Sixteen years ago, our founding Executive Director, recognized what has come to be widely-accepted knowledge now, that if we really want to prepare students to be successful in a 21st century global economy, we need to be teaching them entrepreneurship.
We live in a world in which the future is uncertain, rarely do we find individuals retiring from a career that they started after high school or college -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. Young people need skills that will allow them to make their own way. We can't predict the job market and economy our youth will enter, therefore, we really can’t predict the content our students will need in order to be successful after they leave our programs. But, we know without a doubt, that our students will need skills that will allow them to navigate uncertain waters and chart their own paths. The advantage of teaching skills is that they are not uniquely relevant to any singular career path. After all, one can be an entrepreneur in any field, so it stands to reason that the skills needed for starting a business would also be desirable in terms of being an employee.
Entrepreneurship education teaches these skills. Entrepreneurship education equips students to seek out problem-solving opportunities, empathize with others, think creatively, take risks, accept failure as part of the growth process, and appreciate the correlation between hard work and success.
GlassRoots offers two year-long programs for high school students looking to develop their artistry, as well as develop these essential life skills. Our Business and Entrepreneurship Program combines hard business skills with the beauty of glass art. After school, throughout the academic year, high school students gain proficiency in glass making, create an original product, and compete in a final business plan competition. FLAME (Focus, Leadership, Arts, Mentoring, Entrepreneurship) is a glass art/business skills program for high school students offered during the school day that increases school engagement, self-esteem and ambition, while improving prospects for future employment. FLAME culminates in a design competition. In addition to basic business concepts, both programs teach skills associated with entrepreneurs, such as money management, financial literacy and interpersonal communications, which are relevant and beneficial for day-to-day life. During the last 3 years, 100% of the students in both B&E and FLAME who have been eligible to graduate high school have graduated.
Ten years ago, Devon was a student in GlassRoots’ B&E program (then called NFTE.) He shares: “One of the great things that GlassRoots taught me was how I could best organize my creativity. For many people, that organization might be the platform for their creativity to reach its full potential. GlassRoots taught me how to mold creativity with a direction. The NFTE program taught me from an early age the fundamentals of how to create something from nothing, while making it my own and still providing value to the world. GlassRoots showed me that once you hone your talents and take pride in them, you will see all the avenues where you can use them to bring value to the world. If you are bringing value to people through art, you can make a living doing something you love.
Today I am a businessman, working hard to make a living through glass art and other initiatives. I still use the skills and lessons I learned in GlassRoots every day of my life and I can honestly say that my success today is directly because of GlassRoots.”
Because entrepreneurship can, and should, promote economic opportunity, it can serve as an agent of social justice. Dion is a proud alumnus of GlassRoots. He writes, “For me, GlassRoots was more than a creative outlet or “afterschool program.” GlassRoots provided another opportunity to stay away from the street life that surrounded us here in Newark. It provided us a safe space through which we met fellow young Newarkers who, like us, wanted a chance to make it as independent and confident adults.”
As the world of work changes, we recognize that students need more opportunities for creativity, innovation, and collaboration. As our schools become test-driven, and some of our students receive instruction via computers, opportunities for students to create, innovate, collaborate, and demonstrate proficiency or mastery in real-life ways become scarcer. Entrepreneurship education not only encourages, but also requires students to be creative, to innovate, and to collaborate with others.
Dion addresses this, “GlassRoots has truly been a place that changes every young adult who enters its doors for the better. For me, the business and relationship skills I built in GlassRoots were necessary in helping me find my current path within the corporate world. GlassRoots introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship and project management, an experience that has greatly impacted my college and professional career. I was able to tackle my senior design project and academic experiences with much more confidence and wisdom thanks to GlassRoots. I also learned the importance of establishing good connections and networking with those within my market. GlassRoots has definitely helped shaped me into the man I am today while helping me become successful in my cyber security career.”
We don’t expect our young entrepreneurs to all become glass artists, our hope is that their work with glass and entrepreneurship leaves an indelible mark on them, leading them to a more successful and prosperous future. Entrepreneurship education holds great value for all of our students, and in particular, those entering the fields of science, technology, mission work, social work, healthcare, and education. The future belongs to the innovators and creators, and entrepreneurship education serves as a great incubator for the types of creative, innovative ideas our students and our world need in the 21st century.