New emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship prepares students for life after Lawrence
By Marti Gillespie
It is the type of economic event that the economists at Lawrence never imagined would happen. And it isn’t related to stimulus funding or changing interest rates or the latest figures on gross national product. This particular economic event is due to restructuring, not at the corporate or financial level, but instead within the walls of Briggs Hall. Lawrence’s Department of Economics is changing — moving away from its traditional focus on standard economics to the creation of a revitalized program that has at its core a major focus on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E).
“The role of the entrepreneur and a solid understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship are not new in economics,” explained Merton Finkler, chair of the Department of Economics and John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor in the American Economic System. “But in the standard literature and texts, the entrepreneur is conspicuous in his or her absence. It’s not something that we have tended to underscore in the past. However, we think that it’s increasingly important today and hence deserves to be addressed in a major way.” In doing so, a significant curricular transformation in economics is underway at Lawrence. It has helped bring renewed energy and vigor not only to the economics program, but also to an increasing fraction of faculty
and students throughout the Lawrence community.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship are about creating new things in the world,” asserted Adam Galambos, assistant professor of economics. “It’s about applying one’s creativity, knowledge and skills to create something that has value for society. We want our students to have opportunities to learn and experience I&E, and hence we are developing a core curriculum in this area that will provide students with a solid exposure to these increasingly
important fields.” Professor David Gerard elaborated, “In many econ courses, innovation and entrepreneurship, if they are mentioned at all, are often topics that the instructor gets to only if he or she has time. Our objective here at Lawrence is to integrate these ideas into the core of our courses and into the core of our curriculum.”
Integrating innovation and entrepreneurship into the economics program at Lawrence is a multi-faceted effort that includes additional courses, the addition of an I&E track in the economics major, a stronger focus on developing innovative thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset and a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities for students. This effort also aims to capture the interest and experience of various members of the faculty to use their insight and enthusiasm to guide Lawrence’s development on these fronts.
Two years ago students taking Entrepreneurship and Financial Markets focused on an array of lettered financial instruments and worried about trying to make sense of all of them. In 2009-10, the revised course has a new name, Entrepreneurship and Finance, and it features a weekly session with a visiting entrepreneur (often an alumnus) whose path to success provides a case study for students to examine and discuss. A second major component of the course requires teams of students to develop a full business plan for a product or service. Two students in the course, Georgi Petrov ’10 and Nico Staple ’10, used their interests in music as springboards for their class project — a global music-sharing website. At the end of the course they presented their ideas to “potential investors” — a panel of Lawrence alumni and community leaders — in a format resembling the television reality series “Shark Tank.” Staple found the experience to be very worthwhile. “I feel that with a really good idea I could start a business and be successful because we’ve learned how to develop ideas and to see what it takes to get something off the ground.” For Petrov, the course also boosted his confidence. “Now I am able to think ahead about what I would like to do and the options that are out there,” he said. “It has given me a new mindset and a certain way of critical, quantitative thinking that will be beneficial.”
The Bigger Picture
The current infusion of I&E into the Department of Economics has made it one of the more visible components in Lawrence’s expanding offerings in innovation and entrepreneurship, an effort that was first launched in 2008. A major curricular advancement, this initiative includes thematically focused courses or modules in several departments and a future experiential learning center. Galambos explained that the I&E program is harmonious with Lawrence’s core mission in liberal education and its focus on individualized learning. “We aspire to teach our students to be creative, to adapt to a changing world, to analyze problems from different perspectives and to contribute to society by creating something new and valuable. These traits make Lawrence students natural innovators and entrepreneurs, and the I&E program is designed to enable them to give expression to and develop these tendencies.”
As the various pieces continue to fall into place, the Lawrence I&E program should further distinguish the college among other institutions of higher education and provide the potential to make Lawrence more attractive to students and faculty, especially to those who favor active engagement, creative thinking and societal involvement.
Laying the Foundation
An important report from the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” is partly responsible for Lawrence’s decision to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into its offerings. In this report and its various offspring (which include the 2007 America Competes Act), the authors discuss the continued erosion of U.S. leadership and competitiveness in various fields, and they make recommendations for countering these trends. When John Brandenberger, Alice G. Chapman Professor of Physics Emeritus, became familiar with this report, he began to wonder how Lawrence might play a part in responding to the report’s recommendations.
