story and photos by Ryan Saylor
Noble Impact brought its mission of engaging students to pursue public service as entrepreneurs to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith this week, culminating with a Friday afternoon (June 27) presentation of pitches from the students on how to solve real world problems currently being faced by businesses in the region.
Steve Clark, president of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics and founder of Noble Impact, said the idea for the non-profit organization came about as a result of a situation with one of his sons.
"I was having a conversation with my second child, my first son, about a grade that he was making in a class that wasn't satisfactory and it was a relatively simple class. And his point was there is no point. 'Dad, there's no point to this class. I'm not engaged,'" Clark recalled. "Then he said something I'll never forget. He said, 'Dad, if there's no purpose, then there's no reason.' So as any dad would, I'm looking at it through the lens of skepticism, he's a lazy 16-year-old. Or could it be an insight to a generation? I'm not saying there wasn't any of the first, but I'm saying there was more of the latter."
NOBLE IMPACT FORMATION
Clark came to realize that for his son and today's generation of students, it all comes down to engagement. Clark's son would engage in the classes he cared about, but sometimes did not find a reason for engagement in the classes he did not care about or did not think he would use later on. From there, Clark said he wanted to see what it would take to engage students and instill the values and skills necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs.
"Given the economy that we live in, what would it look like if we could push the tenets of entrepreneurialism upstream? Instead of looking at school like grade school, junior high, high school, college and OK, now I can do something, what if we said no? At 14, 15, these kids are very intelligent and the only thing they lack is life experience. So if I could impart to them the tenets of entrepreneurialism and then I could pair them with industry people that could provide the life experience, would that not add a flavor, a context, you know, some kind of perspective for them that they wouldn't have otherwise?"
The result is Noble Impact, a non-profit pushing those tenants of entrepreneurialism in partnership with the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service and the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.
Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson said the entire program is designed around engagement.
The program began as several one-week sessions with students and educators across the state that Wilson said is designed around the engagement that Clark said was missing for his son and others.
"Really, the heartbeat of our program is this bridge of engagement, right? Getting kids outside the classroom. The whole point is once you get outside the classroom, that's where experiential learning takes place. That's where you acquire knowledge-based skills and they begin to build a portfolio of experience that they can market themselves with beyond just a GPA."
‘CREATE PROBLEM SOLVERS’
Speaking with fervor, Wilson explains that he and his colleagues with Noble Impact were not just in Fort Smith to do another program, but they were here to "create problem solvers" among the next generation of community leaders.
Among the 42 Fort Smith students taking part in the Noble Impact sessions this week was Southside HIgh School Junior Logan Barnes, who was part of a group tasked with figuring out how to improve and streamline services at Mercy Hospital revolving around transportation of patients to and from the hospital and its clinics.
While hospital staff helped in explaining the problem to the group, it was up to the group to come up with the solution and Barnes said he was blown away to know that not only was his group helping to figure out a solution for the hospital, but it was real work that could yield not only results but a paycheck if he and others found workable solutions.
"This is a real thing. LIke we found out Wednesday … that if our solution calls for it, (we can) start a business," he said, adding a sound like an explosion while making a hand gesture. "It blows our minds, everyone's minds, that we can start a business and this is real-world stuff. This isn't why is the kite three meters long stuff like in math. This is real world solutions and our contribution to the community."
The solution Barnes and his teammates pitched to a panel of judges Friday afternoon laid out the group's proposal to create a shuttle program at the hospital that would transport non-serious patients to appointments and keep the ER free for the more serious patients in need of immediate treatment.
The presentation, made in front of more than 150 members of the community, family and friends, also included cost estimates to implement the solution, ranging from the cost of three shuttle vans (more than $75,000) to how to advertise the proposed service.
EXPANDING NOBLE IMPACT
While the judges ultimately selected as the best pitch another group that sold ABF Freight System on its plan to attract a younger group of drivers through a targeted social media campaign, getting out of the classroom and learning using new methods was an irreplaceable experience, according to Raefa Yasin, one of Barnes' teammates.
"I feel like it was a really good experience because I got to meet a whole bunch of new people and stepping outside of your comfort zone can sometimes be good because its like better for you. Sometimes you just need to get out there. You can't just stay around the same people all the time."
The next step in engaging students, Clark said, is bringing the Noble Impact instruction to more schools through curriculum under review by the Arkansas Department of Education.
While in a classroom setting, Clark said it would turn learning on its head for students and teachers while developing future entrepreneurs.
The class has already been taught at the eSTEM Charter School in central Arkansas and Clark says he hopes other schools will offer the class to their students.
But for now, Noble Impact Institutes similar to the one at UAFS this week will be bringing engagement to students across the state one week at a time.