Five teams from New Haven’s Hill Regional Career High School competed for the $500 Heller Prize for Community Innovation at the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design on March 30. For the 21 high school juniors and seniors competing, this represented the culmination of eight weeks of instruction on social entrepreneurship taught by InnovateHealth Yale, a Yale program that leverages entrepreneurship and innovation to promote health and prevent disease.

According to Cassandra Walker Harvey, associate director of social entrepreneurship at the YEI, the class of 21 was divided into five teams. Each team picked a topic to work on and developing a project for social innovation. Harvey noted that student topics addressed problems ranging from homelessness to eating habits to cultural competency. After eight weeks of course work, the teams presented their final projects at the CEID before a judging panel that included Assistant Director of the CEID Joseph Zinter GRD ’11.

“The goal was to give them social entrepreneurship skills that would enable them to create an impact in their own communities,” Harvey said of the curriculum, which is called “See Something, Do Something.”

According to Onyeka Obiocha, social entrepreneurship fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, the program began after InnovateHealth Yale received a grant from the Aetna Foundation — a corporate foundation dedicated to promoting high-quality health care. With the grant funding, InnovateHealth Yale created a “social enterprise curriculum” to teach high school students how to identify problems in their community and develop sustainable solutions.

Obiocha added that Yale undergraduates, graduate students, along with staff and faculty collaborated in developing and teaching the curriculum.

“A lot of the students in New Haven Public Schools are in generic classes,” said Emily Chu ’19, who taught the social entrepreneurship curriculum and has also taught “design thinking” courses at Yale. “What’s great about [Hill Regional Career High School] and some of the other magnet schools is that they allow students to specialize. That specialization allows them to bring in groups like InnovateHealth Yale and Aetna to teach something ‘off-the-wall.’”

Chu emphasized the focus on the New Haven community, noting that the high school students have lived in New Haven their entire lives and are therefore most qualified to create solutions.

According to Harvey, Hill Regional Career High School was chosen for the program because of their affiliation with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. The late Jonathan Heller, who taught business at Hill Regional Career High School, was trained with NFTE. However, he passed away during the summer months.

Initially, the program was slated to be an after-school program, but in the time between Heller’s death and the hiring of a new business teacher, the IHY instructors taught the curriculum during the school day. The prize is named in Heller’s honor.

Despite InnovateHealth Yale’s usual focus on issues related to health disparities, the curriculum was broad in nature.

“We went beyond the scope of health,” Obiocha said. “We want to identify and solve problems and develop solutions that have a social impact, regardless of whether it is health-related.”

According to Obiocha, the winning team was La Familia, a team that focused on solving the issue of teen violence. Obiocha described how the students in La Familia developed a peer-led after school program to engage students in “more wholesome activities rather than being on the street and being up to no good.”

“La Familia had a great concept,” Obiocha said. “Because of a student who passed away earlier in their high school careers, they focused on teen violence. They realized that teens’ biggest influence are other teens. In order for them to be successful, they need to be given the opportunity to do something else besides being on the street and engaging in violent acts.”

Chu noted that some students in the program are interested in potentially pursuing these projects full-time or taking similar classes the following year.

Moving forward, Harvey said that InnovateHealth Yale hopes to develop a national program in the next few years, adding that next year, they anticipate expanding the pilot to other New Haven high schools, including the Metropolitan Business Academy. By the third year, they hope to have teachers in the high schools themselves who are trained to teach the curricula, rather than bring in InnovateHealth Yale instructors.

Hill Regional Career High School is located at 140 Legion Ave.a