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Special School District of St. Louis County

South Tech Design & Entrepreneurship program turns students into entrepreneurs

The Design & Entrepreneurship program classroom at SSD’s South Technical High School is much more of a lab than a classroom. Rather than walking into a room with rows of desks facing a blackboard, you walk into a room with several different workspaces.

On your right, you hear the methodical buzzing of the 3D printer hard at work. A student stands watch as the printer slowly builds a prototype of the latest project. You make a left and you walk by a series of smaller rooms—mini conference rooms with glass windows—where a pair of students are brainstorming by writing with a dry-erase marker on a specially painted wall.

Then you see the program facilitator, Albie Mitchell. Facilitator may be the perfect description for Mitchell. He’s not lecturing in front of the class. Rather he’s moving from student to student, asking probing questions and challenging them to imagine a solution that doesn’t yet exist.

“It is a brand new program that combines a business incubator with a maker space,” Mitchell said. “What we’re trying to do is to create a studio culture here, which borrows from design and studio art, and infusing it with hands-on projects where students learn by making things in a very tactile kind of way.”

Students are charged with identifying a problem, imagining a solution to the problem and then producing prototypes of that solution.

“There’s an emphasis on using digital tools—like computer design software—to figure out what our design is and then tools like 3D printers and laser cutters to basically create very precise and refined outputs from that,” Mitchell said.

Alex Bird, a junior at South Tech, is developing a sensory pen for students with autism.

“We start with coming up with a problem area and trying to come up with a solution for that problem,” Alex said. “I started brainstorming ideas and realized there are lots of sensory toys and fidget toys. I decided it would be nice if you could combine the uses of a pen and fidget toy,” he said.

Alex is currently in the prototyping phase of his project.

“I’ve been 3D printing some models and working on getting a patent,” Alex said. “Then, I’m moving into making molds and casting plastic for the pens.”

The students also work on class-wide projects in collaboration with other programs at South Tech. Last fall, the Design & Entrepreneurship program designed a building sign. The auto body program was assigned the paint work and the welding program welded the sign frame.

Last spring, students in the program collaborated with the carpentry program and the veterinary assistant program on designing a chicken coop.

“We’ve modeled the situation among these three programs where we’re building a chicken coop and yard for the veterinary assistant program,” Mitchell said. “The veterinary assistant program is the client, (the Design & Entrepreneurship program) is the architect and will design the coop and the carpentry students are the general contractor.”

This collaboration allows each program to focus on its individual areas of expertise, while gaining experience working with outside clients and contractors.

“That’s modeling a real-life situation where everybody can learn about translating the needs of a client into a real solution,” Mitchell said. “We have to share our design ideas with the carpentry students and they have to ask questions, ask for clarification and offer other solutions that we may not have considered.”

The 2016-2017 school year was the first for the Design & Entrepreneurship program, and it’s expected to grow.

“We’re looking for students who are curious and creative, which I think is actually most people,” Mitchell said. “One of the great things about the individual projects is students can insert their own interests and passions into what they do, then they can work that into a physical and real solution.”

arrow icon For more information about the Design & Entrepreneurship program, contact the South Tech admissions office at

Published September 2017

A student in the Design & Entrepreneurship program at South Technical High School works on a project.A student in the Design & Entrepreneurship program at South Technical High School works on a project.

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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