AACT students earn third place in national competition

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 9:32 AM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A group of eight students from the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology is earning national praise for their submission into the Intuit Social Innovation Challenge.

“Information can be found, but the networking and the connections you make, that can be invaluable,” said senior Williams Vavra.

That was the theory behind their plan to increase access to entrepreneurship by holding a conference for business owners from minority and underrepresented groups.

“Entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners can come together in their community and network and get the knowledge and materials and resources and financial aid that they need in order to plan, open and continue a successful business in our community,” explained senior Jessica Kurowski.

In order to do that, they invited local small business owners to a banquet on campus, so they could meet and discuss some of the barriers to their success. And the judges were impressed, awarding AACT’s team first place in their region and third overall in the national competition.

“When all of our judges went and looked at the Washoe County team, they really thought wow this team has gone out and made a real impact in their community,” said Nico Valencia, the Head of Innovation for Intuit’s corporate responsibility team. “They’re not just talking about it, they’re actually doing it.”

Doing it is part of the curriculum at AACT, where students learn through a simulated workplace environment, working in places like the student store and the kitchen. Which often gives them an advantage over other high school kids entering college or the workforce.

“They’re continuously exercising those skills that we want them to have in the 21st century workplace. Those skills of communication of creativity of critical thinking,” said Josh Hartzog, the Director of Signature Academies and Career Technical Education in the Washoe County School District.

The students each earned $2,000 in scholarships and a trip to MIT, where they attended the Solve conference, meeting with a diverse group of industry leaders who are actively coming up with ways to solve important social issues, like access to clean water and energy.

“Having that much knowledge in one area is a little intimidating, but it’s really awesome,” added Kurowski.

And they discovered in many ways, the collection of elite thinkers there, are a lot like they are.

“Letting us realize that this is basically what MIT is looking for, what these events are looking for in students, is what we’re doing,” added Vavra.

The students now plan to host an actual conference, implementing the things they learned from the banquet, to try and help people here in our community.

“We always hear things like oh kids these days. Well no, kids these days are amazing,” stressed Matt MacKay, the coordinator for Career and Technical Education in the Washoe County School District. “The contributions that they make to society are above and beyond anything I ever could have imagined.”

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