The colleague that Brandenberger first sought out to discuss this matter was Galambos. It wasn’t long before the course In Pursuit of Innovation was added to the Lawrence curriculum, co-taught by Brandenberger and Galambos. Funded in part by a recent grant from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance, this course prepares Lawrence students to become contributors to a globally competitive American economy through an early and sustained immersion in innovation and entrepreneurship. “One of the points we drive home,” explain Galambos and Brandenberger, “is that major innovations and successful entrepreneurial efforts are rarely completed by a single person. Usually it’s a group of people. In our course, students learn to work effectively in groups to pursue chosen objectives. The results and achievements that emerge from such group activities are often very creative, ambitious and highly rewarding for the students.”
Agents for Change
One of the student projects stemming from In Pursuit of Innovation helped contribute to the enhancement of downtown Appleton. Students approached and eventually partnered with Harmony Café, a division of Goodwill Industries, to provide research that supported, among other things, a change in location as a way to improve business. Harmony Café leadership listened to the students’ views and moved its operations to east College Avenue in a location much closer to Lawrence that offered more space and improved visibility. Business increased, and Harmony was eager to continue its relationship with Lawrence. This year, another group of students from the course took on a challenge from Harmony Café to increase awareness of its nonprofit mission and to build a stronger connection with the Lawrence community.
“We created a Lawrence study event at Harmony that would get people in the door so that we could tell them about its mission,” said Suzie Kraemer ’10. “The event was attended by more than 150 students and generated $1,500 in sales. It was very rewarding. Usually at the end of a course you can feel good about getting a good grade on an exam or a paper, but this course was different. We worked really hard and at the end we had Harmony management and students thanking us for the event. In the end, I felt like our group had made a difference.” Harmony Café was so pleased by the way things turned out that it hosted a second Lawrence study event before the end of Spring Term.
While courses like In Pursuit of Innovation are catalogued under the Department of Economics, they are not designed exclusively for econ majors, and they have attracted students from a wide range of disciplines who are ready to roll up their sleeves and face the challenges put forth by Brandenberger and Galambos. “I found it to be a very difficult course,” said Alyssa Stephenson ’11, a physics major. “The gloves come off — they’re trying to teach you a new way to learn, and so the course contrasts sharply with every other course that I’ve taken. I came away from it with a lotof new skills, improved problem solving and a greater ability to think outside the box.”
A Sharper Focus
Sooner or later, most students pursuing a career in arts or music must become entrepreneurial. The addition of Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Society to the Lawrence curriculum means that these students will have a few more tools with which to hone their craft and prepare for life after Lawrence. Designed for its interdisciplinary appeal, the course offers classroom projects supplemented by weekly lectures from visiting professors from the conservatory of music, theatre and the arts. “The course makes a significant contribution to our curriculum,” said Tim Troy ’85, professor of theatre arts and J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama. “Students are given the vocabulary to talk about their artistic work using insights gleaned from business and economics, which helps them understand where their work fits into the larger marketplace of cultural and educational services and events.”
“The issues and ideas presented in this course encourage our students to see past the dangerous myth of the ‘starving artist,’” said Rob Neilson, associate professor of art. “For some strange reason our culture has decided that every profession deserves to be paid except those that pertain to the production of art. One rarely hears talk about a ‘starving accountant.’ Hopefully our students will see that making a living and making art are not contradictions in terms.” Neilson and Troy said they enjoyed their time in the classroom. “Only at a place like Lawrence would an econ professor approach a sculptor about team-teaching a course!” said Neilson. With a minor name change to The Art of Entrepreneurship, the course will again be offered in 2011-12.
While work continues to integrate even more innovation and entrepreneurship into the culture of the institution, Finkler said everything done so far has been very well received. “Students love it partly because they become actively engaged in it.” And regarding the aforementioned “economic event” that is unfolding at Lawrence, it could easily reverberate through various other colleges as well.
For now, according to Galambos, Lawrence is among the leaders. “We’re bringing innovation and entrepreneurship into Lawrence as we understand they should be. We are passionate about this matter, and we are consciously doing something that will distinguish us.” Added Troy, “There is a special élan at Lawrence that makes these kinds of interdisciplinary collaborations a normal part of our academic life. We’re very lucky.”
