Princeton resident Steve Mariotti experienced a roller coaster ride on his career path. From being a high-powered auto executive in the automotive industry, he became an inner-city teacher — a position that led to his founding the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a multi-million-dollar, internationally recognized non-profit dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship to at-risk youth.
On Monday, October 28, at Labyrinth Books on Nassau Street, Princeton, at 6 p.m., Mariotti and two colleagues will present a panel discussion titled “Opening the Future: Providing Entrepreneurial Education for At-Risk Youth,” which will focus on his new best-selling memoir and on NFTE’s effectiveness.
Mariotti’s searing bestseller, “Goodbye Homeboy,” recounts his two years of teaching special education students in the 1980s in inner-city schools. These students included children who had been convicted of heinous crimes, who had been involved in drug dealing, or who were homeless through no fault of their own. Deemed unreachable and unteachable by city school administration, these cast-offs became Mariotti’s responsibility, and ultimately his personal salvation.
The seemingly overwhelming challenge was how to galvanize the interest of these discarded youth. Driven to desperation by a class of 25 children who had never known discipline, he struggled to find a way to teach math, language, or even rudimentary social skills to youth who had been thrown away by the system and even their families. After all, they were only interested in the hustle, right?
Exactly right! The light dawned in 50 glazed eyes when Mariotti entered the class room, waving his watch, demanding, “What will you give me for this fine timepiece?” Mariotti had discovered the answer was to channel the street skills they excelled at into becoming entrepreneurs.
Mariotti, raised in Flint, Michigan, earned his bachelor’s in business economics and an M.B.A from the University of Michigan. He spent several years in the international finance department at Ford Motor Company. In 1979 he moved to New York, and there his life changed. A mugging by a gang of young toughs, barely in their teens, left Mariotti with PTSD. Teenagers terrified him. His therapist counselled immersing himself into the exact culture that he feared. He became a special education teacher in the very schools that had failed the same type of children who had beaten him.
In 1986, using the practical experience he had gained from his years teaching children considered unteachable, Mariotti founded Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a non-profit organization that gives at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds opportunities to receive entrepreneurial education while attending high school. The curriculum developed during his “boots on the ground” years in the toughest schools now helps thousands of students in marginal circumstances worldwide find a way to change their trajectory away from crime and poverty to become business owners and community leaders.
Mariotti has authored or co-authored numerous books for young people on entrepreneurship, and textbooks for secondary schools as well as university-level programs. He has been a long-time blogger for Huffington Post as well as a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. He is active in both the World Economic Forum and the Aspen Ideas Festival.