Communications Specialist, Iowa JPEC

Diane Fickel allows students to unleash creativity and innovation as a business educator at Iowa City West High School.

“I think that’s why students love taking the entrepreneurship course we offer,” she said.

And thanks to years of involvement with the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center summer youth program, being part of its curriculum writing team, and much more, Fickel has received the Jacobson Institute K-12 Innovator Award.

“I am humbled to be the recipient of this award” Fickel said. “There are many talented and effective teachers and instructors who are dedicated to making a difference with students in their business classroom. It’s a privilege and honor to be recognized as one of those educators.”

In 27 years at Iowa City West, Fickel has seen many shining stars benefit from business education. Her fondest memories include students who pursue starting a business after taking the entrepreneurship course. Two of the successful businesses in the area which are owned and operated by West business students include a lawn mowing service and a baton/dance studio. In addition, she enjoys watching students gain enough confidence in their business to enter contests and competitions where they can showcase their innovation and passion for a new idea. As an adviser for the Career and Technical Organization, Business Professionals of America (BPA), Fickel has witnessed numerous members win state titles and place at the national level in their entrepreneurship events. At West, Fickel started a student-run enterprise called Pump it UP eight years ago. Pump it UP provides snacks for purchase to the West High community. Students in the business program obtain class credit for the experience of running a business during school hours. Revenue offers BPA students scholarships to participate in the club.

“When you are teaching students about design thinking in a real-world, nontraditional classroom, there is an authentic reward as an educator when I see the light bulb turn on in students,” Fickel said. “It’s amazing taking youth through the process of identifying a problem, solving the problem, and pivoting that solution into a startup business. Students get excited and motivated when they are in my class.”

Fickel graduated from Marion (Iowa) High School and attended Coe College and Mount Mercy. She taught at Edgewood-Colesburg and Mid-Prairie before coming to Iowa City West.

“The support I have received at West the past 27 years has been wonderful. I have had the opportunity to develop new classes and implement innovation throughout the business curriculum,” Fickel said. “As trends pivot, I am supported in all of my professional endeavors so that I can best serve our students.”

Entrepreneurship runs in the family. Her husband has a financial planning business on the east side of Iowa City and a daughter, who graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in dance, owns a dance studio in town.

“We’re involved with the entrepreneurial mindset and entwined in the business world,” she said.

A second daughter has joined Fickel in the teaching ranks at Iowa City West.

For many years Fickel was the lead teacher for the Iowa JPEC summer youth program, holding entrepreneurial camps for elementary and junior high students in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City. She participated in entrepreneurship professional development for high school teachers several times, beginning in the early 2000s. Fickel served on a curriculum development team, representing the business/entrepreneurship perspective for a new business innovations course offered at the University of Iowa-Kirkwood Regional Center.

“It was such a thrill to see minds light up,” Fickel said. “I enjoyed branding the Jacobson Institute and marketing the idea of an entrepreneurial mindset around the state.”

Fickel was asked to join a curriculum writing team that would allow high school students around the country to earn college credit. She helped launch BizInnovator Startup, a curriculum toolkit and professional development program for high school business and marketing teachers that provides an accessible solution for innovation and entrepreneurship education. 

Launched in 2020, BizInnovator Startup impacted more than 12,000 students during the 2020-21 school year. There are 283 teachers from 41 states using the curriculum. 

Fickel’s classes are popular at West. They offer entrepreneurship opportunities each trimester while using the curriculum she helped develop so students have an opportunity to get University of Iowa credit.

“Students learn, through hands on experience, what it is like to start and run their own business,” Fickel said. “I think it is a great opportunity for students to get the university credit, but more importantly, it allows students to think like a boss and to explore what it is like to be an entrepreneur.”

Fickel has received the 2021 Jacobson Institute K-12 Innovator Award in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors. The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center will recognize her Oct. 8 at Hancher Auditorium.