Critical and creative thinking are at the heart of the 5-year-old eMinor program
By Sue Valerian
Lisa Perry ’14 didn’t understand what carving a pumpkin had to do with entrepreneurship – until she enrolled in John Carroll’s entrepreneurship minor program. In one class, she and her classmates were charged to think about different ways to cut a pumpkin.
“You always think of carving a pumpkin from the top, but why have we never thought about cutting out the bottom?” Perry says.
By cutting out the bottom, seeds can be removed easily and a candle can be inserted without getting burned. It’s this kind of simple but critical and creative thinking that’s at the heart of the 5-year-old eMinor program, which expanded in 2013. With the success of the minor, in which about 500 students were enrolled in the 2012-2013 academic year, the University applied for a grant to integrate entrepreneurial lessons into existing classes. The $42,350 grant, awarded by The Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Hudson, Ohio, paid for 10 professors in areas from communications to religion to physics to create and integrate lessons about entrepreneurship.
Physics professor Naveed Piracha, Ph.D., was one of those who applied for, and was awarded, part of the grant. He used it to teach a lesson about entrepreneurship in his senior project class. Usually, Piracha assigns a design or research project to his class. But this year, he challenged the students to come up with their own ideas and create a prototype they could market and sell. Some embraced the challenge, but others thought it was an uncomfortable and difficult task. To get the students started, Piracha led them through an exercise to stimulate their creativity. He gave them two unrelated words and asked them to explain a possible definition of the term. For example: sofa water. What might sofa water be? The goal is to teach students how to create new ideas.
That led to a class project in which one team came up with the idea of a remote monitoring device for trashcans. The device would electronically show when a trashcan was full and needed to be emptied. Piracha thinks completing such a project will give students an advantage over many others in the job market.
“We live in a time driven by technology,” Piracha says. “If students want to find a job, they’ll be better off than other students because they’ll have done something new.”
Reaching future entrepreneurs
Research states the majority of entrepreneurs in the U.S. aren’t business majors but arts and sciences majors, so it made sense to offer an entrepreneurship program to the 80 percent of Carroll students in arts and sciences.
“We want to reach the people who are becoming entrepreneurs and arm them,” says Mark Hauserman ’68, director of JCU’s Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship and former business owner. “The ammunition is twofold – teach students to recognize opportunity and think critically and creatively.”
“Many people think entrepreneurship means starting a business,” says Perry, who’s scheduled to graduate in May 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. “That’s false. It’s a way of thinking, and it’s a creative way to solve problems.”
As a new public relations and marketing professor in 2012, Jennifer Allen Catellier, Ph.D., struggled to get her students to think differently, so she welcomed the opportunity to participate in the entrepreneurship grant program and offered a lesson about creative thinking. In one exercise, students used think packs – decks of cards with questions such as “How would Walt Disney solve this problem?” – to prompt them to think differently about how to promote an event or organization. Inevitably, the students came up with more creative ideas.
“They recognize there are different ways to generate ideas … and don’t get stuck in a rut,” Catellier says.
A top-ranked program
Creating the eMinor program was a collaborative effort between the Boler School of Business and the College of Arts & Sciences – and students in both are benefiting. Currently, 52 percent of those who’ve declared a major are from the business school, and 48 percent are from the College of Arts & Sciences school, according to Jackie Schmidt, Ph.D., director of the program, which was ranked 18th in the country last year by Bloomberg Businessweek.
Students can choose from two tracks: arts and sciences and business. All students take the same four classes – including a course about creativity, invention, and innovation, as well as one about idea development – first. After completing those classes, they move into others tailored for business or arts and sciences majors. For example, communications majors would take “Accounting & Finance for Entrepreneurs,” while business majors would take a core business class.
There’s also a socially responsible part of the program. In the required ER 304 class, students learn about the meaning and importance of social entrepreneurship and how the fundamentals of entrepreneurship apply to nonprofit and social agendas. Each student is required to take 18 credits, including three credits for entrepreneurship field experience, to complete the program.
