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Elevate helps educate Craig High entrepreneurs

Caitlyn Dickman never planned to become a captain of industry. The Craig High School junior and self-described “arty kid” instead had her sights set on a career as a creative.

When she realized she could do both, she decided to get down to business. Literally.

“I had taken some business courses during my freshman year, and I really wanted to find a way to combine my art talent with my business talent,” Dickman said. “That’s why I joined Elevate.”

An education capstone program focused on global business, Elevate immerses qualified juniors and seniors at Craig into executive environments to help them gain valuable hands-on work experience in the field.

“Through Elevate, I’ve learned a lot, like how to work the stock market, different kinds of IRAs … even how to file taxes,” Dickman said. “A lot of personal finance classes don’t give you as deep a look at our economy or go as far into explaining how it works.”

The rigorous one-year program consists of three segments: business-specific classes as part of a traditional school curriculum, pairing with a mentor employed in the student’s chosen career field and a pair of 8- to 10-week business projects involving local companies or organizations.

Even the enrollment process is a nod to the working world, as students must apply for admission and take part in interviews to be selected. This year, 31 made the cut.

“We want to make sure they are a good fit and that they understand our expectations,” said Brandon Miles, a business education teacher at Craig. “We liken (Elevate) to an AP course in terms of time. It’s not necessarily the same difficulty in terms of curriculum, but you’re spending a lot of time solving real-world problems with your companies. And if your business project has a deadline, you have to get it done whether it’s before or after school. Whatever it takes.”

Along with Miles, the Elevate staff consists of Craig Assistant Principal Shawn Kane, social studies teacher Fritz Elsen and English teacher Cindi Haberkorn. 

The idea for the program formed in 2017, when Kane saw a presentation about a similar initiative at Pewaukee High School. The two schools now partner and have held case study competitions in the past. Another is planned for April.

What sets Elevate apart from other school business programs is its mentorship component. Since launching Elevate three years ago, staff has developed a base of professional advisors that continues to evolve with individual student interests. 

Along with expertise and business savvy, Elevate’s mentors provide supplemental benefits that extend far beyond the program.

“We’ve had a lot of mentors write letters of recommendation for kids, help them with school and offer career planning,” Miles said. “It’s a good network of people who have been gracious enough to give their time and energy. We definitely have some dedicated folks.”

To complement the mentorship aspect, Elevate students also help develop complex projects that result in countless unteachable experiences. 

Senior Quin Studer didn’t fully understand how involved some facets of business were until he started working with the Business Alliance, a downtown Janesville startup that would offer co-working spaces for at-home workers and entrepreneurs.

“It’s unique from the other projects because, usually, you work with a business that’s already started,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is primary and secondary research to see if this is worth developing and why we should be developing it.

“I’ve learned there is a lot more background work to running a business other than just basic needs such as marketing, sales and finance,” he added. “And there’s a lot more to business than just making money. One of the most important things is having people around you and growing your circle, because that’s what the whole thing is about.”

Within Elevate’s advocacy base is Janesville School Board member Michelle Haworth, who is volunteering this year as a project mentor on a school district daycare project. Haworth saw the program’s impact firsthand through her daughter, Aubrey – a former Elevate participant.

“(Aubrey) was on three different projects,” Haworth said. “She worked on ARISE, a brewery project and she got exposure to (the medical field through) Mercy as the first intern they had. She got to explore different careers to see what she really enjoyed doing.”

Now a student at UW-La Crosse, Aubrey plans to pursue a career in medicine. Her experience with Elevate directly influenced that decision.

“(Aubrey) called Gunderson Clinic (in La Crosse) to see what they had open and explained her experience at Mercy,” Haworth said. “When they heard she had Epic (software) experience, they slid her right in. She had an offer that afternoon. That was because of what she got to do at Mercy.”

“(Aubrey) wants to be a physician assistant or a pediatrician, so she’s going to continue on with grad school, and La Crosse has a strong (physician assistant) program,” she added. “And having the Gunderson network right there, she can always stay within that and be in line for a job, potentially.”

Haworth believes Elevate holds similar promise for other students who seize the opportunity to enroll.

“We are so fortunate to have Elevate, and the community has really embraced it,” she said. “Students are making an impact in their community and are getting exposure to many careers and people. Wherever they go, they will have those resources for their entire lives.”

Students interested in learning more about Elevate and professionals interested in offering their services as mentors are encouraged to email Kane at skane@janesville.k12.wi.us.