Coal mining communities have long relied on a handful of employers for job opportunities and economic growth. Unfortunately, this has had the affect of crowding out the need for entrepreneurial and innovation mindsets, until now. That’s about to change!
In early 2017, with little fanfare, something unprecedented in entrepreneurship education took place deep in the heart of West Virginia and Appalachia. A group of seven dedicated community colleges convened on a sunny day in Charleston, West Virginia to collaborate on changing the course of entrepreneurship education in distressed, coal-impacted counties throughout Appalachia.
Thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation these community colleges are collaborating to create an entrepreneurship education continuum by establishing and strengthening relationships between kindergarten through 12th grade students and their local community colleges via entrepreneurship education. The entrepreneurship education continuum is composed of two parts.
The first part, based on EntreEd’s America’s Entrepreneurial School program “Every Student Every Year” with guidance from The EdVenture Group participating K-12 schools with will deliver entrepreneurship education to every student in the school. Unlike other K-12 pedagogies and curricula, the program is specifically designed to not be overly prescriptive or add more work for teachers. Instead, the program works by taking existing lessons that students already need to learn and puts them into the context of entrepreneurship lessons.
For example, science teachers may conduct a class on Thomas Edison or George Washington Carver as scientists AND entrepreneurs. Alternatively, an English teacher may teach a creative writing lesson by having students write an advertisement or press release for a new business idea.
Schools that successfully complete the program will be awarded EntreEd’s prestigious “America’s Entrepreneurial School” designation, recognizing the schools and their teachers for their commitment to entrepreneurship.
The second component, in concert with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) with guidance from Behavioral Business, LLC., works by linking the seven community colleges with participating K-12 schools to conduct workshops, programs and events highlighting entrepreneurship opportunities for the students and community. With access to expertise, equipment, and resources, community colleges are the ideal locations to help spur entrepreneurial and innovation thinking, serve as an entrepreneurial ecosystem catalyst and provide guidance to budding businesses as new business incubators. The seven community colleges deep in the heart of coal country are committed to increasing entrepreneurial opportunities to help students and community members launch new businesses. The community colleges include:
- BridgeValley Community and Technical College in Charleston, West Virginia;
- Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Logan, West Virginia
- New River Community and Technical College in Beaver, West Virginia ;
- Southeast Community and Technical College in Cumberland Kentucky;
- Hazard Community and Technical College in Hazard, Kentucky;
- Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg, Kentucky; and
- Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
With the prospect of a large employer moving into Appalachia taking up the unemployment slack unlikely, entrepreneurship arising from good old fashioned gumption, grit and ingenuity is going to have to play a significant part in revitalizing coal affected communities today and in the future. By infusing entrepreneurship and innovation education in kindergarten through 12th grades, coupled with the resources, programs and opportunities that community colleges offer, we create a powerful Appalachian entrepreneurship education continuum that has the potential to radically change where and what it means to be an entrepreneur.