How to Succeed in Life

05/01/2015 03:50 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2016

A Student's Perspective: Not Taking a Risk, Risks My Future: (Part 2 of a 2-part series on the 'Workforce of the Future')

Success in life can be viewed from two perspectives ─ top down or bottom up. We took a look at the school's role in the top down approach in Part 1 of this 2-part series on the "Workforce of the Future" and discussed tomorrow's job skills and the need to teach students to 'learn how to learn' as a critical guiding principle of learning.

We frequently hear what teachers and administrators think are the best paths for students to follow. How often do we put the students' perspectives about their future at the center of the public education debate?

I recently had the chance to talk with a graduate from one of the New Tech Network public district high schools. Griffin Sinn is a 21-year-old senior enrolled at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana, majoring in public financial management. He's also an accomplished entrepreneur with five patent-pending products.

Griffin is a 2012 graduate of Bloomington New Tech High School and credits his high school education with helping him develop the workforce skills that have directly contributed to his early career success in his various business endeavors.

We asked Griffin what advice he had for educators who are on the frontline to prepare students for 'tomorrow's' jobs in careers that might not even exist today. "Align 21st century skills with an ability to apply knowledge and teach students how to think critically and problem-solve," he said. "I never once wondered why I was learning something. I never was given 'busy work'. I never got a sheet of homework. High school should be teaching students how to learn and how to apply knowledge."

New Tech Schools from more than 130 districts and 23 charter organizations around the country work tirelessly to ensure every student graduates ready for a post-secondary path of his or her choosing. Partnering with teachers and administrators, we help provide students with rigorous and rich learning experiences aligned with state standards with major emphasis on the acquisition of academics, application of knowledge and the development of skills valued by employers.

When Griffin was asked about the key skills he learned while at Bloomington New Tech he said: "I learned collaboration, work ethic and communication ─ all skills that have prepared me for college and also for my business career," he said.

Griffin got the idea for one of his patented products while walking to class during an intense rainstorm. "I noticed that many bicycles had plastic grocery or trash bags covering the seats. It was obvious to me that some product was missing from the marketplace. That's how I got my idea for Cloak'd and created a cover ─ built-in to the bicycle seat ─ to keep the seats dry."

Griffin is currently participating in the first Entrepreneurship Lab at IU. "Through this lab, I was able to pitch my patent-pending bicycle seat to a group of students looking for work experience," he said.

As Griffin explained, this is one of the times where his New Tech high school experience was of significant benefit. "I don't think I would have been as successful pitching to the students (known as consultants) without the ability to communicate well with others ─ something I learned at Bloomington New Tech. I had to pitch and sell my product to get students interested in working on my team. None of this was guaranteed. There were other students who pitched their products and didn't get students to join them. I was fortunate to put together a team of five students to work on my business."

Griffin continued, "I was taught to communicate in high school by working in groups and presenting projects and ideas weekly. I was not initially comfortable with public speaking, but I increased my comfort level after presenting more than 100 projects."

One of the most important skills Griffin learned was problem-solving. "I see things and analyze them from the perspective of how to remedy a not-perfect solution," he said. "When I saw all those plastic bags on the bicycle seats in the rain, I knew this was not ideal. I needed to 'think out of the box.'"

Another instance of Griffin's innovative thinking was when he focused on manufacturing the bicycle seat covers. "We didn't have thousands of dollars to hire a traditional engineering firm, but we knew we needed expert advice before deciding on a final design for our seat covers. Because we didn't have the funds for traditional engineering firms, we had to explore other options as a means of solving this dilemma," said Griffin. Again, he had to "think out of the box."

Griffin collaborated with an engineering firm affiliated with the University to see if they could develop a creative way for Griffin to obtain the engineering services he needed while also providing some sort of 'return' for the engineering firm. Together, they devised workshops ─ where college students volunteer to work in teams and develop product designs. The students get design experience and Griffin only had to pay for materials. This was a 'win-win' for Griffin and his co-workers as well as the engineering firm and the participating student engineers.

Griffin will soon proceed to the next level of his bicycle seat business and launch a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign in mid-June.

While Griffin continues on his path to entrepreneurial success, he has this advice for high school students: "Take initiative and take advantage of everything offered by your school. Take as many college courses as you can. And take risks ─ because you're taking a risk if you're not taking a risk!"

As of this year, there are more than 53,000 students at New Tech schools who are embarked on learning paths like Griffin's. Imagine how we will all benefit from that many "Griffins" among us! Think of the innovative solutions to our problems (small and large) waiting to make their way into the world.