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Finding Purpose & a Paycheck through Near-Peer Mentorship

Finding Purpose & a Paycheck through Near-Peer Mentorship

September marks my twelfth month as a peer mentor at Teen Innovators, and I have learned so much from my experience with this wonderful company. When I first heard about Teen Innovators, I wondered what it was and why I should join. What stood out for me was that Teen Innovators is a company run by teens and for teens. We, the peer mentors, meet virtually, one-on-one with younger teens in middle school and high school. We strive to meet the student where they are, whether on a connection or leadership track. Meeting via Zoom, we discuss anything from what high school life is like, to how to reduce the amount of plastic used every day. Teen Innovators is a welcoming and inspiring space for young teens to both develop their big ideas about how to make the world a better place, and also connect with peer mentors, whose closeness in age facilitates a quick connection, and the opportunity to learn more about what’s to come in near-future years.

Meeting with these younger teens has had a profound effect on me during these past several months. Through our meetings, I have formed meaningful bonds with the younger teens. Recently, I was able to help guide two students through their participation in the Chicago Student Invention Convention. We met weekly to discuss their inventions and polish their presentations. When meeting with another student, we discussed ways to promote more racial equality in the world on both a large-scale level and a day-to-day basis. I also met with a teen on the connection track, and we had a lovely conversation, sharing funny stories from school and discussing our hobbies.

Through these experiences, I was surprised at how much I have developed both personally and professionally. By meeting with teens and guiding our conversations, I have become immensely more comfortable talking with new people. I have grown in confidence by sharing at our free-to-the-public ‘Tuesdays with Teen Innovators’ sessions. I have also learned what it takes to begin and maintain a startup company, such as the importance of communication and planning that has been key for keeping Teen Innovators running and growing, especially in this virtual world. I have also developed skills in marketing and learned that keeping up with trending TikToks is not as easy as it sounds! Through both the business and mentoring aspects of the company, Teen Innovators has created a space for me to grow as a leader, as well as make a significant impact on younger teens’ lives.

My time at Teen Innovators has taught me the value of feeling fulfilled and on-purpose in my work. Ultimately, that feels like success to me. Helping younger teens as they look for their own sense of fulfillment and purpose in life, while experiencing that for myself, has been the biggest gift of all.


How To Inspire The Next Generation of Teen Innovators

How To Inspire The Next Generation of Teen Innovators

Today’s most successful entrepreneurs think up completely new ways of executing business that often disrupt the status quo. They have the resilience and gain the resources it takes to innovate. By looking to them, we are able to gain an understanding of what it takes to create success in the modern world.

Startup thinking is a crucial skill that can be developed to help young people become the change-makers and success stories of tomorrow. You can invest in your child’s future by helping them look at the world in ways that allow them to unleash their true creative potential.

The economy is changing rapidly, and a future workforce that produces rewarding careers and a thriving economy is developing. Our children need access to the tools needed to meet the challenges and reap the new opportunities presented, and this level of executive functioning is not taught in school.

Heather E. McGowan, future of work strategist, author, and advisor posits that our new emerging economy requires an ‘internally validated identity born of self-awareness and coupled with learning agility and adaptability,’ which points to re-imagining education. Teen Innovators works to bridge the gap, by fostering and encouraging an innovative mindset in young teens and tweens, through mentorship and leadership classes led by highly-accomplished older teens.


Encourage your child to develop a startup mindset
Through our work with curious young problem-solvers, we’ve compiled these 5 key components of a startup mindset that you can begin to encourage in your child:


Over the past two decades, Elon Musk has launched several multibillion-dollar companies such as PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. His success as a serial entrepreneur follows an eventful childhood in which a young Musk played with homemade rockets, and coded his own video games.

Ideation and problem solving begins with fostering a curious mindset. If your child is one of those who asks never-ending questions, try not to shut them down. Encourage them by saying, “good question,” and then recommending they do some research on the topics that most interest them. Suggest that they report back to you 3 new things on the topic, to keep it simple and actionable.


Encourage optimism and ideation with the idea that the universe is filled with infinite possibilities. Try not to shut down their problem-solving ideas. Even Jeff Bezos thought it was only 30% possible that Amazon would succeed.

Entrepreneurs of today must remain open to possibilities, or they risk shutting down their own ideas before they even see the light of day. Suggest they keep a journal of new ideas and issue solutions. On down days, instead of scrolling social, suggest they review their idea journal to see if anything new arises.


Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative. Showing kids an example of a disruptive business, such as Airbnb can be helpful, as a way of showing them how applying new technologies can create a completely new business model that requires very little overhead expense.


Life is one big persuasive argument, and people who approach life with the most confidence are much more likely to get what they want. Encourage your child to release the need to be certain, and really believe in themselves. It’s natural for us to have fears, and successful innovators know how to move past them and continue on their path to success. Even something as simple as the now-famous “power pose,” can help your child overcome anxiety and regain self-confidence ahead of an important meeting, test, presentation or event.


Jeff Bezos famously said, “People who are right a lot, they listen a lot, and people who are right a lot, change their mind a lot.” Innovators have to be open to new ideas and to changing their minds. Innovation starts with a great idea, yet startup thinking requires adaptability to make any changes that are necessary for success. It takes a balance of both conviction and openness. Explain this distinction to your child, and ask them to explain it back to you.


Inspiring your child’s innovative mindset
Now that you know how true innovators and disruptors will be the big success stories of tomorrow, here are our 3 top tips to OIL your child’s innovative mindset.


Notice what makes him curious, what he’s drawn to and passionate about, and what problems or issues are particularly upsetting or disturbing to him. Try not to let your own beliefs, preferences, and experience influence their passions. This can be tough, because we adults have our own ideas about success, and sometimes want to live vicariously through our kids.

Young minds have the flexibility to disrupt old ways of doing things, and that is the type of thinking that is most beneficial to nurture. Our peer mentors are trained to let our younger students lead the direction of their mentor sessions, following their interests and passions.


Talk to your child as much as you can about their areas of interest, and encourage them to develop possible solutions. Point to young people who have had success in a similar field. Showing them other young people who are already creative entrepreneurs can show them what is possible.

Limitations are the mind’s biggest enemy. By inspiring your child and showing her what’s possible, you will encourage the best kind of entrepreneurial mindset. Our peer mentors are trained to validate ideas, by offering a “Yes, And” approach to them.


Really be present with your child. Try to sit down for at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to ask them questions, and don’t offer solutions right away. If they’re ‘stuck,’ be sure to offer more than one idea, so there’s still a choice your child can make. By doing this, you’re teaching them discernment and critical thinking, as well as introducing decision-making skills, all key to success in today’s environment. Our peer mentors utilize an ideation funnel process to help them ideate and then narrow the scope of potential solutions to focus on and develop.


We hope you will try some of these tips for fostering an innovative mindset in your child. We’d love to hear your success stories and other ideas about how to encourage startup thinking!


Christine Hutchison is a serial entrepreneur, mother of two boys, and the founder of Teen Innovators, a mentorship community created to foster innovation in students age 11-16 and provide them with the tools and confidence they need to succeed as leaders of tomorrow. Their peer mentors are highly-accomplished older teens and young adults age 17-21, who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with their younger peers. They also offer free virtual events for teens and their parents. Register here for the next event in our Summer Innovator Series on July 20 at 7 p.m. Central.

Want to discuss a personalized track for your student? Book a 15-minute call with Christine to discuss an individualized track for your child.


When Covid Learning Loss & Summer Slide Converge

When Covid Learning Loss & Summer Slide Converge

You might ask yourself, “it’s only 8 or 9 weeks, so do I really need to worry about summer slide?” Spoiler alert: YES. Educators have long known “summer slide” is a thing. The 2021-22 school year will be different, though, because for the first time, summer slide will be layered on top of the effects of “COVID learning loss.” Truth is, we don’t know how far behind our students will be at the start of the new school year, or the full scope of what the ongoing impacts might be. One thing’s for sure: NOW is the ideal time to help your student prepare for a successful school year, and we have 6 tips to help you do just that.

  1. Find an Internship, Volunteer, or Shadow Gig. It’s great for your brain to learn new things, and it’s easiest to learn when you’re passionate about the subject. Find out what makes your student tick by discussing their passions with them. If they’re a little too young for an internship, contact a local business and ask them if your student can shadow for a day. Lots of business owners are flattered when asked, and happy to share their passions with young people. Our peer mentors have the expertise and are trained to help your child explore their passions, and can help them find the perfect summer opportunity, or even create their own.


