COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech University’s campus has become home to 30 of the brightest high school juniors and seniors in the state who are interested in business, innovation and technology. During the month of June, the students are living on campus while learning from university professors and business leaders during the Governor’s School for Technological Innovation and Business Leadership.
“It brings students together from all across the state of Tennessee who may not have had any previous college exposure,” said Susan Wells, director of the program and a lecturer in Tech’s decision sciences and management department. “It gives them exposure to not only the idea of college but also to different types of people, as well as showcasing Tennessee Tech and Cookeville because we take them out into the community.”
Students go to classes during the weekdays, taking courses on topics such as financial management; business law and ethics; and problem-solving and critical thinking. While doing this, they form groups to design a technologically innovative product and develop a business plan for a business to develop and market the product. Each team films a commercial for their business concept and the videos are sent to professionals across the country who judge their work and decide which companies they think are the most viable.
“We get some pretty impressive work,” Wells said. “Years and years ago, there was a group who invented what was basically the cloud, but they didn’t know it was the cloud at the time. It was a product that would upload your vacation photos to a safe location and allow you to continue taking photos with your camera without worrying about getting a full digital card.”
They’ve also had students who conceptualized an early version of a Kindle-like e-reader, and more recently, a sticker applied to the skin that would tell the wearer when it was time to apply sunscreen.
“The winners get a certificate for their work and everyone who participates in the program earns three hours of college credit,” Wells said.
While in this intensive program, students are learning from Tech professionals such as Charria Campbell, Director of Multicultural Affairs; Rob Owens, Chief Diversity officer; Karen Lykins, Chief Communication Officer; and Seth Williams, lecturer in decision sciences and management, as well as community leaders.
On the evenings and weekends, the students are treated to trips to places such as the zoo, a skating rink and the pool. A recent anonymous donor has enabled the addition of a trip to a Sounds game and a day at Dollywood to the schedule.
It is through both the work and the recreation that students are not only learning real-world skills but also making lasting relationships. Wells says that after one particular student suffered a medical emergency during a recent outing, the other students bombarded her with texts messages asking how she was feeling while she was in the hospital.
“That girl said to me, ‘I would have never imagined that all these people I met five days ago would care this much about me.’ They get really close to one another and honestly, we get close to them as counselors and mentors and we just cry when they leave,” Wells said. “Governor’s School is a labor of love and it makes such an impact on everyone involved.”