Inspiring innovation: New Westfield High School program gives students real-world experience

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Rupp Insurance Director Jill Paris, assistant Melea Hart and Emma Backie work together at Rupp Insurance. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

A team of Westfield educators has created a new program aimed at connecting students with real-world jobs to gain experience and work on a freelance basis.

Fugate

Westfield High School teacher and entrepreneur Craig Fugate, innovation specialist Joel Bruns and WHS video production and mass media teacher John Oestreich are the creators of the program Innovate Westfield. Bruns also created the Idea Farm, a makerspace at WHS.

“We started the website originally to showcase student work to help the community realize what skills our students have and what abilities they have and cool stuff they get to do on Rock TV or creating stuff or interviewing people,” Fugate said. “We were talking, and a few kids started doing some work for local businesses.”

Bruns

Now, several local businesses have begun hiring out work to students – most of which can be done on a freelance basis. Kids are paid for work in the fields they are actually interested in instead of working in traditional teen occupations such as restaurants or retail.

Innovate Westfield connects students with businesses that need employees with certain skills, like app design and marketing. Emma Backie, a 16-year-old junior, took advantage of the program and began working with Rupp Insurance in Carmel. She handles the business’s social media marketing.

“I was automatically really intrigued,” Backie said of the program. “I thought this opportunity would be great to earn some extra cash and get that experience that other people may not be getting.”

Oestreich

Backie wants to attend Columbia College Chicago to major in marketing and minor in fashion merchandising.

“We want to find ways for students to do work that is related to the career they want,” Bruns said. “We want to prepare them for their career. Career readiness is a big push.”

Local businessman Curt Whitesell uses the program for his realty business, WKRP Indy.

“So, I see a need for startup advertising marketing services. If someone can work for a less cost and can build just as good of an app, instead of someone in the community having to spend $20,00,0 which nobody can, I can hire a guy for $2,500, which is a lot of money, and he gets great experience to build an app,” Whitesell said. “It gives experience. It’s a real-life application.”

Whitesell

Innovate Westfield is still searching for businesses and students to participate in the program. If a student shows interest, WHS teachers interview them to connect them with the best opportunities. First, students fill out an interest form detailing what skills they are talented in, such as graphic design, app development, photography and more.

“We always hear about soft skills and the need for students to develop soft skills – grit and those sorts of things,” Bruns said. “I think this is a perfect opportunity for developing those because they’re developing in connection to the field (students are) interested in.”

For students or businesses interested in taking part in Innovate Westfield, or to learn more, visit innovatewestfield.org.

Luke Prather, left, is a Westfield High School student utilizing the Innovate Westfield program. He works for Curt Whitesell, a local businessman, right. (Submitted photo)

Mixing school and business

In an attempt to bring WHS and the business community together, the Westfield Innovation Contest will return for its third year. Students create a business idea, individually or in groups, and then pitch it to a panel of judges. The winning student or group receives $500 cash and $1,000 to invest in their business.

The event is similar to the television show “Shark Tank.”

“Innovate Westfield is a big umbrella capturing everything we try to do to help kids get real-world experience. Instead of just book learning, we want the hands-on type of learning,” Innovate Westfield co-founder Craig Fugate said.

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