Reverse mentoring: Project connects teens, rural businesses
Two University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty are working with private-sector and community organizations to develop a youth-driven entrepreneurship program. The project is designed to encourage the growth of relationships between high school students and local business owners in rural Nebraska.
Maria de Guzman, associate professor and extension specialist in adolescent development, and Surin Kim, assistant professor and extension specialist in entrepreneurship, are developing Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics, an inquiry-based experiential learning model where high school students serve as experts and mentors to rural business owners, providing them with fresh perspectives by solving real-world problems.
While similar initiatives provide youth the opportunity to learn about businesses and entrepreneurship by studying existing businesses, this program puts youth in the lead role — providing feedback to current business owners and offering perspectives that adults may not have. In addition, the program is intended to foster connection and a sense of meaningful contribution among youth, which de Guzman describes as, “important developmental milestones and integral for the well-being for youth.”
The program is months ahead of schedule due to great interest from high schools in several communities. College of Education and Human Sciences graduate students are helping conduct research and evaluation, and undergraduate students from Nebraska’s Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program are hopping on board to serve as mentors to each group of high school students.
The first pilot program is in Western Nebraska as part of the Sandhills Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Program. It involves five counties and has the support of local schools and business owners. It will be followed by a second pilot program in Hastings next year.
The ultimate goal is to teach rural Nebraska high school students an entrepreneurial mindset within place-based education through reverse mentoring. By flipping traditional job-shadowing on its head, the program is stimulating the development of innovative thinking and leadership skills and helping teenagers build a strong connection to their rural communities. Kim and de Guzman envision the program paving the way for rural business growth.
The clinics are funded by the Rural Futures Institute to build self-sustaining entrepreneurial communities across Nebraska. When the grant period ends, the researchers aim to have a curriculum and a model in place so training can begin and the program can spread throughout the state.
Kim and de Guzman are part of an interdepartmental effort to see research and outreach extend far beyond the university and influence the economy and culture of Nebraska. Their partners include the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium and the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, both part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as well as the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the Center for Rural Affairs, Amazon.com and Unicornable.