By Martha Rush; Chief Educator-in-Residence

Tales and Tips from the Front #15

A few days ago, I read a great story about University of Minnesota students who have developed a Class 1 medical device—new protective gowns for local hospitals dealing with COVID-19—in just two weeks.

(You can find the article here)

The students were taking a biomedical engineering course, and their professor asked them (via Zoom, of course) to help design affordable new gowns, made from available resources. Before long, they went from prototyping to manufacturing 10,000 gowns a day.

Why share this story?

Because this story encapsulates everything we are trying to do when we teach students the lean startup process of entrepreneurship. These students are a little older than my high school students—and of course, they’re a little more educated in material science—but what’s important here is that these students already see themselves as full-fledged, problem-solving adults who have something to contribute to their community.

We too often think of high school students—and yes, even college students—as “workers in training.” Interns, at best. We think they have to take class after class and earn degree after degree before they can contribute anything meaningful or new to society.

That’s just not true.

Our students may not be legal adults, and they may still have underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes, but their willingness to take risks and look at things differently can be a huge advantage if we let it. 

When we support them, rather than treating them as “not quite ready for prime time,” they do incredible work.

In early April, a Washington Post article reported on new research into the adolescent brain. Here’s a great quote from that article that underscores my point:

“The teenage brain’s characteristics, including its propensity for taking risks, are what prepare teenagers for adulthood — and what lend them a sort of superpower in learning, skill acquisition and creativity. Teenage brains are at a unique neurological stage. They retain much of the adaptability of childhood, building up new connections and pruning away unused ones. But they’re also starting to gain the adult ability to think abstractly, envision the future and make social connections.”   

A superpower in learning, skill acquisition, and creativity. 

A superpower.

That doesn’t sound like something we should squander. But for generations, our traditional school system has done exactly that.

So here’s my final tip for this series of blog posts: Let’s treat our entrepreneurial young people like adults. Take their ideas seriously, and help them pursue them. Recognize the geniuses in front of us, give them the resources they need—and then get out of their way.


Pro Tips:

  • Recognize that students aren’t adults—but that their brain development may be more advantage than disadvantage
  • Help students see themselves as professionals
  • Believe in your students’ ability to change the world

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