July 27, 2023


Holland, MI- Kindergarten through high school students gained real-world work experience through Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s (OAISD) futurePREP’d IChallengeU programs in June and July. The summer learning courses pair students with mentor teachers and local businesses and organizations for a unique, hands-on learning opportunity. 

futurePREP'd students at BPW futurePREP'd students at John Ball Zoo


 “The IChallengeU series gives students insight into the world of work and the variety of careers available to them,” Nicole Gitler, Program Developer for futurePREP’d, said. “We offer opportunities for every grade level along with age-appropriate programming that helps them practice problem-solving using design thinking.” 

IchallengeUjr. is open to students in K – 5th grade, IChallengeUth is available for 6th – 8th-grade students and 9th – 12th-grade students can take part in IChallengeU. 

Participating students spend their days working in teams with a mentor teacher at one of many local businesses and organizations including JR Automation, GMB Architecture + Engineering, Holland Board of Public Works and Outdoor Discovery Center. 

At the organization, students are challenged to find a solution to a problem the business has faced. To reach a solution students work through the futurePREP’d creative thinking model to observe, interview, and then formulate a solution. Once the solution is determined, they work together on a presentation of the solution to the organization. 

“Programs like IChallengeU are made possible thanks to our relationships with local businesses and their readiness to partner with us,” said Dave Searles, associate superintendent for CTE at OAISD. “Students who participate in an IChallengeU program add valuable personal and professional skills that benefit them now and in their future careers.” 

"IChallengU programming allows students to solve a problem within their community and improves students’ critical thinking, communication, and their ability to grow and improve from peer feedback,” said futurePREP’d Program Developer Denise Smyk, “Watching the growth students and teachers make in one or two short weeks is inspiring." 

Education and Visitor Programs Specialist for Holland BPW, Ashley Day, said meeting the students participating in IchallengeUjr was fantastic. at Holland BPW and see the hard work they did all week. 

“They used critical thinking and creative problem solving to work through the issue we assigned them,” Day said. “The students developed some truly excellent ideas that we will be sure to explore in the future.” 

Smyk said they enjoy hearing positive feedback from parents. “One parent let us know their student loved generating ideas and as a parent how much they appreciated watching their child using their brain in a whole new way,” Smyk said. “Encouraging students to think and grow is what IChallengeU programming is all about.” 

For more information, contact Michelle Ready at 616.738-8940 x. 4093 


The Ottawa Area ISD futurePREP’d program incorporates ‘design thinking’, a solution-based approach to problem-solving, and innovative partnerships with local employers, colleges, universities, and business organizations into its curriculum to prepare students for success in the modern workforce. Educators participate in professional development, networking opportunities, innovative programming, and local community connections to bring relevance and project-based learning into classrooms educating thousands of students each year. futurePREP’d aims to ensure all Ottawa area students graduate high school with the skills necessary to achieve their personal life goals which might include going to college or technical school, landing a dream job, starting a business, or discovering new talents. 

The futurePREP’d IChallengeUjr program offers a unique opportunity for trained educators to apply their newly acquired design thinking skills during a four-day immersion experience with kindergarten through 5th grade students that, in-turn, can be incorporated into all classroom learning. Students gain real-world, problem-solving experience as they engage in design thinking and work in teams to investigate, brainstorm and create a solution to an organization’s challenge that hasn’t yet been solved. 

Ottawa Area Intermediate School District 

Ottawa Area Intermediate School District works collaboratively with schools and communities to meet the educational needs of students of all ages in the Ottawa area. By pooling resources and providing services regionally, Ottawa Area ISD provides important programs and services to local K‐12 school districts, charter, parochial and private schools and adults in the most cost‐effective ways possible. To learn more about Ottawa Area ISD visit