How One Utah Tech School Is Changing Education
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How One Utah Tech School Is Changing Education

"The current education system limits a person progression and makes it harder for them to succeed," said Scott Schwab

How One Utah Tech School Is Changing Education
Bailey Martindale

Scott Schwab wanted to do more than create and think about new ideas. He wanted to innovate and put new ideas into motion. He and the Bottega team have done just that. They have flipped the traditional model of education on its head. Scott saw what many others saw — the drastic need for change in our education systems. He embarked on a mission to improve education and the return on investment for students. "Our concept is different than most universities because we believe your experiences count and we want you to get hired because of who you are and what you have done."

Scott is the President and Co-Founder of Bottega. He graduated in 2006 from Boise State, which he jokingly refers to as the Harvard of the West. He obtained a degree in business management. By the time he graduated, he had never even put together a business plan. In other words, he had never managed any business, never been challenged or never implemented the skills. He says, "It was a miss." He started looking around across the nation, and he couldn't find programs that required students to write a business plan. At this point, ideas started turning in his brain. He wanted to change the antiquated system. He noticed entrepreneurship was making a shift to the online learning space. He learned how to write a business plan. From there, he started researching curriculum and then began putting his curriculum together. He knew the most important aspects were engaging content and competency-based learning. From a curriculum mapping standpoint, this took a few years to hone in. He wanted to find the best way to differentiate. The best way to create value.

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In his mind, he was envisioning a day when all high schools and colleges would implement his curriculum. To start that journey, he set out to talk to these institutions. This presented a learning opportunity for him. At that point, he did not fully understand the relationship between these organizations and publishers. However, once he learned about the process, he quickly remedied the first of many hurdles. Schwab says, "In 2010, we got accredited as a post-secondary school, and it's the craziest thing that ever happened." They saw potential in what Scott and his team were doing. This is when they started teaching online and became a fulfillment arm for distance education companies. Primarily, they were working in the realms of sales rep development, real estate and other programs that fit into the distance learning model. From there, quite a few companies started adopting their business plan.

In 2013, they faced their next hurdle. The accreditation company sold, and the new owner told Scott they no longer met the requirements for accreditation. To be a school, they needed more than one course. This gave them an opportunity to start building towards their biggest goals. They decided to amass a large bank of curriculum. They built it, bought it and licensed it. They gathered hundreds of courses. More than curriculum, Scott emphasizes experience. "Students should be getting internships, externships, fellowships, anything that helps them cut their teeth," he said. That is where they found their niche — adult education in the competency-based area.

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In 2014, they had an extensive external review, and they passed. That's when Scott said the work began. They moved full steam ahead with building. Scott was committed to building this regardless of what it took. He had an unyielding passion for this dream of a better type of education for everyone. To fund the building of the program, he spent his summers as a salesman, knocking on doors. With the money he made knocking on doors, he invested in software. "Those were hard times but also times that showed me I didn't want to knock on doors the rest of my life; I wanted to run my own business and help hundreds," he said. The world started to manifest his dream through his hard work. They started landing good contracts which enabled him to leave the door-to-door sales. These contracts provided great opportunities. They gave organizations access to their courses complete with teaching assistants and more. After two years, they looked at an opportunity to merge with another dev shop. It all came to fruition in 2016. That gave them an opportunity to shift the focus more to software and pick up students where they came in. After this, they honed in on their purpose and how to make the biggest impact. Rather than do everything decently well, they wanted to do one thing exceptionally well. They skimmed down to one program which is a full stack development program. They put all of their resources into building the best program possible. Their differentiating factor is curriculum and accreditation. Looking at similar schools, Scott and the team saw that these programs were rooted in the professor. This meant when the professor left, so did the program and curriculum. They wanted something with a legacy regardless of the professor. Because of the organization's history, they knew they had to build a program through learning and accreditation, something that would provide a certification and a basis for growth. They wanted to provide an opportunity for students to get into the industry and expand upon their skills.

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"What keeps me up at night, my drive is to change education because schools are not serving students' needs and we are failing the next generation," Scott said. He wasn't just interested in changing education in regards to curriculum but he wanted to develop and coach students in all realms. When they would see or hire developers from other boot camps or similar schools, they just weren't cutting it. These individuals did not have enough experience and were not deep enough with their understanding of development and code. He knew he could make a difference. This is where they decided to develop a program deeply rooted in curriculum. This learning had to be project-based learning. Scott said this is something they believe in, to the highest degree. "The students need to gain a competency and do it on a daily basis which meant building the curriculum into something that was executable." Their current full stack development program focuses on getting them trained and to the market. Each person has access to continued education through their portal to further their skills and career after they leave the initial program. They are working on releasing modulations on mobile developing and other realms for more advanced skill development for current and past students. They have intentions on continuing to do even more. They've also recently been hired by a University to write a Bachelor's Degree that would be similar to the computer science degree. They partnered with Jordan Hudgens, world-renowned for his work with Ruby on Rails and founder of devCamp. They acquired devCamp because of Jordan's experience teaching 20,000 students and the online creative genius he has for online curriculum and ongoing education.