  2. Sign Up for Summer School and/or Summer Camps. There are many in-person and online Summer Enrichment Classes and Leadership programs available. Teen Innovators will offer 5-week online Summer Camps designed for 3 Tracks: High School Prep, College Prep, and Innovation. Beginning July 26, we’ll offer a 1-week, in-person Boot Camp in the city of Chicago, that will combine our best leadership classes from all 3 tracks into a fun and powerful program, just in time to get students back-to-school ready. Join our mailing list to be the first to know when registration becomes available.


  3. Try some Hands-On STEM activities. Though we learn in different ways, 75% of us learn best when we do something ourselves. There are many hands-on STEM activities available online. Suggest that your child try one of them, or better yet -share an activity with a younger peer or sibling. Sometimes, teaching is the best way to learn something. Not into STEM? Try a new sport! Getting physical is a great way to feel your best, and gain mental focus.


  4. Let them CREATE! Whether it’s cake-baking, gardening or making a YouTube video, our minds expand when we create something. While it’s okay to spend downtime watching t.v., scrolling on social media, or watching YouTube videos, it’s a slippery slope. When you add up the time the average person spends watching t.v., it amounts to more than a decade over a lifetime. Just think about what you could do with 10 years of your life! Explain to your child that, while you’re ok with them taking downtime, you’re not ok with them wasting literally years of life looking at what others are creating. Encourage them to create something themselves. Even if it’s a quick watercolor or batch of cupcakes.
  5. Mmmmmm….cupcakes. Keep on Reading. Even books read for fun are great to help your child read faster, gain comprehension skills, and learn new vocabulary words. Call your local librarian, and let them help you find selections that are different from what you might not find on your own. Hoopla and Overdrive are great apps that can help you download books right to your iPad or tablet with a library card number.


  6. Connect with a Peer Mentor. Yes, I know this sounds self- serving. But peer mentoring has been studied and reported to positively impact: social skills, competence, school and peer connectedness, confidence and self-esteem. Our older teen mentors have been fully vetted, and hand-selected for their accomplishments and positive, can-do personalities, as well as their passion and ability to work with young people. Our peer mentors foster strong, caring relationships with their mentees, and encourage them to be confident and successful. Our young mentees report feeling ‘happier’ right from their first mentor session.

When Covid hit last year, we unwillingly welcomed a new normal. And now, as we slowly return to normalcy, it’s possible that some of the old ways of being and learning will never be the same again. Due to a year of Covid remote learning, gaps in the learning process have been exacerbated. And we really don’t know what the long-term impacts of that will be. The convergence of both Covid learning loss and the dreaded summer slide will create a unique situation for students this coming school year. But with the advice above, and some extra grace and understanding, your child will be ready to move forward into an exciting future this fall and beyond.


Christine Hutchison, mother of two and Founder of Teen Innovators, with Kate Szczudlo, Manager of Curriculum and Training at Teen Innovators, High School English Teacher and Speech Coach, and mother of three. Teen Innovators is a self-led superb peer mentorship program, created by teens for teens. Providing Leadership and Life Skills your (pre)teen will actually listen to. Sign Up for our program today.

Want to discuss a personalized track for your student? Book a 15-minute call with Christine to discuss an individualized track for your child.


Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Known Before Applying to College

Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Known Before Applying to College

Scared about applying to college? Need some tips going into the application process? Well, here in this article, I provide some tips and insights I wish I would have paid more attention to when applying to college:

