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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Enterprising students enroll in new minor

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"I work hardest in the entrepreneurial class, and it is the one I most like to attend," said senior Jasmine Thomas.
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Heather O'Cull, a senior at the University of Southern Indiana, described her first day in Management 352, an ideation and innovation course, as terrifying. She learned she could earn either an A or an F, no textbooks or traditional exams would be offered, and class presentations would be videotaped.

"I'm going to fail this class," was O'Cull's first thought.

Her trepidation was short lived. "We were encouraged to stretch and to come up with wild ideas," O'Cull said. "We worked in three-member teams and the team approach helped us come up with better ideas."

The management course with the nontraditional pedagogy is part of the entrepreneurship minor. Bryan Bourdeau, instructor in business, team teaches courses with Dr. Kevin Celuch, professor of marketing. They ask their students to call them Coach B and Coach K.

"The coaching environment lends to a more facilitated teaching approach that puts the onus of learning on the student," said Bourdeau. "Co-teaching supports cross-disciplinary academic diversity and creativity. It allows us to take risks, learn from each other, and grow as professionals. By having two coaches in the classroom, we are able to have an enhanced student/team-centered focus."

O'Cull enrolled in the initial class when the minor was introduced at USI in 2010. On track to graduate in May 2012, O'Cull is from Westfield, Indiana. Her father is an entrepreneur who is an electrical engineer. When her advisor suggested the minor, she recalled her father's career. She also had held an internship at Sullivan Munce Cultural Center in Zionsville, Indiana.

"I am familiar with creating new ideas, and though I hope to teach art, I know there are changes taking place in education and I have job market concerns, so I wanted the entrepreneurial mind-set training if another career option becomes necessary," she said.

Jasmine Thomas, a senior majoring in elementary education, had to relocate to Henderson from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She is a senior at USI and is completing a minor in Spanish and a second minor in entrepreneurship.

Both women think the A-F grading system pushes them to do their best work. "Coach K and Coach B tell us if you put in real effort and complete the work, you will pass the class," said Thomas. "They want us to perform well, and they are available by email, telephone, or during office hours to offer help."

The entrepreneurship minor is open to all majors across campus. The minor requires nine hours of directed electives from students' respective major and nine hours of required courses.

Learning happens through doing

The focus of the minor is on entrepreneurial mind-set development. Entrepreneurship is traditionally associated with a particular form of business activity, the creation of a firm, whereas enterprising behavior in the broader concept and the education effort is directed towards developing enterprising people. "There are several students enrolled in the entrepreneurship minor courses who have no desire to be entrepreneurs, and that is great," said Bourdeau. "Students, representing 16 different majors across campus, find value in the application of an entrepreneurial mind-set to their major area of study, life, and career plans."

Even the setting in the entrepreneurial lab, located in the Business and Engineering Center, is different than the traditional classroom. Tables and chairs are arranged in small groups for three or four-member teams. Lab walls are coated so students can write ideas directly on the wall. "We don't want to lose thoughts as they are expressed," said Bourdeau. "We record all comments." The setting communicates ideation, defined as a structured approach to thinking for the purpose of solving a problem.

Green light thinking is a norm in the lab. "Green light thinking is based on creating, being uninhibited in thought, and stressing the positive," said Bourdeau. "This is the method to involve everyone equally in problem solving exercises. Green light thinking is an important step in coming up with unique ideas."

Clients with real issues and problems make presentations to the class. Students are engaged with individuals and companies and challenged to create innovative and viable solutions for today's business environment. Engineers and technicians who work in Indiana at the Crane Division Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC Crane), the third largest naval installation in the world, share technical information like patents used for developing warfare technology. The purpose is to find practical applications for free enterprise industry entirely different from the patent's original intent.

"Student engagement is high as each student develops his or her own path-breaking ideas," said Celuch. "Students literally create and develop course content in a process of co-creation with the client and coaches. The students also utilize journaling to reflect on the process as a means of developing their own self-identities in a world that is rapidly changing."

"The classes help us prepare for working under pressure and push us to reach our potential," said Thomas. "It is the class I like most to attend, and it is the one I work hardest on."

To evaluate the success of the teaching and learning effort, students take assessment surveys. The answers offer evidence of a shift in beliefs away from self-censoring and prejudging during ideation and more towards greater openness and idea sharing in the ideation process.

Intersections beyond the classroom

The two teacher coaches have been conducting entrepreneurial outreach efforts.

They hosted a morning boot camp this summer introducing local high school students to entrepreneurial mind-set development and a similar summer event is planned for 2012.

An opportunity developed between the College of Business and the Pott College of Science and Engineering. Engineering student Ben Balbach created a 3-D prototype printer to aid in product prototype design for USI students. While both were working on a Smart Home project funded by a Lilly grant with Southwestern Indiana Easter Seals, under the direction of Nancy Kovanic, assistant professor of management, Bourdeau and Balbach struck up a conversation and the printer idea was born. The printer is currently being utilized in the engineering lab to produce parts for students' projects. The College of Business is supporting the creation of a second 3-D printer which Balbach plans to utilize for an entrepreneurial endeavor.

Over this past summer, Bourdeau, working with an outreach client, performed a feasibility analysis and wrote the business plan for a new start-up business in Newburgh. The small business opened in August creating six jobs and is currently exceeding expectations.

"Students will utilize the same analysis and business plan structure in MNGT 353, a class I teach," said Bourdeau. "This recent analysis and business plan model will serve as the course benchmark for students to achieve what works in the marketplace."

Herbert A. Simon, a professor and 1978 Nobel Laureate in Economics, once said, "Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones."

"Design is the process that converts ideas into form," added Bourdeau. "Ideation is the process of forming and relating ideas that create value. It is important in creativity, innovation, and concept development. This is what we expect from our entrepreneurship minor students. As our world continues to rapidly change, so must our way of thinking."

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