community, or even across the globe. And above all else, to be resilient in the face of adversity. The work that goes on in CEL changes lives and sets career paths. It’s so much more than business; it is a powerful framework for the future of education.
The most common question I’m asked about my work is “why entrepreneurship?” Some maintain that this topic is not developmentally appropriate for kids, or that it’s too difficult to measure the outcomes. At SCH, this has not been our experience. But, as a rule, schools are not a natural environment for nurturing entrepreneurship. In fact, some children who grow up to be entrepreneurs have habits that most schools don’t value. According to Margot Bisnow’s research in her wonderful book, Raising an Entrepreneur, many young entrepreneurs question the rules and challenge authority. They want to do things their own way. They get bored and lose focus when the task at hand doesn’t interest them. This approach doesn’t square neatly with a traditional school environment, which puts more emphasis on remediating kids’ weaknesses than finding and supporting kids’ strengths. But if you can make it work, if you can commit resources and time to supporting and building a student’s entrepreneurial mindset, it connects with every modern pedagogical tenet that we value as educators. Fortunately, that is the exact commitment that SCH Academy has made for the past 10 years. We went beyond just building a Makerspace, despite how trendy that option was at the time. We focused most of our energy on people—the students and faculty who would be in those spaces every day.
Students begin their CEL work as early as Pre-K. Each year, these young students tackle a problem or challenge they see here at SCH or in the broader community. For example, our Pre-K girls work to protect Sea Turtles with the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ. Our 3rd graders write and illustrate original children’s books to share with our youngest students. Our students build empathy through understanding the needs that their solutions must address. They reflect on the process of problem-solving, not just the final product. One major goal of these projects is get our students to a place where they ask, “why are things this way?” and “what can I do to make a positive change?”
Then, in 5th grade, students begin our formal CEL curriculum. Every SCH student takes a multi-year sequence of hands-on, project-based courses, extending from 5th through 10th grade. These courses run the gamut from Social Entrepreneurship to Graphic Design to Digital Publishing. The CEL curriculum is ever evolving, and while the courses may change, the mindset we teach does not. We expose our students to new ways of thinking and doing. We show them the variety of tools that they can use to bring their ideas to life. We strive to help them find new passions and meaningful problems to tackle.
In 10th grade, students complete the CEL curriculum with the Capstone course—a unique, self-directed project-design experience. With the support of dedicated faculty mentors and access to specialized studios, students bring ideas inspired by their personal passions to life using the business, design, and technology skills learned in their previous CEL classes.
After 10th grade, students may elect to continue their entrepreneurial work through the Venture Accelerator. This culminating experience gives students the chance to fully launch the ideas they have investigated, tested, and prototyped through the Capstone. Venture Accelerator students connect with various mentors and investors, hire staff, file for trademarks and legal business entities, sell in the marketplace, and raise initial startup capital. These ventures have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up funds in support of the students’ social impact initiatives and for-profit businesses.
The best way to answer the “why entrepreneurship?” question, however, isn’t with pedagogy or data. It’s through the stories of our students using their energy, passion, and creativity to address real-world problems. I could tell you about the senior who presented to a UN subcommittee in Geneva about her organization, Girls for Climate Justice. (She has just graduated from college and you can read her essay later in this piece); the freshman who worked with Nike designers to design expandable shoes for children in third-world countries; or the junior who developed a mobile app that translates dog barks into English commands. It’s the diversity and creativity of these projects that reinforce the core principle of CEL—entrepreneurship is about far more than starting a business. It is a thoughtful, measured, and courageous approach to solving the world’s gnarliest problems.
I can’t take credit for this idea though; the students taught it to me. When I first began my work at SCH, I was expecting to teach a series of courses on business and finance. Instead, I learned that entrepreneurship, to our kids, is so much more than acquiring skills. It’s about empowerment. An entrepreneur is motivated, inspired, and ambitious. They take risks to do something they love, and use trial and error to succeed.
This is why I’m grateful every day for the opportunity that SCH Academy has afforded me, my fellow faculty members, and our students. Ten years of diligent work, belief, and trial and error has blossomed into thousands of stories of student creativity, resilience, growth, and real-world impact, confirming the belief that inspired the creation of CEL—that we can both “imagine the impossible” and achieve it.
by Edward Glassman ’03, P’35 Executive Director, Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
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