Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

U-M course shares entrepreneurial skills with inner-city teachers

Imparting entrepreneurial skills to inner city teachers is the goal of a first-of-its-kind intensive course offered jointly by the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship and the School of Education (SoE).


Members of the Teach for America Detroit corps participate in an engineering course designed to help participants gain a grasp of entrepeneurial and social value. (Photo by Joseph Xu, College of Engineering)

This week, 20 U-M master of urban pedagogy students who are Teach For America Detroit Corps members will take part in the Education Entrepreneurship Workshop, taught by Moses Lee, assistant director for student ventures at the Center for Entrepreneurship.

"I'm seeing a lot of innovative, passionate people come into the school system, but it takes more than just energy to turn things around," says Monica Rodriguez, a high school Spanish teacher and 2011 TFA Detroit corps member. "Teach for America doesn't normally take the kind of edge that I'm hoping this class will take."

When Teach For America returned to Detroit in 2010 after a seven-year absence, it was confronted with one of the nation's lowest-performing school districts in reading and math, and a city tha was rapidly losing its population.

More information

Center for Entrepreneurship
Teach For America Detroit
School of Education Urban Pedagogy Program for Teach For America Detroit Corps


"It's an entire system that's deficient," says Rodriguez, who joined TFA Detroit in 2011, after first serving in the City Year Detroit corps. "As a high school teacher, I'm getting students who are at a third- and fourth-grade level. At some point you have to ask what happened along the way."

Common issues that TFA corps members face include lack of parental involvement, poor communication among leaders and educators, truancy and low student motivation, says Kendra Hearn, clinical assistant professor at SoE and coordinator of the Teach For America interim certification program. Hearn says this course is a first for TFA across the nation.

During the weeklong workshop, participants will learn the tenets of social entrepreneurship: how to identify problems, assess needs, solicit feedback from customers, solve problems in creative ways and execute a solution with limited resources. They will also work in teams to brainstorm creative solutions to the real-world problem of student motivation.

The course was Hearn's idea.

"I'm somewhat misplaced," she says. "I've read the popular business reads of the day and I'm always asking, 'Are there any implications of this way of thinking to education?' It's in my nature to think outside of the education box."

Although commonly thought of as a teacher placement program, Teach For America also is a leadership development organization committed to providing intensive training, support and career development to help leaders increase and accelerate their impact and deepen their understanding of what it takes to close the achievement gap.

"Sixty-five percent of TFA participants tend to stay in the profession as policy makers or administrators, instead of classroom teachers," Hearn says. "TFA's change theory is that they will take the experience they had as educators and apply what they learned to what they do in the future. Whether they stay in the profession or not, they can be change agents."

This course will help them on that path.

"People might think, 'Why would entrepreneurship skills be necessary? Shouldn't they learn how to teach?' In my opinion, we need more entrepreneurs thinking about reinventing education," says Lee, who will teach the class. "Students in the course will be able to use these tools to approach problems in the classroom and have immediate impact when they go back to school."