Met High School student wins national entrepreneurship program

Updated at 5:11 p.m.

PROVIDENCE For many people, the legislative jargon can be confusing and inaccessible. Carissa Lombardi, a senior at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center High School in Providence, intends to change that. 

About eight months ago, Lombardi, 17, began developing an app, Legislation Navigation, to translate legislative jargon into simpler terms. In late October, Lombardi pitched her app and rose to the top of a national entrepreneurship competition, netting her $10,000 towards her business and education. 

Lombardi, a Warwick resident, competed among 38 young entrepreneurs from 32 businesses in the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, a pitch contest hosted by the New York-based Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and emerged as one of three national champions. 

Legislation Navigation is currently still in its development stage but once it launches it will use software to upload legislation and rewrite the language into clear, unbiased terms. 

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“We’ll take the traditional political jargon terms and then translate it to more understandable ones,” Lombardi said. 

Lombardi has been a politically active person since middle school, she said, and as a sophomore in high school, contacted legislators to write her own bill to secure more funding for school nurses. But Lombardi found that she had to spend more time explaining what the bill meant than why it was important. 

“In the process of doing that, I found it very hard to get people on board with my idea, simply because the people I was trying to explain it to couldn’t understand the bill that I was writing,” Lombardi said. 

Lombardi decided to further investigate this issue and in her research found that even lawmakers may hire staff to read and interpret legislation, rather than understanding the jargon themselves. 

“That’s when I knew it was super important to make legislation more accessible,” Lombardi said. When none of the resources she sought out seemed to get the job done, she decided to take matters into her own hands. 

Lombardi enrolled in an RIHub mentorship program, where she was the only high school student participating, and connected with a team of software and app developers through the organization’s resources. 

Her next step is creating a prototype of the app, and after testing and tweaks, Lombardi plans to launch the app in January 2022, in time for the new legislative session. 

Lombardi, who plans to study journalism and political science with a focus on entrepreneurship, said she intends to use her $10,000 award from the pitch competition towards her business and college. 

She also hopes that her experience can encourage other young entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas. 

Throughout the app development process, the state’s entrepreneurship community has been “super, super helpful,” Lombardi said. “There’s so much help out there in Rhode Island.” 

Met students have a tradition of success at the NFTE competition, said Jodie Woodruff, director of the Met’s High School’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Each year, the school sends students to NFTE’s regional competition, where about 1,500 students compete for two spots in the national event. Students from the Met High School have placed first, second or third in this competition for the last 12 years, Woodruff said, and have placed in the top 12 of the national competition for 11 of those years. Last year, Met student Jose Rodriguez took first place in the national competition.

An individualized academic program with a focus on internships and connections with organizations such as Cambridge Innovation Center and RIHub leave students well-prepared for an entrepreneurial path, according to Woodruff.

“We really believe in individual, personalized learning and students learning through their own interests in the real-world application,” Woodruff said.

The school’s entrepreneurship center was established 12 years ago as the first freestanding center of its kind for a public high school in the country, Woodruff said. Students begin working on problem-solving and presentation skills as freshmen, and by their senior year, can eventually progress through the entrepreneurship program to having their own office and interns.

“At the end of the day, I’m teaching ownership more than anything else,” Woodruff said. ”You own your business, own your idea, own your feelings, own who you are.”

(ADDS final six paragraphs with comment, detail from Jodie Woodruff.)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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