CFES GEAR UP fellow Lindsey Holman believes academic achievements should be celebrated with the same verve as athletic accomplishments. So when CFES scholar Eliza Strum was named one of five finalists in the Vermont Pitch Challenge, Lindsey began drawing up congratulatory posters so the whole school would know.

Winners of the Challenge — a Shark-Tank-styled entrepreneurial competition sponsored by the University of Vermont and CFES — will receive full scholarships and cash prizes. Final presentations among the finalists will be judged in April.

“When she forwarded the email they sent telling her she was a finalist, I was jumping up and down,” Lindsey said. “She’s in the Top 5 of an international competition.  I hope this will inspire other students to participate” in the Challenge.

Lindsey is completing her first year as a CFES GEAR UP fellow at Ticonderoga Central School, where she has opened the doors of possibility for students who are deciding what they will be doing after high school.

That means fighting the perception “that if you wanted to stay in Ticonderoga, you had to work at the (Sylvamo paper) mill or WalMart,” she said. But working at the mill, for example, doesn’t have to mean manual labor. College degrees in chemistry or forestry can lead to professional careers.

Lindsey graduated from Ticonderoga Central School and had been working as a teacher assistant there when the CFES opportunity came along. For her, it was a chance to become more involved with students at a personal level, and steer them toward meaningful college and career opportunities.

“I’m able to have more informal conversations with them, and encourage them to think big,” Lindsey said. “I grew up in Ti, so I’m all too familiar with how you can feel pigeon-holed” into a limited number of jobs. “I want to spark their interest in other things, and show the opportunities that are available to them.”

The concerns among her CFES scholars are similar to trends that are appearing nationwide. They are taking a measured approach to college, attending community college and trying to stay out of debt. “They’re making difficult choices, asking ‘how can I get what I need in the least expensive way,” she said.

Trends toward entrepreneurialism are showing up more often as students consider starting their own businesses, but also taking over businesses run by their parents.

Lindsey said she is working with one student who is interested in taking over his parents’ logging operation — but is aware that to succeed, he will need to acquire skills in business and technology to modernize the company and ensure its future viability.

CFES also worked closely with the 18 Ticonderoga students who entered the Vermont Pitch Challenge, helping them polish their presentations and facilitating meetings with business professionals who helped them produce business plans and financial models.

Eliza’s pitch is for an app-driven device charger powered by kinetic energy, one of many creative ideas the students produced. “I was surprised by the variety,” Lindsey said. Eliza’s note telling Lindsey that she was a finalist was accompanied by a string of emojis indicating tears of joy. 

Lindsey felt it too. “It was amazing, and a little surreal,” she said.