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Dons Net Café Teacher, Students Win Big at UCLA Project Echo

Lee Ann Knodel, the Regional Occupational Program instructor of the Dons Net Café, won the prestigious Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year Award, announced by the Project ECHO Board of Directors at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management on April 12.

Project ECHO (Entrepreneurial Concepts Hand On) is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing students with vocational and entrepreneurial skills as a way to aid them and educators around the world. The Dons Net Café has a long and distinguished history at the annual competition sponsored by Project ECHO.

“I truly enjoy mentoring the Dons Net Café students and their excitement about business is contagious,” local businessman Teddy Ho said.

Ho, a graduate of UCLA’s Anderson MBA program and head of marketing at Santa Barbara-based Barkback, an online feedback platform designed to improve communications between businesses and their customers, has proven to be a dedicated mentor for the past four years.

Although Knodel was traveling to New York with a group of her senior Dons Net Café students for a National Trade Fair at the time of the announcement, she managed to send a short clip thanking the Project ECHO Program.

Knodel wasn’t the only Don to win praise that evening, however. In addition, a group of three students were able to compete and showcase their newest business, Finding Common Ground, a partnership between Santa Barbara High School and Escuela Agrícola de San Francisco, located in Asunción, Paraguay. The student group consisted of dedicated sophomores Elizabeth Avila and Julia Danalevich and junior Victor Valadaz. Not only did they get to accept their teacher’s award, but they also took second place and $600 for their business plan.

The Common Ground business plan had some tough competition from senior-led teams, but they were well prepared, thanks to their mentors’ help. The Dons Net Café would like to thank not only Ho, but also Chris Morales and Will Freeland of Montecito Bank & Trust and George Rusznak of SCORE for their mentorship and support during the intense competition time.

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a group of 14 student-run businesses that represent a 21-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce and service learning. All profits benefit employees and associated projects, because they believe in “Doin’ Some Good in the World.”

Further information is available by contacting Knodel at 805.963.8597 or [email protected].

— Kris Bergstrom is the communications director for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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