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At-risk students and small businesses in San Antonio will be getting a head start on success thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to an education/business partnership headed by the Texas Engineering Extension Service.

The two-year grant will be used to provide computer training to at-risk high school students, especially single mothers, in the Edgewood Independent School District. These students will use their training to help develop e-commerce for small businesses located in economically depressed areas of San Antonio, said Gary Meaney of TEEX.

“Our goal is to help at-risk students gain marketable skills while helping small businesses enter the e-commerce marketplace,” Meaney said. “We are using a community-team approach to help these small businesses survive and grow. We will train, motivate and deploy teams with a can-do attitude who are willing to learn new skills and put them to use in their own community.”

Five Technology Business Assistance Teams will be formed each year to help small businesses compete using e-commerce. Each team will include two school-age mothers and two other Edgewood students along with two students majoring in e-commerce at Our Lady of the Lake University. The team will have an adult mentor from TEEX or one of the other partners in the grant.

Free child care and transportation will be provided for the at-risk students, and they will get paid for 240 hours of work, Meaney said.

“It’s all about the kids,” Meaney said. About 90 percent of the students in the Edgewood School District are considered economically disadvantaged and the high school drop-out rate exceeds 50 percent. Both Edgewood and Our Lady of the Lake University are Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), he added.

Partners in the project are TEEX, Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), Edgewood ISD and TEKSA Innovations Corp., a San Antonio-based technology business incubator. The project coordinator is the Technology and Economic Development Division of TEEX. Supporting organizations include the Career Advancement and Applied Technology Training Division of TEEX, which will provide the at-risk students with basic computer classes.

“We plan to seek out entrepreneurial groups within the Edgewood and San Antonio community and help them to establish and grow viable businesses that involve e-commerce as either an end product/service or a key enabling technology. TEKSA is a virtual business accelerator/incubator without walls and can therefore assist emerging firms located anywhere in the community,” he explained.

“Our Lady of the Lake University and TEKSA are doing great things for the folks in San Antonio, and we are proud to be part of these efforts with them,” he added.

“This is a prototype for more ambitious things in the future,” said Dr. Lois Graff, dean of the OLLU School of Business. “Big movements occur when different people come together and that is what this is all about.”

The grant was one of 24 “Partnerships for Innovation” awarded by the National Science Foundation to projects in 20 states and Puerto Rico. The new NSF program is designed to help build creative interactions in local communities between colleges and universities, government agencies, foundations and private corporations with the goal of advancing local economic and educational opportunities.

“This endeavor is one of numerous partnering initiatives ongoing between the Texas Engineering Extension Service and the greater San Antonio area with the intent to improve the quality of life for underserved people in San Antonio,” said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, director and CEO of TEEX and a principal investigator on the grant.

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