In an effort to get the conversation going about the challenges faced within America’s education system, Black Enterprise has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to host a panel discussion on Thursday, May 15, 2014 at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
Discussing how entrepreneurs can educate our children and profit from it, Black Enterprise has identified a group of leading entrepreneurs to sit on the panel and talk about how businesses and the education community can work together to help close the achievement gap among African American students, what can be done to get more kids interested in STEM and how we can promote the efforts of those seeking post-secondary education pursuits.
Among the speakers who will sit on the Black Enterprise-Gates Symposium, is Tech CEO/Founder of Classana, Will Lucas, who will serve as the panel’s moderator. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Lucas to get the inside scoop on how personal experiences led him to start Classana, why technology is important in the education system and why more entrepreneurs should get involved in the education market.
BlackEnterprise.com: What is Classana and how did it get started?
Classana is an educational resource discovery engine. It was developed out of a necessity. I ran my own business for several years now, and up until [recently] I didn’t have my college degree.
Two years ago, when I was pursuing my degree, a mentor of mine was asking why I was going to school since I owned my own business. I told him that essentially I wanted to finish what I started and I feel like people will respect me more with my degree. He then asked what I was going to do when I graduated. He said, “I’m not telling you not to go to school, but since you own your own business, I recommend you take classes that will specifically help you to get better at what you’re doing.” That made even more sense to me when he said take classes that will help you get better. At the time I wanted to be better at computer programming and the school I was in did not have the specific courses I was looking for and it’s a lot harder to pick and choose classes you need to take outside of a pre-requisite track. So I said there has got to be a better way for me to find classes and resources that can help me get better. Furthermore, I started to realize there were resources in my community and online that I could take outside of the traditional educational path that would help me get better and get the skills I needed that my college adviser didn’t even know about. So, that’s how the idea came in the beginning and our mission was to just help people find the resources that will help them get to the next step and what I found was that this wasn’t just my problem, but people all over the world were having this problem.
There was a story put out by Newsweek in September 2012 that said, “Is College a Lousy Investment?” And when I started Google searching, I found that everyone was doing searches about the dollar value of a college degree. I’m not anti-college at all, but I think the way we do it will have to change. So what [Classana] does in a nutshell is, based on your particular interests and experiences, it will recommend to you books that you should read, classes you should take, organizations you should join, and all of this will help focus you to get to the next step.
You talked about your interest in computers and we know that tech education is very important. What do you think can be done to help get more kids interested in STEM?
I think most kids are interested in computers, but the way we use them is not to make ourselves better. We use them more to play games and go to social networks. We don’t realize them as a potential resource to learn and be exposed to more things. The only part I would say is I wish we knew that we could use them to make the world smaller for ourselves. I can learn about anything in the world with the type of a few key strokes. And if we start to look at resources that are available to us beyond games and Facebook and realize there’s more available to [us] that break down the walls of access using the internet and using computers, I think we will be much better off.
Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs to make an investment in the education market?
I think it’s important because to be a successful entrepreneur you have to constantly be in a state of learning. It may not be college. The traditional path of college is not for everybody. For me specifically, college was because I was so close to finishing anyway. But at a macro level, I think it’s important because we need to be in a state of learning. So whether you’re enrolled in the traditional educational program, or taking classes on Khan Academy, or doing MIT online courseware, or reading books that make you get better, or whether you’re networking with the right groups of people, investing in continuous improvement is what’s important.
To learn more about Will Lucas and his thoughts on the education system, follow @blackenterprise as we live tweet from the Black Enterprise-Gates Symposium on May 15 and join the conversation using the hashtag #BeSmart.