The St. Vrain Valley School District has been serious about STEM for years. But long before it built the state-of-the-art, 50,000-square-foot Innovation Center in 2018, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Patty Quinones recognized that equipping students with a mindset that helped them pursue business opportunities was just as important as providing them with all the latest technology.
That’s where Instructional Technologist Jeffrey Lund comes in. He has a background in both education and small business. Also, he has a passion for empowering students with an entrepreneurial mindset. They can discover opportunities to create value for others and design their own solutions.
Now 750 high schoolers from across the district’s 411-square-mile footprint in Longmont, Colorado, have access to scores of tools and resources at the Innovation Center. It houses a community maker space, studio, pitch room, incubator and enterprise zone. Additionally, they have multiple labs and collaboration spaces. For instance, a robotics lab with an underwater tank, drone and aerospace lab, and biomedical science lab. Plus, a wood shop, metal shop, and manufacturing lab, Apple Tech Lab, and more.
Infusing the Ice House model
Underlying the Innovation Center’s programming is a belief in students’ self-direction in pursuit of opportunities. St. Vrain educators have been infusing this belief throughout the district’s STEM programming since 2015, when Lund and a colleague attended an Ice House facilitator certification training. “It’s simple and balanced and really clicked with what I was already doing, teaching students to succeed after schooling,” he explained.
Lund models and teaches the entrepreneurial mindset throughout his educational work. He strongly believes in the benefits of having one. This is true whether he’s hosting high school and college interns or coordinating with partners outside the school. These range from local organizations to national corporations. “It’s simple, it’s free, it’s flowing, and you can run with it as a hybrid in so many settings,” he said.
He’s particularly energized to utilize the entrepreneurial mindset with under-resourced communities as a way to break the mold and overcome patterns of poverty. This is something he has seen firsthand within the Innovation Center. “The most impactful thing about the program is that it’s inclusive of at-risk and minority students,” he said. “It allows kids to really grow.”
One of the Innovation Center’s focus areas is the Entrepreneurial Zone, which includes project teams, opportunities for collaboration, and an entrepreneurial certification pathway based on ELI’s entrepreneurial mindset approach. In addition, it offers skill-driven digital badges in content areas such as business pitching, communications, and entrepreneurial innovation. Lund has been instrumental in setting up these and other programs and courses.
Starting with the 2022-23 school year, Lund will transfer from the Innovation Center to the district’s new Entrepreneurship Success Center. He’s excited to continue expanding opportunities for St. Vrain Valley’s students. However, this is based on what the students want to invest their time and energy in.
One of his favorite examples from the Innovation Center is the video studio. It originated with two students and now employs 20 students via after-school programming plus several high school and college interns. It features all the latest technology, including a TriCaster media production suite. “We had the opportunity to invest in what we believe in and what kids were asking for,” Lund said. “Patty [Quinones] is a visionary for championing this approach.”
As he prepares for the opening of the Entrepreneurship Success Center, Lund welcomes the personal challenge to improve as an educator. “If you’re going to teach it, you’re going to have to live it and be a true entrepreneur yourself,” he said. “You have to be willing to be flexible and make mistakes and continue growing.”