Teaching Physics Students to Innovate
Whether they were inducing atomic transparency, employing lasers to examine atomic structures or prolonging the trapping of electrons in a toroidal magnetic field, nine Lawrence physics students, under the direction of five faculty physicists last summer, found themselves embracing various personal characteristics related to innovation — and they soon began exhibiting behaviors and mindsets associated with innovative thinking relevant to science and beyond.
One might ask why Lawrence physicists — students and professors — were (and still are) exploring innovation, or, more precisely, the teaching of innovation? The answer, according to John Brandenberger, Alice G. Chapman Professor of Physics Emeritus, is that “physicists, perhaps more than most individuals, recognize that innovation occupies center stage in a serious research program or scholarly venture. Innovation, in fact, constitutes the lifeblood of a productive research program in physics. Once we physicists at Lawrence recognized this fact and began thinking about how we might teach students to be more innovative, we realized that our existing, ongoing faculty research programs could probably serve as powerful settings in which to incubate innovative mindsets among our students.”
This interest in innovation by Lawrence physicists emerged from a recent search for a new venture that might enhance departmental offerings. The resulting decision to focus on the teaching of innovation stemmed from assertions by numerous experts that a major strengthening of K-12 education, basic scientific research, creative engineering, technological development and innovative thinking are absolutely critical if the United States is to arrest its widespread slippage in global competitiveness — and by the recognition that solutions to our globally significant problems are going to require major innovative thinking worldwide. Supported by a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and additional support from other sources as well as Lawrence, a formal program is now underway in which Lawrence physicists are exploring approaches to the teaching of innovation. Most all members of the department — professors Matthew Stoneking, Jeffrey Collett, Megan Pickett, Douglas Martin, Shannon O’Leary, Adam Clausen and John Brandenberger — are participating in the investigation.
Thus far the more prominent component of this program has involved the use of six ongoing faculty research programs supplemented by various innovation-centered discussions and presentations arranged each week during the summer. In this part of the investigation, the student researchers are encouraged to embrace various character traits such as being creative, ambitious, curious, perseverant and risk-taking thought to be conducive to or at least strongly associated with innovation. While the students find that the summer research/innovation activities are demanding, all nine students last summer agreed that the program was eye-opening, stimulating and virtually certain to influence their futures.
“That program forced me to think a lot about innovation — about aspects of innovation that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” said Gennady Malyshev ’10. “There was considerable free thinking in terms of how we could solve this or that problem, along with an emphasis on trying to cultivate certain attitudinal and behavioral traits within ourselves. Being more aware of those characteristics made me more likely to embrace them.” Working alongside Brandenberger, Malyshev employed three-step laser spectroscopy to measure several “fine structure splittings” in excited states of rubidium atoms. The pair enjoyed the satisfaction of having their findings published in The Physical Review. “Most students don’t become published authors during their undergraduate careers,” said Malyshev. “I was very pleased.”
Eric Frater ’11 enjoyed the broad latitude that Professor Mathew Stoneking granted him in his attempt to solve a variety of
experimental problems connected with the Lawrence Nonneutral Torus. Frater drew sketches and drawings, constructed
experimental components in the machine shop and eventually incorporated these components into the large toroidal vessel so that the electron plasma could be examined in ways never before attempted. “This was an opportunity that I wouldn’t have gotten in most places,” Frater said. “Often in this sort of situation, the student just buys parts or has other people build things rather than doing things for oneself. I find that this approach at Lawrence makes the inclination to innovate even stronger because one is actually creating something and tinkering with it, instead of searching for things that already exist.”
For Alyssa Stephenson’11 the biggest takeaway from her summer of research and innovation was the notion that many off-the-cuff ideas actually have considerable merit. “The key is to encourage wild ideas and to think visually,” Stephenson said. “Get all of these crazy ideas, then narrow them down and don’t limit your thinking. That’s when you come up with the really good ideas.” Her project, making atoms transparent so that a carefully prepared light beam could pass through them, continued during fall term as an independent study project with Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellow in Physics Shannon O’Leary. Stephenson was also an invited speaker at the 2009 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “The focus on innovation gives you a whole new tool base,” she said. “It provides skills that one can use in other courses, in real life and in the workplace. I suspect that such skills will make a person more attractive to future employers. It’s very exciting.”