Not the same old thing
Rebecca Sigler ’14, a communication major, has a new outlook on life in general since minoring in entrepreneurship.
“I get frustrated if I try to do the same old boring thing,” she says. “Now, I’m thinking about how I can improve something and make it unique.”
Last year, Sigler and her team placed third in an entrepreneurship competition called Immersion Week at Hiram College in Ohio where they generated and presented the idea for Alpha Mags, sticker-like magnets that attach to cars. Sigler believes the magnets are a better alternative to writing with paint or markers on car windows, which high school students often do to demonstrate school spirit. They continued to work on the idea at the Hatchery, a designated workspace in the Muldoon Center for students developing businesses, where students are paired with an experienced local businessperson from JCU’s Entrepreneurs Association.
“I can see myself as a business owner now, and I definitely couldn’t before enrolling in the eMinor program,” Sigler says.
Owning a business is a worthy and lofty goal, but the aim of the eMinor and grant program is more modest. Hauserman and Schmidt want the entrepreneurship classes to support the majors and jobs students pursue.
“They’re unlikely to start a company at 22, but they’ll go to work for a company and bring their ideas to that company, which will be able to start a new product or business,” Hauserman says.
Creatively meeting needs
Sociology professor Duane Dukes, Ph.D., ’79 has been teaching classes in the eMinor program since it began. Last year, he also integrated a lesson into one of his introductory sociology classes as part of the grant because he wants to take general principles of sociology – racism, discrimination, sexism, poverty, and the environment – and apply creative thinking to them.
“We walk students to the edge and show them what’s going wrong in society, and we need to encourage them to find ways to solve those problems,” says Dukes, who wants students to think creatively and critically about how to meet the needs of people who can’t meet them by themselves. “There are many volunteers, but somebody created the program they work in.”
Habitat for Humanity is a good example of social entrepreneurship. Dukes leads the students through several creative-thinking exercises in the entrepreneur classes. For example, he gives students a packing peanut and asks them to make something out of it. One student made earrings. Dukes also asks students to create a list of things that bother them. Students need to come up with 70, everything from wet socks to sour orange juice.
“You have to know what needs to be fixed,” he says.
Dukes’ exercises are an important part of helping to change the way students think.
“Students are good at memorizing, but memorizing isn’t creativity,” he says. “A big part of these exercises is to relax people and get rid of the ‘I have no ideas’ barrier. This isn’t about being a genius; you don’t have to have an IQ of 132 to do this.”
It’s about teaching students to zig when others might be zag. Frequently, creative thought can save a business. Dukes provides the example of the Arm & Hammer brand. The manufacturer took a product – baking soda – that was once considered only for baking and turned it into a desirable ingredient in everything from toothpaste to carpet cleaners. But generating an idea is just the beginning.
“There are many people who have a great idea but can’t tell anybody about it,” Dukes says. “You need to be able to present it.”
That’s why the eMinor program takes students through the process of bringing an idea to fruition.
“I always tell students there’s no such thing as an idea that’s so good you don’t have to explain it to somebody,” Dukes says. “You have to be able to tell people they need it.”
Students learn some of those skills in the eMinor’s entrepreneurial marketing and sales class. In this course, students are introduced to marketing, especially as it relates to entrepreneurial businesses. They learn about pricing, promotion, product decision, and the management of ethical problems, to name a few topics.
Grow, think and create
Schmidt, Hauserman and other professors want to expand the eMinor program. A new contest, which is open to all students, for social entrepreneurship was created to honor the late Jack Soper, Ph.D., an economics professor at Carroll who was instrumental in developing the eMinor program. The Morgan Foundation grant won’t extend to next year, but professors plan to keep teaching the entrepreneurship lessons in their classes.
“I’m continuing with my unit because it made a big difference,” Catellier says. “Students think it’s a fun part of my class.” JCU