DECATUR – Aaron Potsick knows a teachable moment when he stumbles upon it.
During a presentation by Caterpillar Inc.'s Robert Scoville at SMASH Camp's energy sector session on Monday, when Scoville was describing the company's reclamation activities and he mentioned that some of the materials must be shipped to Champaign because no one in Decatur is equipped to handle it, Potsick jumped on it.
“There's a possible business opportunity,” he said to the middle school students who make up the SMASH campers. “You're hearing about all these big-time jobs and all the money it's saving these companies to reduce and reclaim these things, so part of this camp is to think about a future career. Lots of options.”
One of the things campers are doing is working on business pitches, Potsick said, and presenting them to the rest of the SMASH campers. SMASH is for gifted and talented Decatur middle school students and meets at Millikin University. The best business pitch at the end of the camp session in July will win $100.
Seventh-grader Zach Fuller, who attends Johns Hill Magnet School during the school year, makes no bones about it. He's hoping to win that cash. His idea, he said, is a remote-controlled car game center, though it's early in the camp session and his plans could change.
T.J. Williams, who will be a freshman at Okaw Valley High School, has a different plan. His is more community service-oriented, with neighborhood cleanup efforts.
Students visited Caterpillar's prairie grass plot at Pershing Road and North 27th Street and placed boxes around plants whose growth they will track over time.
On Monday, however, based on what Scoville told them about recycling everything at Caterpillar, from scrap metal to spray paint cans, Potsick wanted his students to use that presentation for inspiration for business pitches.
“We're the energy sector,” Potsick said. “But the whole camp is focused on entrepreneurship. So if they have a business idea and they want to move forward with it, it doesn't have to be in the energy sector. They're learning that business ideas have to have impact and have to be feasible.”
SMASH Camp doesn't have a theme, he said. The idea is to give the students the freedom to be as creative as they want to be.
“Whatever walls, whatever theme you have, we're going to break it,” he said.