In September, Nelnet participated in a Youth Entrepreneurship Clinic (YEC) hosted by faculty from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The program drew Lincoln-area high school students who wanted to enhance their entrepreneurial skills.

The students were divided into different groups and paired with local businesses. From there, the businesses tasked the students with a challenge their company is facing, and the students had 13 weeks to present a solution.

Nelnet Managing Director Chuck Norris led the initiative between the students and Nelnet, and presented them with a unique challenge that he’s wanted to solve for a while.

“Our project was something that I wanted to get done for a really long time, which is getting everybody’s pictures on the [Nelnet] Portal,” Chuck said. “So I figured, okay, let’s just make this the project and see if we can move the needle.”

The Nelnet Portal is an online resource where all Nelnet associates can keep up to date on all things company related. The Portal also includes an associate directory where they can easily contact one another if needed. By putting faces to names, Chuck believes it’ll be easier for associates to get to know one another.

He wanted to see if students could come up with a simple tool that could successfully integrate and streamline the process of getting everyone’s photo on the Portal. For all 13 weeks, Chuck met with the students each weekend to check on their progress and assist them as needed. He was very impressed with how eager and determined his team of students were when it came to attacking the task at hand.

“It’s super impressive to see really smart kids who, [if] they want to go get something done, [they will] go get something done,” Chuck said. “That’s the last thing I was thinking about in high school.”

Even though Chuck and his team of students couldn’t come up with a final solution due to the limited amount of time they had together, the experience both parties had was more than beneficial.

“They do end up knocking down barriers,” Chuck said. “Just by the exercise of doing it, we learned a bunch of things we didn’t know before. So to me there’s now a template for getting this done, and whatever barrier was there before is becoming less and less.”

Nonetheless, the overall initiative was to give the students experience.

“Really, in the end, the goal of the project is have the students learn how to interact with a corporation and try to build something useful,” Chuck said. “And I think from that standpoint they were successful.”

The Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics were started by UNL Assistant Professor Surin Kim and three other faculty members in 2017. The original goal of the program was to give students in rural areas the chance to experience entrepreneurship, even though resources available to them may be scarce.

In a recent Silicon Prairie article highlighting the event and the program, Surin talked about how she hopes programs like the clinics will motivate people to stay in Nebraska.

“A lot of bright young people are the ones who leave the state,” Kim said in the article. “We created this program to increase the social connection between businesses and youth in a different engagement framework.”

Chuck agrees, and he hopes that the program keeps seeking talented and driven students who are self-starters.

“One thing that I did tell Surin was to try to find students who are super smart but don’t have access,” Chuck said. “Because that’s how they’re going to get out of a situation, or get into a situation that will help them be successful.”

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