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Scott says they want to help develop skill-set but more important, they want to help develop the person. When they start the enrollment process, they engage them to analyze their communication skills. From there, they invite them in for a personal tour or an online tour. They look to see how they interact with others. He said he always asks what book they are reading. He thinks you can tell a lot about a person through their drive for knowledge and improvement. From there, they give them a free test course. They want to see if they can code if they are willing to learn, how long it takes them and how competent they are. He said anyone can feasibly complete this course if they put in the time. This is a great way to gauge commitment levels. Commitment is important for the next phase — financing. They finance all students. Many boot camp programs turn students away because they do not qualify for financing. "We truly believe in people," he said. They have students who don't meet their credit score standards, but they take a chance on them. They understand credit scores are in place for a reason, but it's important for them to base their risk, and they are willing to take some risks for those who will commit to the program. He said, "We have people who are changing their lives and increasing their household income, and we are stubborn enough to figure it out with them." Scott said there is no other loan program that allows someone to increase their income by thirty thousand dollars. They are doing just that.

Aside from skill development and coding, he said the one thing he wishes he could teach is confidence. These students who complete the program are undoubtedly ready for the job force. They've adequately prepared but, often they lack the self-confidence to go out there and get the job they deserve. "I wish we could teach people how awesome they are," said Scott. Some of the students go out and grab a job with confidence, making fifty or sixty thousand, while others approach it very nervously and cautiously and make less. The job placement process is one they are continually boosting and improving at Bottega. They are working on teaching interpersonal skills, resume building skills, and more. They want to ensure these students are employees others want to work alongside. They are currently creating a course in interpersonal skills to help maximize these areas for students. Their curriculum is the best it can be, and now they start building and incorporating culture. "We look to create great people who are developers not just developers," Scott said.

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Scott said his favorite moment so far was coming together in their new space in Lehi. In 2010, they were operating out of Scott's basement. "I look back, and I can't believe this is happening, and while we haven't arrived we are on our way and making progress," Scott said. Their office is bubbling with excited energy. You feel the commitment and work these students are putting in as you walk through the space. There are people taking a break playing ping-pong or air hockey in one corner and others head down with headphones diligently working and others stopping to chat for a minute. It is just a very positive environment. You walk in, and you immediately see a mural of some very notable faces. Scott later told me these are their influencers. They include Alan Turing, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla and Margaret Hamilton. It's a gorgeous mural and sets a great tone throughout the space.

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"If there is anything in my life I want, it is change and progress and my passion to make a difference in others' lives," said Scott. His goal for all of his students is lifelong learning. He wants others to look at them with pride and see how they had the courage to change their life. He said, "It's about having the courage to do something and make our lives better, and unfortunately, not everyone has that inside." He said when people see his students do a phenomenal job at improving their life, it encourages them to do the same. Scott is an advocate on never settling. It's important for him to be the best version he can be and that is what he wants for his students. "If I was a garbage man, I'd be the best garbage man you've ever seen, and I wish more people thought that way," Scott said. He says so often routine crushes all creativity. It turns into living life just to pay the bills. People get to this point and think this is all there is. "It's been fun to re-engineer that with the students and change the way they think," said Scott. Can't is not a word he says. He says we all have to expect more of ourselves. Seeing these students retooling, entering the workforce and becoming excited while they become something new, alive and refreshed is extremely rewarding for Scott and his team. "It's amazing to see people change their lives and find their purpose," Scott said. He believes your purpose is people. "Who can you impact — family, friends, a stranger — what are you doing to impact the world?"

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Scott says Bottega is a company that is curriculum first. That curriculum will make people's lives better and their economic goals feasible. He's quick to remind students that no solution fixes all problems but to step up and be accountable. He is very passionate about accountability and taking charge of your own life and choices. "None of us have excuses to blame parents, society or anything else," Scott said. "If Oprah in her terrible situation can pull herself up and is now the richest woman in the world, you can rise above your situation." He says we set our own limitations in our lives, but we must be confident and know we can do anything. He said all too often people don't take opportunities because they love comfort. "People could learn so much more outside of their comfort zones, and one of my favorite quotes is that everything you want in life is just outside of your comfort zone," he said. In regards to doing anything, Bottega is on a journey to continue to meet and crush their goals. They are currently expanding to a full-time online remote program. Currently, they have an in-person full-time and part-time course available. The second expansion is a post-secondary school in Arizona.

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Scott's wish is to see education completely changed. He wants to see people have an opportunity to take part in academies, modules and even seminars that provide credit and accreditation with certificates flowing into a degree. For example, many people like to attend and learn from seminars but that means nothing in the current academic perspective. He hopes to see that changed. He said, "The current education system limits a person progression and makes it harder for them to succeed." Regardless of the current education difficulties, Scott's biggest message life-long learning and growth. He said, "Never stop learning or growing, and find opportunities wherever you go, in all phases of life."

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