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Writer  /  Kara Reibel
Photos Provided

Engage. Inspire. Empower.

Noblesville and Noblesville Schools are taking the administration’s mission statement for Noblesville Schools to heart and expanding their commitment to ingenuity by opening the Noblesville Innovation Center. This may be the first innovation center in the country run by students.

“70 percent of the jobs for the next decade do not exist yet,” says Innovations teacher and author Don Wettrick. “Our students will need to out-innovate the competition, not out-work it.”

The progressive decision to create a workplace hub for innovation run entirely by students was met with overwhelming support by the Mayor’s office and the community. With visionary schools, town leadership, a talent pool of local experts and a proven track record of internship success, Mayor Ditslear asked, “What can we do to help facilitate this?”

“By partnering with the community, we listen to the students and local businesses,” says Mayor Ditslear. “This move creates opportunities.”

“We are no longer in a knowledge economy but an innovation economy,” says Wettrick. “It’s not about what you know; it’s about what you can do with what you know.”

The shift from regurgitative learning to experiential learning is a major pivot for educational institutions, and Noblesville is leading the way with their approach. “We have taught kids to be professional students,” says Wettrick. “They must be thinkers, creators, innovators.”

Wettrick comes from a family of educators, so naturally he was averse to teaching. It was later that he realized he wanted to teach. He shared this pivot with his father who told him, “I don’t care if you teach for the next 20 years. Just don’t teach one year 20 times.”

Google’s Eight Innovation Principles are Focus on the user; Share everything; Open will win; Ideas can come from everywhere; Think big, but start small; Never fail to fail; Spark with imagination, fuel with data; Be a platform; and Have a mission that matters.

Current students of Wettrick’s Innovations class included senior Zach Baker, junior Sharia Patel and senior Jess Elliott who described the impact that the Innovations class has had on their educational experience.

On the first day, Wettrick told the class, “Find what you love and do it. Find what you are passionate about.” Patel asked, “Yes, but how do I get an A?”

Patel was intimidated, but she started a travel blog. However, being only 17 years old without having traveled extensively, she was encouraged to spread her voice to international issues. Wettrick assigned a project on the Syrian refugee crisis. Patel thought it was interesting, current and on the verge of our next world war. She interviewed the leader of Sons of Liberty, which trains Christian soldiers to fight ISIS. Her blog received over 1,000 views and a principal from South Dakota wanted to connect with her. Patel Skyped with seventh and eighth graders from South Dakota regarding her blog and interview.

Patel’s experience into this experiential learning module helped her discover what she is passionate about. Jess Elliott discovered her passion for light pollution.

During her junior year, Elliott traveled to Peru. The night sky was incredible, and the realization of the loss of the night sky due to light pollution in Indiana was evident. “It’s amazing to see how much of our natural beauty is masked by the light,” says Elliott.

Since her trip, Elliott has researched how some towns and cities had ordinances against open light with focus on lower only reflection. She started to connect with people and now has a friend in Arizona who works with Dark Skies Association. She discovered how light pollution affects the coasts, amphibians, birds, migration patterns and human health.

Locally, Elliott began working with people at Duke Energy. Along with their help, Elliott was able to submit a proposal to the City Council at Noblesville, which was accepted. Noblesville now has an ordinance that all lights have to be fully shielded. Elliott says it’s a small step, but those ripples create waves. Encouraged, Elliott will continue her mission by studying wildlife at Purdue University in the fall.

The Noblesville Innovation Center is student-centered, start-up minded and drives economic development. The goal is to be the center for innovation in both education and community development, creating a symbiosis between students and experts who learning with each other.

“There’s innovation everywhere,” Wettrick said. “You don’t have to be in California. Noblesville is leading the way to help change education.”

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