  1. Research, research, and more research!
    I am not referring to the research you should do before applying to a college, such as the location, demographics, and academics (although you should do that as well); I am referring to the research you should do before writing the supplements. Supplemental materials to your application might include personal essays, a video submission, writing examples, etc. I know at first glance research may seem obvious, but you will be surprised at how many times this goes overlooked. Every college is different and is looking for different qualities. I know it can seem tempting to jump into the supplement and begin writing. However, I would advise against that. For example, if you were thinking about applying to Stanford, you should search up past supplements from students who were admitted. If you do this for each college, not only will you get an understanding of what each college is looking for, you are also setting yourself up for success. Once you do your research, you will find that Stanford does not prefer the “well-rounded” individual but an individual who has a peak in a certain activity/interest. If you play the violin, that can be your peak. It can honestly be anything you enjoy. Focus on that one activity instead of scattering your essays about all the areas in which you are successful.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get creative
    When writing your personal statement and supplements, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some of your personality. Too many times, prospective applicants tend to write in an overtly professional manner, their supplements drained of personality. While grammar and spelling are super important, your essays should not read like an entry in an academic journal. Instead, your essays should be engaging, clever, and playful. Remember the admissions committee spends around 15 minutes per application. You want to make yourself stand out as much as possible. So instead of viewing these essays as an extension of your academic work, consider viewing them as an extension of your personality.
  3. It is not about the quantity but the quality
    Many prospective applicants are under the impression that they need to achieve a certain amount of extracurriculars in a short amount of time. However, it is not about the number of extracurriculars you have, but what you do with said number. Here’s an example: Applicant A is involved in five extracurricular activities while Applicant B is involved in only two. Applicant B has leadership positions in both the extracurriculars they are involved in while Applicant A is simply a member of the clubs and has no positions/titles. Applicant B would most likely stand out more because it is clear to see that they are passionate about the activities they do, so much so, that they have acquired noteworthy positions in both clubs. Most colleges can tell if a student is in a club just to be in the club. Go a step further and join clubs that truly interest you, not because you think it will look good on a college application. If you only have one or two extracurriculars you are involved in, it is completely okay as long as you a) truly enjoy the activity and b) acquired leadership positions.

With these three tips in mind, you will be sure to give yourself the best chance moving forward! By researching each school, you will know when to expect when tackling the essay portion. Adding in some creativity will allow you to stand out from the thousands of applicants applying to the same school with similar credentials. Finally, do not worry about the amount of extracurriculars you need to do, 1-2 will be sufficient, as long as these activities are things you are very passionate about; this passion should shine through in your application. I hope this helps–good luck!

By one of Teen Innovators’ peer mentors, Nellie.

Teen Innovators Provides More Students an Opportunity to Sign-up for The Chicago Student Invention Convention

Teen Innovators Provides More Students an Opportunity to Sign-up for The Chicago Student Invention Convention

CHICAGO – February 19, 2020

Teen Innovators, a company for teens by teens dedicated to fostering an innovative mindset in tomorrow’s leaders, announces a new collaboration with The Chicago Student Invention Convention. Teen Innovators will provide a wrap-around program to sponsor students who are not associated with a current sponsor program (such as a registered local school) and want to participate in the May 1st event. This is an example of how two local organizations are coming together to expand an offering to inspire curiosity and creative problem-solving in our youth.   


In the past, more than 45 participating schools have sponsored on average 1,000 students in K-8th grade to present in the Student Invention Convention. Teen Innovators has developed after-school programs to prepare fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students who would like to attend the Convention by offering free virtual workshops during the six weeks leading up to the May 1st event.


Beth Krasczewski, a parent of a 5th grader at a local catholic school, said, “I am thrilled to now have the opportunity for my 11-year-old to participate in the Student Invention Convention and to be sponsored by Teen Innovators.  My son is also excited to have access to one-on-one mentoring to prepare him for this event.”


“Teen Innovators launched in December and is already innovating how we deliver real-world educational opportunities in a virtual world by providing more access to programming that is fluid and flexible around the child’s academic needs and schedule.  Younger teens, older teens, and business leaders are all learning from each other,” says Julie Silverstein, advisor for Teen Innovators and a member of Chicago Innovation’s Women’s Mentoring Co-Op.


Chicago is a town with big ideas and an incredible innovative ecosystem.  Luke Tanen, Executive Director, Chicago Innovation, believes that “In times of crisis, there is usually mass amounts of innovation.” 


When Teen Innovators Founder Christine Hutchison looked for talent to build her company, she turned to Chicago Innovation and its inherent network.  She leveraged the strong relationships she built within the Women’s Mentoring Co-Op Networking community to develop her internal team and outside vendor resources. 


“The Women’s Cohort Mentoring Co-Op is about women supporting and empowering women.  We have our largest cohort to date this spring, which signifies how material our work is,” says Molly Matthias, manager Manager of Mentoring and Inclusion Programs for Chicago Innovation. “We are delighted that Christine Hutchison, one of our Mentors, is leveraging the programs of Chicago Innovation to create profound opportunities for today’s teens.”

Teen Innovators is now enrolling students age 11-16 in the after-school program on its website, TeenInnovators.com. Students interested in participating in the Convention on May 1st can signup online by visiting https://teeninnovators.hubspotpagebuilder.com/chicago-student-invention-convention.  Together with Chicago Innovation, this company will be on the frontline of making change happen, rather than reading about innovation after it has occurred..  



