A group of UNC Chapel Hill students passed up typical summer jobs in recent months to labor in the basement of the UNC’s journalism school developing entrepreneurial ideas to improve the North Carolina court system, digitize classroom debates and help Realtors sell more homes.
They’re part of the three-year-old Reese News Lab, a School of Media and Journalism initiative to develop new business models for the modern media world. Only students “who are willing to run through walls, stand up and take another run when they get knocked down” are accepted into the program, says the lab’s executive director, John Clark. They are paid a stipend for their work.
“We look for students all over the university who are passionate about the future of the media industry and want to explore every single avenue possible for how the industry could grow,” he says.
Once accepted, they are presented challenges and asked to come up with solutions. From a pool of potential ideas, they team up and decide on one to further develop.
Three teams of 11 students participated in the program this summer. And last week, an audience gathered at Carroll Hall to listen to their pitches.
RUMBLE! concluded the pitches by introducing a web-based game to help middle school, high school and college educators facilitate engaging classroom discussion. With the game, teachers can initiate a debate by creating topics and then assigning some students as debators to argue a position and others to vote on the quality of the arguments. A dashboard helps monitor the students’ performance. The game costs $1 per student, an amount the students believe school districts can afford. RUMBLE! could help teachers have more productive class discussions and students consider various positions of a particular issue and learn to state constructive and logical arguments. The team’s goal is to improve the quality of public discourse by starting in the classroom.
Clark likes the idea of using the product as a way to engage students with teachers in a productive way, but “the idea has a tricky market and the ball is in the team’s court right now to get the job done and get the product out there,” he says.
Though the internship has ended, the students’ work has just begun. After the pitch event, students will review comments from the audience and decide if they want to transform their ideas into companies. Some do, some don’t, Clark says. Others, like the women launching Driven Media this week, do something entrepreneurial down the road after getting the Reese experience.
The entrepreneurial process is messy with extreme highs and lows, Clark says. But Reese News Lab students don’t seem to want to give up.
“In spite of the uncertainty and ambiguity always present, they keep digging around for solutions,” Clark says. “That’s the attitude we can’t get enough of in the media.”