When Marquetta Atkins was hired in 2015 by the Wichita Urban League to run its Education and Youth Empowerment programs, she was told she had a month to develop a summer camp for high-schoolers.
The summer camp had to offer activities to the kids that would benefit them throughout life.
Atkins, a Wichita State University graduate, quickly developed a plan for the camp and pitched it to area high schools.
The goal of Camp Destination Innovation was to expose young people to a variety of career options and explore strategies for entrepreneurship and community involvement. "We want them to become comfortable being in spaces where they may have never been," Atkins said in a statement.
Campers are introduced to the concepts of entrepreneurship – identifying a need for a new product and learning how to produce, market and sell that product. Campers present their product concepts at their very own mini trade show and in a “Shark Tank”-style critique group.
Enrollment is limited to three dozen students each year. The program runs for several weeks in June.
Most of the campers are set to be first-generation college students, and Atkins said she wants the camp to empower youth to see bigger possibilities for themselves.
“Atkins teaches the campers both entrepreneurial and life skills, such as being able to deliver prepared speeches before large audiences, as well as cooperating with others,” attorney Robert Litan wrote about Atkins in The Wichita Eagle. “She does this through classroom instruction on such things as how to launch a business or write software code, and by completing group projects.”
In 2017, she began operating the camp independent of the Urban League, with financial support from the local Entrepreneurship Task Force, e2e and Bank of America.
Atkins said it was a challenge each year to find classroom accommodations for the camp.
This year, Camp Destination Innovation received an anonymous donation from the Wichita Community Foundation, and the WSU College of Engineering stepped up to host.
The focus on entrepreneurship complemented the college’s usual roster of summer camps focused on robotics, computer coding and engineering.
The college provided classroom space and laptops, as well as instruction by Gary Brooking, an engineering faculty member.
This year's campers attended 1 Million Cups Wichita, a weekly event designed to connect budding entrepreneurs over coffee; visited the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Leadership Center, Koch Industries, and Youth Entrepreneurs of Kansas. They designed and printed T-shirts at MakeICT, which they sold at the Juneteenth ICT community gathering. Campers also spent one day shadowing individual entrepreneurs. There were also guest speakers.
“These kids are amazing,” Atkins said.
One of the camp's alumni, Kevin Dao, a 2018 graduate of Wichita's Southeast High, won Wichita State University’s most prestigious scholarship, the Harry Gore Memorial Scholarship, worth $64,000.
“[The camp and Youth Empowerment program] creates so many opportunities for high-schoolers. And there’s a ripple effect in the community,” Dao said. “Entrepreneurs like me are being homegrown. This scholarship allows me to stay in my community and make an impact.”
Dao is following Atkins’s example of community engagement.
She is the creator of WeKan! (Women Entrepreneurs of Kansas) and is community resources director for the local non-profit The Seed House. In 2017, she received the Urban Professionals Dream Chaser's Civic Engagement Award for her work in promoting entrepreneurship to youth and women. A few months ago she led the first EmpowerHer Conference in Wichita.
Oct. 27, Atkins will receive the “Ronald Walters Leadership” award from the Wichita Branch NAACP.