A group of high school students visiting the Farmer School of Business isn’t terribly unusual or particularly noteworthy. But last week’s visit by entrepreneurship students from five Cincinnati-area high schools highlighted a decade-long connection between the Farmer School and Uncharted Learning, a program to “provide schools with comprehensive curriculum, teacher training, and support services to help students develop adaptable, real-world skills.”
Uncharted Learning got its start in Barrington in suburban Chicago in 2013 when a pair of businessmen put together money to create a program at a local high school that would use entrepreneurship to teach important business skills. The pair brought in others to support the program, one of whom was Farmer School entrepreneurship professor Mark Lacker.
“We had a meeting and they told me what they was doing, and I thought it was pretty cool,” Lacker said. “And so in its original scope, I was the university partner to the curriculum development -- I think university curriculum advisor is the way I would put it. So my contributions were around the notion of business models and how you teach business models and some in-class activities, how you grade those things and coach the students.”
The program had its first pitch competition, with a $25,000 prize for the winning team of high school students. That idea attracted Chicago-area media. And when the stories came out, the phones of the creators started ringing, Lacker said.
“Lake Forest and Downer’s Grove and the other local school districts were calling and asking ‘What are you doing over there? How do we get to do this?’” Lacker said. “The leaders thought, ‘Why don't we take the curriculum and we'll put it inside a non-profit called Uncharted Learning, and then we will license it out to any other high school that wants to use it.”
Since then, a portion of that curriculum, known as INCubatoredu, has included lessons from some of the introductory FSB entrepreneurship classes, such as ESP 201: Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Business Models and ESP 252: Entrepreneurial Mindset: Creativity and Organization.
“Miami faculty and Miami have been very welcoming and supportive. They really want to put kids' interests first, and I think that's what's really meaningful,” Uncharted Learning executive director Christy Scott said. “Entrepreneurship is this amazing vehicle for learning what we want to do with our lives, where we're going to be taking them. So it's the application of some great learning for what's next for students.”
“Every year I have gone back to Barrington to teach classes,” Lacker said. “They hoald an annual summit each July, that we help sponsor, where all the high school teachers and some administrators get together and they share best practices.”
The program has grown to 250 high schools, from California to Connecticut, including Lakota East, Lakota West, Harrison, Oak Hills, and Butler Tech Fairfield. It was students from these schools who brought their business ideas to Oxford to pitch them to John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship faculty, get feedback on their ideas, and advice about executing them.
“Today was great. It was nice to see what students from other schools are developing. My students seem to really enjoy seeing the other students present and get new ideas and how to make their presentations better,” Lakota East teacher Kevin Keen said.
Keen said the impact he’s seen mirrors what the creators hoped the students would get from the experience. “The real world skills that they're getting are amazing. We bring in expert coaches to teach them on whatever the subject matter is that they're an expert in. We have the kids meet up with mentors twice a month. And those interactions, the soft skills that they're developing with those business professionals, are awesome,” he said.
The Altman Institute formalized its partnership with Uncharted Learning and INCubatoredu in 2019 to integrate specific tools, experiential exercises, and practices. The partnership has also helped the Altman Institute further engage in its own mission, Lacker said.
“Part of our mission is outside of these walls, so being able to foster entrepreneurship in high school students at the broadest level is important,” he said. “If we have more entrepreneurial-minded thinking people in our communities, wherever our communities are, they're going to be more vibrant communities over time. And if we have a hand in helping sprinkle some of that knowledge, I think that fits with what it means to be a leading entrepreneurship program.”
Christy Scott talks with a high school teacher outside Taylor Auditorium
David Eyman talks with the students in Taylor Auditorium