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Elevator Grant - 8th Annual Conference - Dakota County Technical College, MN
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Posted By Lisa Bah, Thursday, June 23, 2011

 We're about to start the fourth day of BizTech Academy, and our students are amazing! We have an interesting mix of students—some home-schooled, others from 2,500+ student schools, a couple just entering high school, and a few recent graduates transitioning into college. Regardless of how they self-identified themselves on Monday, they're all college students now and are on their way to post-secondary success!

I can honestly say, they're all so much fun to be around, and they have an energy that we don't typically see in a college classroom at 8 a.m. Christine Pigsley and I are working with 20 students in the Imagineering group, and over half of them are arriving up to an hour before classes each day, working in teams on homework projects or doing research on their potential product or service they may want to develop as we transition into entrepreneurship next week.

We started off with some ice breakers on Monday, and had Student ID's issued, so that everyone from BizTech now has access to the library system. They spent an hour that morning learning how NOT to Wiki or Google, and how to tap into literature and research databases. Looking back, it probably wasn't the most exciting thing to do the first morning, but it did set the framework for academic expectations. There was a little whining about being bored, but we must have gotten past that, as they all have great attitudes now!

Monday afternoon was all about the Creative Process, followed by the Design Process on Tuesday morning. We talked about how to go from concept to product, and how 50% of all businesses in Minnesota have some type of manufacturing component. After watching a few snippets of "How's That Made?”, we had two guest speakers, Pat McQuillan and Larry Raddatz present to the group. With years of industry experience, they talked about how they contract with employers, and that when a business has a pain, they're available to write prescriptions. The students really liked their analogies. Both have worked with industry giants such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and ConAgra, and were able to share how equipment, staffing, innovation and cost all impact the design and manufacturing process.

Then, the students were broken into assembly line teams, given roles and parts to create a Lego car. They talked about the LEAN process, and how advancements in technology often require fewer employees to boost production. In order to "make it real”, jobs were shuffled around, teams had to regroup, present the "new and improved product” and listen to audience feedback. Their surprise was that all cars had to be crash tested in the end, so the most marketable car wasn't necessarily the best!

Tuesday afternoon was filled with adventure. Not only did BizTech students have the opportunity to be taught by Bob Voss (former NACCE Entrepreneurship Faculty of the Year), they also had to learn about patents, copyrights and trademarks in the middle of two tornado warnings! If anyone can make patents interesting, Bob is the one. Students learned how to differentiate what levels of "protection” needed, and even tested out some of their business ideas.

On Wednesday, we started off with a Personality and Temperament profile, comparing student's results to the presumed personality/temperament of various inventors and innovators, comparing and contrasting them with a focus on business skills. It created a lot of laughter, and a greater awareness of what it often takes to be entrepreneurial. When it was time for a little physical activity and more team-building, we all went to the adjacent park for a four inning game of softball. Each student became either a team player, a base coach, or an umpire. The teams were intentionally mismatched at first, and it through some of the students for a loop. The twist came at the end of the game, when the leading team had grown too powerful, monopolizing the industry, and the government intervened. It was a good lesson on corporate America, and how no matter how powerful a business may become, strengths can become weaknesses and assets can become deficits.

By the afternoon, we moved on to Mission, Vision and Strategy. One of the projects we did to demonstrate each, and how they differ, was to have the students break into groups of 2-4, and draw from a stack of cards. As an example, one was Harvard University, another MN Twins, and yet another, The Bachelor TV show. To make it real, we showed a short video and used the example of The Jersey Shore, an MTV show. The mission of the characters has evolved, and has been greatly simplified. Originally, the show was to highlight the lives of a cast of young adults who wanted to party and live on the edge of life. Now, the characters have boiled their mission down to "Gym, tan, laundry”, their vision is to make the most money they can with as little effort as possible, and to be surrounded by paparazzi enough to be highlighted by entertainment shows and news magazines. Their strategy is to do this by being publicly drunk, emotionally erratic, and generally obnoxious. I don't know who had the most fun with this activity, but it certainly clarified to them how to frame their mission/vision/strategy for the companies they're creating!

Beyond the nuts ‘n' bolts, we've discovered a few things…these young adults have TONS of energy, and they love learning in a kinesthetic environment. We're utilizing Accelerated Learning theory, so all the tables are covered in parchment paper, and we have baskets of scented markers, Slinky's, PlayDoh, and small trinkets/toys for the students to integrate into projects and to use as a learning tool for focus. The walls are covered with their projects, and students are integrating music and video into most of their presentations.

We also learned something about food rather quickly—by Monday at lunch, in fact, was that we had a room filled with bottomless pits!  We'd assumed that most would have eaten prior to arrival, and had planned for mid-morning munchies, lunch and afternoon snacks. By the end of the first day, we'd gone through 10 pounds of bananas, 10 pounds of apples, 6 pounds of grapes, 48 bottles of juice, about 20 pounds of granola/chewy bars, cereal bars, PopTarts and similar goodies. These 20 yough devoured sandwich platters meant to serve 36, 6 pounds of chip-type snacks, 7 dozen cookies, three cases of pop, two cases of water, and various candy treats that we'd sprinkled across the tables.

Lesson learned? Provide them with a full breakfast from that point forward, because we were still hearing, "I'm kinda hungry” by mid-afternoon! So now, on top of everything else, we're bringing in cereal, bagels and every quasi-healthy snack we can find. Some of it may be that they're teens, but we're also beginning to think it's a statement of what is or isn't available at home, which may be somewhat attributable to household incomes. Going into this, who would have guessed that 20 teens could eat 76 burgers and brats for lunch?

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