As this three-year program enters its second summer, the physicists at Lawrence remain convinced that their various efforts and half-dozen ongoing research programs will prove to be effective incubators of innovative thinking for their students. They also hope that these efforts will enrich the intellectual atmosphere at Lawrence. And finally, they
believe that the current exploration will strengthen other aspects of their program and let them explain to prospective students and others that something special is underway in physics at LU. It should be noted that this effort in physics dovetails closely with the University’s broader efforts to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum (see page 2).
As for Stephenson and Frater, they left Appleton in June to spend six months pursuing research and advanced studies at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, where they are being supported and supervised by Jennifer Herek ’90, chair of the Optical Sciences group. Although Frater and Stephenson are working on separate projects during their stay at Twente, they are relishing the excitement of studying abroad and the opportunity to participate in a research group directed by a Lawrence alumna. “I’m expecting to assume a lot of individual responsibility over there,” Frater said. “Had I not done the research last summer as part of the innovation effort in the Department of Physics, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity to join Professor Herek, or I would have been more apprehensive about accepting a position. But now I’m really looking forward to it.”
A Lawrence liberal arts education instills in students a lifelong passion for learning that can empower them to find success in a world that’s constantly changing. For some alumni, choosing a career that truly allows them to flex their liberal arts muscles has led them down the path toward entrepreneurship — an adventure in which persistence and creativity can transform risk into reward.
Cynthia Figge ’77
When Cynthia Figge graduated in 1977, the term social enterprise wasn’t found in any of her economics textbooks. But today she is widely recognized as one of its pioneers, having woven together a career that combines her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship with her passion for social change.
Figge is chief operating officer and co-founder of CSRHUB™, a web 2.0 startup offering sustainability ratings on the corporate social responsibility performance of more than 5,000 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies. “We have a very large vision for this,” said Figge. “We’ve brought together more than 1.6 million data points from many sources around the world. It’s exciting for me because it combines social media and technology as well as passion for sustainability.”
In 1996 Figge co-founded another groundbreaking company called EKOS International. Its mission is to help companies integrate sustainability into their business strategy. “When EKOS was founded, few people were thinking about sustainability in corporate America,” Figge said. “Today we’re much more attuned to the issues of how we interact with the environment and the community, how employees are treated and the concept of social governance for corporations. These areas have evolved into far more mainstream business issues.” Major corporations including Boeing, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Coca-Cola and REI have worked with Figge to add a sustainability component to their businesses.
She is the co-founder of Arrowsmith Technologies Corporation, a seed-stage biotechnology company researching ways to use antibodies to regulate the dosage of drugs and has worked with Weyerhaeuser Company to start a greenfield mill and with McCaw Cellular (now AT&T) developing new data ventures as an “intrapreneur.”
Reminiscing about her days at Lawrence, Figge credits Jules LaRocque, professor emeritus of economics, for identifying her enthusiasm for eliciting social change through business and steering her toward her MBA from the Harvard Business School. “We had very formative discussions about how we could bring these worlds together,” she said. “At the time, a lot of the change groups were activist groups and were largely anti-business, so I think that it was a bit progressive for us to be thinking about bringing about change through business.”
Figge admits she’s always been a hands-on entrepreneur — she tends to think about the big ideas and then energetically rolls up her sleeves to see them through, doing everything from designing a website home page to negotiating with global media partners and everything inbetween. “The things you are dealing with are so complex and varied, especially when you’re doing a startup. You really need to be a jack-of-all-trades,” she said.
As far as advice to Lawrentians who may want to explore becoming entrepreneurs themselves, Figge said, “Be patient.” She doesn’t encourage people to do it too early in their careers because there is much that can be gained from working for others. And it’s often a difficult path that’s not for everybody. “You need the gift of seeing ahead,” Figge said. “You have to have a sense about where the world is going and what it needs before it knows it. It’s also hard work. There’s no off button on the entrepreneurial path, so you need to assess how driven you are in pursuit of the new venture that you’re creating.”
Lan Huang ’93
As a nine-year-old school girl in China, Lan Huang watched helplessly as cancer claimed the life of her beloved grandfather. From that day forward, she found her calling. “I knew I wanted to explore science and to help people,” she said.
Today the successful health care entrepreneur is well on her way to achieving her dream, after launching a string of successful companies in the United States and China.
