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AU Teaches DC High School Students Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fundamentals Inaugural Pilot Program introduces high school students to product development

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DC’s Woodson STEM High School students at AU working in a computer lab
DC’s Woodson STEM High School students at AU

This year, American University has brought a dozen extraordinary students from DC’s Woodson STEM High School to the AU campus, giving them an introduction to product development, innovation, and customer discovery — skills they will need to become successful future innovators.

It’s a real team effort. The College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, and the Kogod School of Business are all working together to share their expertise with the students in this inaugural pilot program. "American University has an amazing cohort of faculty across many schools and disciplines who are genuinely invested in bridging the achievement gaps that sideline many of our talented DCPS students,” said Kathryn Walters-Conte, director of AU’s Masters in Biotechnology Program and Science Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences.

From Fidgets to Fido

In all, this first group of students will visit the AU campus six times during the school year, learning the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in today’s marketplace. Under the guidance of AU faculty, they are working to develop their own unique products, employing the principles of innovation and design. 

The program started in the American University Center for Innovation (AUCI), where Bill Bellows, Kogod Executive-in-Residence and Co-Director of the AU Entrepreneurship Incubator, taught the students how to use customer discovery to develop project ideas for the marketplace, ranging from customized fidget spinners to a robotic dog.

The students then moved on to AU’s new Design and Build Lab (DaBL)— the university’s makerspace. With the help of Computer Science/Physics Instructor Kristof Aldenderfer and Physics Lab Director Jonathan Newport, the students designed prototypes of their projects using TinkerCad, a design and modeling tool that allows users to imagine (and create) various objects in three-dimensions. The projects will be 3D printed before the end of the semester.

Pulling It All Together

Along the way, the Woodson students received advice from two mentors: biotechnology masters students Taylor Tippett (MS biotech ’18) and Emmanuel Mayegun-Adeola (MS biotech ’18), who each have experience in business and innovation through their studies and internships.

The students also met with School of Education faculty to discuss how they might apply their new skills to future internships and education plans. “Through the program, the students have learned the fundamentals of customer discovery, additive and subtractive manufacturing, design, assembly, and entrepreneurship,” said Walters-Conte. “SOE faculty Laura Owens and Carolyn Parker helped students learn how to market these skills in the college application process, and provided guidance towards which type of college or university would best suit their personalities.”

Bellows believes that the program will have a long-term impact on the students, far beyond their six visits to AU. "Entrepreneurship is creating something of value from nothing more than an idea. To shape an idea into a product by talking to potential customers and building prototypes through the DaBL is an amazing and unique opportunity,” he said. “It is a lot of fun to watch the students' enthusiasm grow as they see the process start to work and as they pitch their ideas. We may not turn them all into entrepreneurs, but we are teaching them that original ideas have meaning and value, which may be the most important outcome of the program."