Updated: Mar 2
In a world full of change and disruption, some are beginning to look at education as the next area for extreme innovation.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
One of my earliest memories goes back to a rainy two-hour U-Haul trip I took to Chicago with my father at the wheel. As I watched the windshield wipers move back and forth, I posed a question to my dad, “Why don’t they put one wiper in the middle so that all of the rain gets cleared from the windshield?” As an educator of 30+ years, my father simply responded with, “That’s a good question, you’re thinking like an engineer.” With an open and curious mind, I took that statement in stride and was determined to become the same engineer my father believed me to be.
Like most students, my journey began within the traditional education system which included homework assignments, memorization-based tests, and for fun, if I was lucky, the occasional spelling bee. Although I was able to achieve and perform in school at the highest levels, I soon realized that my path to a life of engineering would not be made any easier by being a traditional student. As an eight-year-old with a passion for learning, connections, and financial freedom, I set off on my first venture: Juwon’s Lawns. Although I averaged about two customers a month and only made enough to pay for my mower’s oil refills and daily hotdogs, I fell in love with everything about it; the work, the responsibility, and most importantly, the impact I was able to make in my town for my neighbors. All was going well until an unforgettable moment changed my life forever: my first D on a report card. For someone who typically expected no less than straight A’s, seeing a D on your report card for the first time is almost as bad, if not worse than your first heartbreak. With teachers, administrators, and even curriculums tying my worth and intellect to my grades, I became depressed to the point that I abruptly ended Juwon’s Lawns to focus on school. Although I wasn’t nearly as happy as I was cutting grass for my neighbors, I felt that my self-worth and actual intelligence were slowly building themselves back up by doing whatever it took to achieve more in school.
Regardless of the ups and downs, I endured in my educational journey, 10 years later I gained acceptance into one of the top engineering schools in the country, Lehigh University. With a lifelong goal sparked by my father’s words within arm’s reach, I finally began to feel like all of the endless studying and mundane assignments I completed as a student were paying off. During my first year of undergrad, I felt a little lost on how to continue on my journey, especially with major declarations approaching very soon. Trying to decide between 7 different engineering pathways with minimal knowledge and studying concepts I hardly understood or had a passion for, turned my feeling of lack of direction into a feeling of drowning in confusion. I had made it so far on my journey to being an engineer but for some reason, I was still very unfulfilled and ultimately unhappy with where I was in my educational and life journey. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon my Entrepreneurship 101 course as an extra elective that all of that changed. Within the first week of the class, I was able to learn the basics of entrepreneurship and what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur. After a month spent learning and discovering in the course, I realized that my father’s statement was a half-truth. I was indeed thinking like an engineer, but I was also thinking like an artist, businessman, analyst, teacher, developer, and what I professionally identify as now, a problem solver. In one moment, all of the confusion, discomfort, and unhappiness made sense; I was trying to squeeze all of my interests, skills, and passions into one predetermined lane instead of allowing those very same things to lead me towards my actual destination. From there I was able to plot a new path which led me to change my major for the third and final time as well as starting my second business venture, LJ’s Midnight Munchies. Since then the ups and downs persist, but one thing that has come back to life and grown exponentially for me is the passion and love I have for what I wake up and do every day. Most call it entrepreneurship, I call it value and impact creation and I plan to continue this until it carries me to a new lifelong goal: starting an entrepreneurship-based elementary school in my father’s hometown of Nigeria.
Although I was lucky enough to receive the access, guidance, and knowledge needed to enter into the field of entrepreneurship, the majority of students are never given the chance. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Entrepreneurship & Future of Education Think Tank, 76% of students report being only slightly, if at all, familiar with or engaged in entrepreneurial learning experiences at their schools. In another study by the Young Entrepreneurs Council, it was found that 75% of college students indicate having no access to on-campus entrepreneurship resources. With around 20 million college students in the US alone, that means only 5 million have even been exposed to entrepreneurship and all that it has to offer. This isn’t to say that every student should learn entrepreneurship to become a lifelong entrepreneur; however, the skills and mindsets that are taught through entrepreneurship can be applied in almost every aspect of life. With the Institute for the Future predicting 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 not being invented yet, now is the time to begin incorporating entrepreneurship education into the minds and classrooms of our students, both young and old. There are many students in the world right now that feel as if their soft and hard skills are inadequate for the current workplace, let alone a workplace that has yet to be created. The current education system must see some sort of revision or reform so that we can ensure that the future for us and most importantly, our students are secure. If we can move swiftly with strategy, foresight, and solution-based thinking, we may be able to ensure a learning environment where students aren’t judged by their ability to climb a tree but rather are encouraged to choose what type of tree they want to plant in the first place.