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Learning and Teaching Entrepreneurship

May 18, 2022

Through the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic, Max Levinbook L’22 recently taught what he’s learned to the next generation of entrepreneurs: Philadelphia High School students.

When Max Levinbook L’22 first enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic (ELC) at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, he had no inclination that, a few months later, he would find himself in an instructor role, standing in front of a very unexpected group of entrepreneurs: students in Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School’s Digital Media class in North Philadelphia.

Max Levinbook L'22 at Philadelphia's Murrell Dobbins CTE High School Max Levinbook L’22 at Philadelphia's Murrell Dobbins CTE High SchoolAnis Taylor teaches Digital Media, which is one of several different career-oriented electives students can choose to take during their sophomore, junior, and senior years. An entrepreneur himself, Taylor encourages his students to think creatively about how they can use their Digital Media skills to build wealth. His students displayed keen interest in learning about business concepts from undergraduate and MBA students at the Wharton School through a program called “Bridges to Wealth”; however, Taylor noted a gap when conversations involved legal topics. Determined to equip his students with the knowledge they needed to succeed, Taylor contacted ELC Supervisor and Lecturer in Law Michael Murphy about finding a law student to join the effort.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this would be a pretty cool opportunity for us to collaborate not only with other schools across Penn, but also with schools in the community,’” Murphy said, noting that students from the Graduate School of Education had also been partnering with Murrell Dobbins students to produce a documentary telling the story of the semester. “From a purely pedagogical standpoint, it’s always great when our students have the opportunity to teach something, because teaching something is the best way to learn it.”

From Student to Teacher

Prior to law school, Levinbook served in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret — an experience that in many ways epitomizes working as part of a team. Part of the reason he first enrolled in ELC — which is one of nine clinics housed within the Law School’s Gittis Legal Clinics — was an eagerness to delve into legal work that felt similarly collaborative. Finding that he enjoyed his first semester in ELC, Levinbook enrolled again. As an advanced student, he had the flexibility to take on ad hoc projects, such as leading a legal workshop for Taylor’s students.

Levinbook recalled the energy he felt upon first arriving at Murrell Dobbins and witnessing the myriad of activities through which students were participating in hands-on, skills-based learning.

Max Levinbook L'22 at Philadelphia's Murrell Dobbins CTE High School Max Levinbook L’22 at Philadelphia's Murrell Dobbins CTE High School“I didn’t know what I was walking into,” Levinbook said. “Anis Taylor met me at the door, and we walked into a filled 300-person auditorium where some students were putting on a fashion show, and other students were filming it. We went straight from there — no break — into an investment meeting where students were using Robin Hood to invest in the S&P 500 in real time. From that meeting, we went into an editing discussion. As this is all happening, students are coming in and out to edit projects on computers. There were 1,000 moving pieces. It really was something to see.”

Taylor underscored the importance of Levinbook’s ability to absorb information in a fast-paced environment, then seamlessly integrate himself into the situation to provide meaningful contributions pertinent to the students’ needs and ideas.

“Max was really, really stand-up,” Taylor said. “He was great at communicating. When he came in, he interacted and spoke with all of our students. He sat back at first and had to process what we were doing in our class, because it was a unique class, but as he sat back, he was able to really dissect what was happening. He saw the sense that it made, and he was able to come in and adapt to it.”

Though teaching high school students was “generally a whole new skill” for him, Levinbook reflected that putting together a legal workshop for high school students helped him to grow as a lawyer, because it forced him to think creatively about how to present information in a way that was not only useful but also understandable and engaging to busy teenagers.

“Words have meaning. Trying to teach complex concepts to high schoolers who have never been exposed to corporate law before is the ultimate challenge, because you have to distill what really matters into about 15 minutes and also get them excited about topics that are uninteresting for most people,” Levinbook said. “I’ve been impressed at how quickly the students — who are dealing with a whole different set of anxieties than typical business founders — can step into the role of a founder and really start to assess their risks. I’ve been blown away by how entrepreneurial the students are, which has made this process a lot of fun.”

Entrepreneurship as Social Impact

For Taylor, giving his students the tools to become competent entrepreneurs stretches beyond an abstract lesson. Instead, it is a very real, palpable way to help them break cycles of poverty and achieve empowerment through their own self-employment.

Digital Media students at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School Digital Media students at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School“The students are going to learn a bunch of skill sets — videography, editing, photography, graphic design, computer networking, web design, communication technology—but in addition to those skill sets, I want them to know that they all could be bosses, and every single one of them could start their own business,” Taylor said. “I really try to enforce the mindset of being an entrepreneur. That’s why we bring business and financial literacy into the curriculum — we’re probably one of the least funded schools in this state. It’s about building generational wealth and trying to make everything count.”

In addition to helping students build profitable skillsets, Taylor strives to ensure that his Digital Media class remains a safe space for his students, many of whom face serious trauma outside of the classroom regularly. Taylor pointed out that introducing his students to business law concepts has the added effect of giving his students a wholly different perspective on how the law relates to their daily lives.

“Generally, when it comes to the law, my students have rarely interacted with anybody outside of the police. For our students, their reality is that, when they interact with law, it’s more about enforcement than it is about protection,” Taylor said. “When Max came into our class, not only did he answer questions pertaining to them and building their entrepreneurship ideas, but he also provided the students with an insight into utilizing the law as protection. It was really a great experience.”

For Murphy, ensuring that ELC participates meaningfully in uplifting young entrepreneurs around Philadelphia is an essential aspect of carrying forward ELC’s social justice ethos.

“We are always conscious of where we are,” Murphy said. “As we like to say, a group of entrepreneurs started a country in Philadelphia about 200 years ago, along with a university or two. So we always make sure we’re giving back to that entrepreneurial community as much as we possibly can, by distributing the resources of this University into the neighborhood around it and in the city where it sits.”

Learn more about experiential learning opportunities through Gittis Legal Clinics.