Currently Huang is CEO of Wuxi MTLH Biotechnology, a company she co-founded in China in 2007. Wuxi develops protein/peptide therapeutics for cancer and immunological diseases, and it’s Huang who’s the driving force behind its discoveries. “For any potential drug, most important is the generation of the original molecule,” Huang said. “That comes from my brain. I’m the originator of the patent. I have had many years of training so it has to be used for a good cause.”
Wuxi’s first product has just been licensed to Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group, a top pharmaceutical manufacturing company in China. Huang is also working with a company in the United States to start phase I testing for a second Wuxi-developed cancer drug.
In 2003 Huang co-founded HYWE Pharmaceuticals. An herbal drug she created for treating brain tumors is about to begin phase II testing in the United States. “This was my stepping stone as a basic research scientist into the drug discovery field,” Huang said.
“I’ve very happy with its progress.”
Her third company, founded in 2002, is Beyond ML Groups, based in New York City. This company provides product management services to large U.S. pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, including the coordination of research and development at CRO companies in China. “Clinical studies in China cost one third to one fifth of what they do in the United States,” Huang said. “It’s a lengthy research process. So when you can generate quality data in China in a more cost effective way, you get a better return.”
She’s also the co-founder of Yolare Dermaceuticals, Inc., where she created skin care products used for anti-aging and scar reduction, which are currently being marketed in China.
Asked how she juggles all of her entrepreneurial interests with a globetrotting schedule, Huang said that it’s a cultural trait connected to her Chinese heritage. “I’m always hungry for knowledge, I’m always curious and I want to help people. And to help people you need to create things, rather than wait for things to come to you. Being an entrepreneur helps me fulfill that type of intellectual curiosity.”
Huang said Lawrence set her on the right foot for her professional career, with professor Jerry Lokensgard being especially instrumental in her scholarly development. “When I first arrived from China I knew I wanted to be a scientist, but that was it. Lawrence helped build my confidence and opened my eyes to the world. My success now is not only based on my doing, but the environment that has helped me be who I am.”
As far as advice for young entrepreneurs, Huang said not to go into anything blindly. “You need to remember that you are taking calculated risks. You have to really think deeply about your idea. Find something you are passionate about and something that you are better than other people at, and then go for it.”
Throughout her career Huang has always set high standards for herself. Today she is even more driven and has her eye on the ultimate prize. “The ultimate goal for my research is to create new drugs to help people,” said Huang. “Then I will create a research institute which will culture Nobel Prize winners. I want to be the person to do that.”
When it comes to setting a good example about dedication and perseverance in the workplace, O.B. Parrish had a great role model — his father, who retired at age 93. “He had a sporting goods business and was active until he retired,” said Parrish. “He did it because he had fun every day.”
Having fun is what drives Parrish, who, after climbing the corporate ladder at pharmaceutical giants G.D. Searle and Pfizer, decided to use his extensive knowledge about the industry to help smaller health care companies succeed. It wasn’t long before a Wisconsin company with ties to the Danish physician who invented the female condom caught the eye of Parrish and his fellow investors.
“At the time, very few people had heard of the female condom,” said Parrish. “None were marketed. As the AIDS pandemic continued to develop, we thought the female condom could eventually play a significant role in preventing it. Plus, while AIDS was originally thought of as a disease of gay males or drug users, it was our view that it would eventually be a broad disease of males and females.” Armed with their intuition, Parrish and his partners decided to invest.
Six years and approximately 12 million dollars later, the company received FDA approval of the female condom. A London manufacturing facility also obtained FDA approval to ship the product to the United States. After purchasing worldwide rights to the female condom, the Female Health Company was born, with Parrish in place as CEO and chair of the board. In July 2009 the Female Health Company went public and Fortune Small Business ranked it number eight on its list of 100 fastest growing small companies. “It was satisfying for a number of reasons,” Parrish said. “This company is an example of capitalism with a humanitarian endpoint. You don’t see much of that. You are saving lives, and more importantly, some of the people who are benefitting from this are some of the most underprivileged in the world. That’s the element that provides satisfaction.” The Female Health Company works with the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the United States Agency for International Development to distribute the female condom around the world. A second-generation female condom is now available in the United States.
