I am the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at University School of Milwaukee where I have worked for the last 19 years with Masters degrees in Educational Leadership and Technology in Education. I have taught elementary, middle, high school and college during my 25j+ year career in education and held a variety of leadership positions.
Seeing the success and failure of the diverse learners I was working with and raising two very different children inspired me to develop the innovation and entrepreneurship programming I continue to work on today. I have two children, one 30 year old daughter who just left Google to start her own company, and a son that I refer to as a “box checker” who runs his own private equity firm. They were raised in the same family; the Googler had a circuitous journey through high school with mediocre grades at best, but found her stride as soon as the restrictions surrounding the courses she chose were removed and she could use her skills, passions, and creativity to do coursework more indicative of who she really was instead of trying to “fit in” in a product-focused academic environment that prized AP classes and standardized test scores. While that system didn’t support her best as a learner, it definitely supported her brother, the hard working box-checker who prided himself on advanced coursework and high test scores something independent schools have been historically very successful at promoting. Both students became successful, but the Googler left high school feeling defeated and less than she should have because the environment didn’t support a variety of learners, especially those nonlinear thinkers who preferred expressing themselves by making and creating solutions to real problems. That inspired me as an educational leader to pave the way to needed change and create more of an “And” environment that supports and celebrates a diverse body of learners and I did that by creating a variety of programs and transcript distinctions specifically including innovation and entrepreneurship.
I began by creating a small innovation center called the House of Technology, or HOT program that gave students the ability to solve real problems in the community using contemporary tools and technology. Students turned the House of Technology into a company that repairs many kinds of devices in the community; that’s when I partnered with an incubator in Milwaukee to learn as much as I could about developing successful entrepreneurs. I also reached out to the parent community of innovators and entrepreneurs to create a board of advisors that advises programming with corresponding professional development for faculty, so they could understand and support new and different pedagogical approaches. I realized I was an academic who understood business, but am not an expert in the field. The same was true for innovation; while I loved to tinker with technology and virtually everything, I had never fully developed a solution to take to market. The advisory board proved to be a wise choice in creating the course content along with a visiting professors program comprised of successful entrepreneurs and innovators.
The school quickly saw that many of the students who participated in the HOT program didn’t take many, or any, AP courses, but became successful academically because their project work centered on the things they loved to do and that naturally they were interested in developing a deep skill set within. Some dropped calculus and advanced courses to do independent studies on topics they were deeply curious and passionate about. Surprise, those students got into their first choice schools, and some with incredible scholarship opportunities! That program became so successful that it lead to a capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art innovation center with a variety of new interdisciplinary coursework to help students distinguish themselves academically while celebrating their strengths and passions in service to others. It was easy to see how they were interesting and intelligent, something colleges and universities are pursuing in their candidates. The innovation and entrepreneurship program is flourishing with it’s own transcript designation as students deepen their skills and pursue ideas they are passionate about in their own companies leaving both the school and students in a great position for the future!