An effort to engage students in discussions about education policy got its start last year as nothing more than a Twitter hashtag, #StuVoice. But with more than a thousand followers, Student Voice has now become a movement, and this month, with support from Dell, the group organized its first live event.
On a recent Saturday morning, elevator doors at Microsoft’s New York office opened to a crowded scene of high school and college students chattering away in much-longer-than-140-character conversations. One of the most popular panels featured several successful teen entrepreneurs discussing how the current education system fails to support entrepreneurship.
Workshops covered topics such as “uncommon routes of learning”—including homeschooling, stopping-out, and on-line learning—“what makes for a great education,” and “why your voice matters.”
The event’s goal: Give students “the tools to exercise their voices, while positioning them to be the champions of bridging the partisan gap in education,” according to the Student Voice website. A side dish for the grass roots activists was a lesson in entrepreneurship.
“The structure of our colleges today is limiting the creativity and inspiration that first sparks entrepreneurship,” said Meagan Nelson, executive director of the Student Voice Project. “Colleges are not teaching valuable, hands-on lessons about business, organization, or brand creation. They are not encouraging students to pursue their own paths to take their unique ideas and turn them into cutting-edge, marketable assets.”
Education and entrepeneurship are too often seen as opposite paths, lamented 19-year-old Canadian entrepreneur Jaxson Khan, a co-founder of the Student Voice Initiative. “When we’re talking about entrepreneurship and education, it is critical to not separate them into things so divided. It’s good that we think about entrepreneurship as a mindset and that we can create a community around this and make it a legitimate pathway.”
David Campbell, business manager for Student Voice, said, “What we’re really trying to start here is this movement. We want to be giving students the power to start their own businesses if they want to, and just dream.”
David Chi, a Yale University freshman, embodies the organization’s goals for both education reform and entrepreneurship as the founder of Forward Tutoring. While organizations like Codeacademy and edX have harnessed technology to level the playing field and democratize access to education, “education is innately personal,” he says. He warns that effective education only comes “when you have an emotional attachment or a visceral response.” From the evidence at the first Student Voice gathering, tying school more closely to entrepreneurship could be an important way to achieve that.