High school students tackling large problems, present solutions to community leaders

CORALVILLE, Iowa (KCRG) - High school students from across eastern Iowa have spent months problem solving potential issues in the state.

Students present to a group of area business and community leaders at the University of Iowa Kirkwood Regional Center on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)

It has been a part of a class some students are taking through the STEM Innovator Business Innovation class through the Jacobson Institute at the University of Iowa.

Some of those students say after a full semester of research and culminating Tuesday with a final presentation, it was a much more complex class than what they signed up for, but it was a valuable experience.

For students like TJ Hansen, a junior at Clear Creek-Amana High School. they have been tasked with solving some serious problems, ranging from improving water quality in the state, anti-vaccination exemptions, child abduction, and decreasing property damage in parking lots.

"It's an entrepreneurial mindset," Hansen said. "Doing things on your own, discovering, getting data, collecting samples, stuff like that."

Those tough assignments came as a part of a class that is designed to get high school students to learn about key aspects of business and problem-solving.

"Those 21st-century skills, those soft skills that enable students to have a really successful career as soon as they're done with their education," Steven Davis, the course instructor, said. Davis is also the president and co-founder of Bio::Neos in Coralville.

Davis said choosing a potentially complex topic is by design of the course, which started in 2015.

"A lot of times we start out with a pretty complex topic mainly to give them that 'pie in the sky' thing to shoot for," Davis said.

All of the hard work from these students came to a conclusion on Tuesday, when the groups gave their pitches to area business and community leaders. For students like Hansen, it was a surreal experience, but one he knew he was ready for.

"I've always kind of dreamed of being a business major, having something of my own," Hansen said. "And this class, I really saw it as an intro, a step through the door to see what it's going to be like after high school."

Davis said the ultimate goal of the class was to show ways to improve problem-solving, but also to inspire a love for business.

"They figure out that any problem no matter how hard it is, they can make an impact if they find the right way to start," Davis said.

Davis said they are considering ways to expand the program to reach more students in the future.