About Teen Innovators: Teen Innovators Teen Innovators is a company for teens by teens fostering an innovative mindset in the leaders of tomorrow. It provides a peer community experience where students practice creative and innovative thinking through flexible mentoring and leadership classes that are led by teens for teens.  Students, ages 11-16, in the after-school program, learn to think strategically, solve big world problems, and lead their peers with confidence.  TI Students and Peer Mentors grow alongside each other and learn life skills that provide a foundation for success as a purpose-driven leader of tomorrow.  The start-up is employing accomplished older teens to mentor younger peers on leadership and life skills and boost a sense of achievement. For more information, visit www.teeninnovators.com.

Three Ways to Stay Motivated During Online Learning

Three Ways to Stay Motivated During Online Learning

When Covid hit about a year ago, none of us could have predicted how long we would have to endure this remote learning experience. At first, it was novel, and for some, it may have even been a blessing to give up a dreaded daily commute, or have the option to wake up later. But the sacrifices, especially the lack of physical connection with others, and Covid learning loss, have taken a toll. As the months drag on, it’s important to recommit to doing your best during the remaining (hopefully few) months, in order to minimize the adverse impacts of remote learning, and make the most of this unprecedented school year.


Here are 3 simple ways to stay motivated during Covid:


1. Invest in a planner & create a weekly schedule

If you do not already have a planner, get one right now! When I tell you this is a game-changer, I am not kidding. Having a planner allows you to dictate and control your schedule. You can add in due dates for your assignments which will help you avoid procrastination. What I recommend you do, is to block out 30 minutes of your Sunday night to go ahead and glance at the upcoming week and see what is due for each class. Once you do that,  write in the days you need to have an assignment completed. For example, if you are looking at your English course and notice that you must complete a required reading by Wednesday, it’s a good idea to schedule that for Monday or Tuesday night (whichever night you are the least busy). Then do this with each class, and depending on the flexibility of your due dates, you can almost certainly create a balanced schedule. That way you will not be forced to do seven assignments in one night. It’s so much more peaceful to plan a schedule that works well for you, and then follow it. It is also satisfying to mark a task as complete in your planner; it gives you a feeling of self-accomplishment.


2. Reward Yourself

In addition to scheduling school-related tasks, take the time to schedule activities within your planner. Each day should include a healthy balance of “work” and “play.” Perhaps when you finish your math homework, you reward yourself with an episode of your favorite show. After you finish watching that episode, you get right back to your other tasks. These activities should be brief, and range from 20-30 minutes. Some common ones are: getting a snack, playing a video game, scrolling through social media, and watching tik toks. Sometimes you know exactly what you need to complete within the day, because you wrote them into your schedule. It would look something like this: 4 PM- Respond to three classmates’ discussion posts. 5-5:15 PM- Break time (but only if you completed the above task!)! 5:15-6 PM- Do math homework… By blocking out times for each individual task, you are slowly developing a mindset that is absolutely critical to success: time management.



3. Reach out for support

Finally, if all else fails and you are succumbing to the external pressures, turn to those you trust. According to a Stanford article titled “Stanford psychologists investigate COVID-19’s mental toll on teenagers:” “The researchers found that teenagers who showed greater connectivity, or interconnectedness, in a set of particular brain regions were less likely to experience pandemic-related depression and anxiety.” Whether it is a family member, a friend, or your roommate, find someone you can vent to. Someone who will encourage you to do your homework and stay active. These can also be the same people you study or do your homework with. We are social animals and thrive on human connections. Be sure to build and maintain those personal connections. Social distancing is the term many people use nowadays, however, I strongly believe it should be physical distancing, rather than social. It’s so much better for your health to stay in touch and communicate with your peers, either through social media outlets, on the phone or Zoom, or even hanging out while wearing masks.


Follow these 3 tips, and you’ll be on your way to getting the most out of your current Covid experience. Hopefully one day very soon, you’ll look back on this time as a blip on your educational journey that taught you to how to adapt and prioritize yourself, overcome challenges, and build the skills necessary to achieving your goals.


Thanks for reading! Let us know what you’re doing to stay motivated during Covid! Send a note to [email protected]


Christine Hutchison, Founder, Teen Innovators. We offer superb 1:1 mentorship and leadership classes, for teens by teens.