13:24 PM

UST PIDD Entrepreneurship Classes Begin for Students Who Learn Differently

The GRACE Workshop Series at the University of St. Thomas-Houston is a pilot initiative designed to teach entrepreneurship and business skills to people with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities (PIDD). Each student has an idea for a business and is eager to learn how to make it a reality.

The FREE workshops are taught by Patrick Woock, director of The McNair Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and Dr. Tera Torres, chair of the Kolbe School Pragmatic Studies Program.

Flexible Program Structure Supports Multiple Learning Styles

The 10 three-hour sessions leverage different modalities to support all learning styles. Woock said he uses lectures with PowerPoint, reinforced by hands-on activities, which can be more like gaming. He also employs thought-provoking exercises to communicate and embed learning.

“Teaching entrepreneurship is like crossing the river and feeling the stones” Woock described. “The students show us what they want to learn; we shift our lessons to meet their interests and readiness.”

For instance, the first lesson asked students to go out and talk to people. The students let Woock know they were not yet ready for that stage in the process.

Woock said, “I had to step back and realize what it’s like to be in their shoes and be in uncomfortable social situations. So, we decided to practice pitching. That way, the students become comfortable with the process. After practicing, the students were more willing to go out and connect with people, just like entrepreneurs do.”

“A Real Opportunity”

In addition to idea pitching, students will also learn digital skills, storyboarding and interviewing. They can apply these to their entrepreneurial ideas.

“They are super creative and have such good ideas,” Torres said. “One wants to manufacture light sabers. Others want to create a journalism pool to report stories that need crystallizing, start a fashion company, and develop a ranch-hand business. This workshop is a real opportunity for them to master real-world skills. One said to me, ‘I always wanted to open a gym, and now I know how to do it.’”

Entrepreneurship Students Develop Skills and Confidence

Woock explained, “They feel their entrepreneurship in their bones, and you can see it.”

Torres added, “In the past, they never thought their ideas were valid. But now, when they introduce themselves, they say, ‘My name is …. And I’m an entrepreneur.’”

The “Grace” series was inspired by a similar program at a sister school in Argentina. The UST classes open doors to more possibilities for people who manage challenges such as ADHD, dyslexia and anxiety. The current cohort will wrap up before Thanksgiving. More information on the PIDD Initiative can be found here.