In October 2019, The National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education (EntreEd), was awarded an Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant for the Fostering Self ESTEAM in Appalachia’s Emerging Workforce project. The project helps middle and high schools in a seven-state region infuse Entrepreneurship into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) initiatives. By targeting middle and high school students, the ESTEAM project supports the region in graduating an emerging workforce of entrepreneurially-minded students poised to recognize and create solutions to gaps within their local economy. Before the project began, a Kentucky educator was already passionate about the power of entrepreneurship education in STEAM and was searching for ways to meaningfully engage his students. Aligning with EntreEd’s ESTEAM project mission, a perfect partnership was formed when Mr. Jarred Gibson and EntreEd crossed paths through the POWER funded project. Through POWER, EntreEd provides Mr. Gibson the tools, funding, network, and role needed to bring his vision for student entrepreneurship and STEAM opportunities to life.
Mr. Gibson is a business educator and counselor at Johnson Central High School in Johnson County, Kentucky. Through a partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College, he also serves as an EntreEd Ambassador and the Director of the Verizon Innovative Learning Program, a NACCE-funded middle school entrepreneurship program. His passion for entrepreneurship education began when he worked for the Big Sandy Community Action Program, which supports economically disadvantaged high school students to help them find jobs and get back on their feet. Through this experience, he recognized the need for educators to teach students more than just curriculum and decided to become an educator himself in 2012. He has dedicated himself to making a difference in his students by preparing them for their future careers and teaching them valuable skills beyond what can be found in a textbook.
To build this real world experience, Mr. Gibson currently teaches Entrepreneurship and School Innovation Store at JCHS. The school store at Johnson Central High School is a fully functional store where students use STEAM to design and create clothing items entirely hands-on while also learning fundamental entrepreneurship processes. Students are involved in every aspect of the store from designing and creating products to selling and financial reporting. With support from EntreEd’s POWER project, Mr. Gibson purchased a purchase order system, heat press, sublimation machine, and updated parts for an embroidery machine. The additions of the new equipment have provided numerous project-based learning experiences for his students.
“Kids learn best when they can learn doing the project and creating with their hands. The ESTEAM project offered the opportunity to make it happen,” he said. “The students now have the ability to design more items and think more creatively. Before this program, we would design things online and the students submitted on paper for feedback. Now that we have equipment, I can actually have kids design real products, do pitch contests, and sell their ideas. The kids are one hundred times more excited to come to class. They now discuss their ideas with each other and are excited to create. It really makes a difference.”
Last school year, his students were learning remotely due to COVID-19, but continued to design in hopes of being able to return to the classroom and bring their designs to life on equipment. During this time the EntreEd team pivoted in person professional development workshops into online courses for educators. EntreEd Academy provides online experiential learning for educators and students. EntreEd’s first student-facing course, Learn2Launch, helps students learn to launch their ideas and innovations through interactive online lessons designed for classroom integration. Mr. Gibson had all of his students enroll in the course and uses it weekly to support his classroom objectives. “The students absolutely love the Learn2Launch program. It’s taken everything that we have developed through EntreEd with our equipment and ideas and allowed the kids to have a program to follow along and create their own ideas. It’s given them the ability to really gather their thoughts and try to bring things to reality. This program fell right in place with what I would have been teaching in person anyway. It has been a blessing and worked out great with covid to be able to have my students access it online. It helped keep students excited during remote learning.”
Mr. Gibson is helping prepare his students for their future careers through his classes. He said that the ESTEAM project has given students confidence and a new outlook. “Instead of thinking ‘What if I design this? or ‘What if I create this?’, they’re thinking: I can”. He has students present and pitch everything that they do in front of the class to get them comfortable speaking and communicating their ideas. “Some students would come to class very introverted and didn’t want to talk. This project has allowed me to utilize funding, tools, curriculum ideas, and the network I needed to build and help these students prepare for their future careers.” Former students that have completed Mr. Gibson’s classes have already had success with their employable skill sets. Students have demonstrated their hands-on experiences working in the school store on their resumes to secure jobs and have been offered higher starting positions and salaries due to the valuable skills they gained in class. “As an educator, I think it’s important that we teach kids concepts of the workforce because employers look for students with a skillset opposed to a student that has no experience or is unable to communicate. I’ve learned that you can take a student that is very introverted, quiet, has no interest in this, and include some equipment and new innovative ways of learning to transform that student from the quiet individual to the energetic, positive, excited individual. It completely transforms their personality and their outlook on entrepreneurship. It changes the way kids want to do things.”
Mr. Gibson’s advocacy for entrepreneurship education, STEAM, and EntreEd’s work led him to becoming the first EntreEd Ambassador of the ESTEAM project. Working with regional community college partner, Big Sandy CTC, and their Director of Community Workforce and Economic Development, Rachelle Burchette, the team approached Mr. Gibson with the idea for this emerging role. Mr. Gibson said, “I would love to do it because I’m already doing it. This is something I have been promoting for years, regardless of what position I had because I know it is important and it’s a passion. Getting the job opportunity to help me move forward with this is icing on the cake.” Mr. Gibson works with five school districts in the Eastern Kentucky region and networks with educators to inform them about the ESTEAM program and its benefits. He also promotes the program to students to increase their involvement and understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship. “The best part of being an EntreEd Ambassador is being able to provide opportunities for kids that need them to be able to get involved and transform their lives. With the spring ESTEAM Pitch Contest Series, I had students signing up that I personally know have it tough and have to work extra jobs, so to see them have an opportunity to gain funds and better themselves with the opportunity to learn at the same time is important. By far my favorite thing is helping kids. To me it’s not a job, it’s a way of life. Entrepreneurship is the future. If you’re going to be successful in anything you do you need to know the fundamentals.”
EntreEd is endlessly grateful to work in so many capacities alongside Mr. Gibson and to be the vessel needed to create opportunities for others. He is the epitome of the ESTEAM project’s core mission and has contributed significantly to the project by investing his time in Appalachian students. “As an educator, this project gives you the opportunity to have tools in your classroom, the network that you need, and it helps you build confidence in your students. It’s been a blessing to share information that I have a passion for with other districts. This program gave me the entry door and opportunity to get that out there. Other teachers that never had the opportunity to do this are now stepping forward and want to help. The POWER ESTEAM project has started a movement, and it’s just the beginning. Everything I do is a passion, so any success with this project means I know I’m making a change. Success means change in this project. We’re able to help kids move forward and change the way we deliver content to students in the classroom. We can tell students you could do this, why not tell them just to do it. We’ve got to think outside the box. That’s what it’s all about, bringing entrepreneurship and STEAM to life. I am grateful that this project allowed me to do that.”