Student Entrepreneurs at eStem Get Their Own Space: The Vault

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jul. 21, 2014 8:02 am  

The Vault internal incubator for Noble Impact entrepreneurship students at eStem High School opened for the 2014-15 academic year. (Photo by Mark Carter)

Students, it could be argued, represent our most valued assets. This school year at eStem Public Charter High School in Little Rock, those assets will be kept in the Vault.

The Vault is an internal incubator for student entrepreneurs in the Noble Impact program at eStem. It is set inside what once served as the underground vault of the former Federal Reserve Bank at Third and Louisiana streets in downtown Little Rock. The building now serves students in grades 9-12 as eStem High. 

Noble Impact is a nonprofit that introduced its public-service focused, student-entrepreneurship program to eStem last year. It was made an official part of the school's high-school cirriculum for the 2014-15 academic year, which for eStem students began last week.

Beginning this school year, the "Noble 101" class is required for eStem sophomores while "Noble 201" is available for rising juniors and seniors who participated in the inaugural Noble class last school year. Eventually, Noble co-founder Chad Williamson, who leads the program at eStem, hopes to offer an introductory course for freshmen and an advanced course for seniors that would entail internships at local businesses.

Noble 201 will function more like a startup accelerator, Williamson said, and interested students coming out of Noble 101 will have to apply for admission into the second-level class. 

Williamson teaches six sections from the Vault, five Noble 101 classes and one Noble 201 class.

This past spring, Noble introduced a sample of its program over two weeks to eStem third graders, housed across the street from the high school in the former Arkansas Gazette building. Williamson hopes to make that a permanent component to the program. 

Meanwhile, the Vault will serve as Noble students' entrepreneurship lab at eStem. At about 1,000-SF, it looks exactly like what was built to be: a vault.

Williamson wants to let students' creativity and innovation guide its transformation over the course of the school year. He wants students to "think out of the box and into the vault." 

Students' first project will be a design competition for the space. 

"Right now, it's just a work space," Williamson said. "We want to give it to the students and make it a collective space. For this design challenge, they'll pitch their ideas and explain why their design is better. I want an internal conversation about innovation and education."

Williamson said innovation takes training just like any sport, and the training Noble students receive will focus on public service. The goal is for Noble Impact students to set themselves up for personal success, but also for public service.



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