Parrish’s second company, Ambiant Inc., is a privately held neuroimaging company developing a technology that uses brain scans to determine the effectiveness of new drugs. Parrish said the technology shows great promise for use in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and in monitoring the effectiveness of Alzheimer’s treatments. “I was intrigued by it,” said Parrish. “The company has the potential for some positive societal impact.”
Although bitten by the entrepreneurial bug later in life, Parrish said the advice he received early in his career still applies to the things he does today. “A lot of people start with a premise when something is brought to their attention. They give you a list of reasons why something can’t be done. If you want to be successful in a career, you have to look at things — and life — in a different way. When something comes up, don’t look at it as why things can’t be done, but look at it in terms of how it might be done — even though the probability of doing it might not be high.”
Like his father, Parrish doesn’t let barriers stop his ambition. Instead he focuses on the opportunity that may be hiding within them. “I like a challenge,” Parrish said. “Something that taxes you, something that challenges you to do something that hasn’t been done before. To be successful you have to do something that you like, something you can identify with and feel very good about. I’ve been fortunate to have the career I’ve had, and I’m still having fun doing it.”
Abir Sen ’97
Credit a rare bone infection shortly after graduating from Lawrence (and its 18-month recovery period) for starting Abir Sen down the road to becoming an entrepreneur in the field of health care. “I saw, from a consumer standpoint, some of the broken pieces and what I would have liked in that situation. It was a different perspective than purely as a business person.”
Sen’s interest in health care led to his co-founding in 1998 of Definity Health. It was a pioneer in the new age of consumer-directed health insurance. Sen and his colleague’s major achievement was the groundbreaking “invention” of the personal health care spending account that gave consumers control over their own health care dollars.
After selling Definity Health to UnitedHealth, Sen’s foray into health care continued with the founding of another health care start up in 2006 called RedBrick Health. RedBrick advocates lifestyle changes as a way to control health care costs. “It’s about getting people to think about taking better care of themselves so they don’t need as much health care down the line,” he said.
Just three years later, Sen was at the helm of yet another start up, Bloom Health, a company that was started to help employers, workers and consumers understand how to navigate changes brought on by health care reform. “Today we have managed care plans that are geared to serve the needs of the employer,” said Sen. “We see a shift to individual-centric defined contribution health care plans where an employer can say, ‘Here is $5,000, employee, go figure out what health care plan you want.’ Our business is to help the employee figure out what type of insurance program they should buy and what wellness program they should spend their money on.”
While his latest endeavor has Sen traveling all over the country, during spring term 2010 Sen took time out of his busy schedule and returned to Lawrence as a guest lecturer for professor Marty Finkler’s Entrepreneurship and Finance class, where students discussed a case study on Sen’s first company, Definity Health. For Sen, maintaining ties with his alma mater is important. “Lawrence was transformational for me,” he said. “I was 18 years old, going from a city of 16 million people in India to a city of 70,000. The scholarship from Lawrence made it possible for me to come here. My professors provided key guidance along the way. I’m happy to participate in providing career help to current students. I feel fortunate to be able to do so.”
When asked what advice he would like to share about his entrepreneurial successes, Sen said it has a lot to do with believing in oneself. “The only way I can have the job that I want is if I design it myself. I have this phrase: What is the worst that can happen? If you think about it, the worst that can happen is actually not that bad, so why wouldn’t you go out and try some things? Then if you fail, not a whole lot can go wrong, but if you succeed, there’s a huge reward.”
Sen adds that an entrepreneur doesn’t need the proverbial big idea before starting a business. Instead, he said, the best approach is to seize the chance to solve a problem and don’t let so-called experts get in the way. “If you see an opportunity and have insight into a problem, don’t assume that somebody else knows more about it than you do, because people usually don’t. And you’ll never find out until you ask the question.”
Having a liberal arts background is beneficial to a potential entrepreneur, he said, especially in today’s economy. “Liberal arts students are particularly good at being generalists. Being able to move around, versus being particularly deep in one specific area, definitely adds value,” he said.
Dreamers and Doers
Student innovators find opportunity in ideas
By Christie McCowen ’10
Sophia Chung ’13
When Sophia Chung was having problems getting the students she was tutoring engaged in their writing, she went beyond thinking outside the box. Instead she created a whole new box to work out of. Two years ago, as a junior in high school in Walnut, Calif., she started the Rhuen Storytellers — a creative writing program where the students work toward contributing to a novel. So far the program has published 11 novels.
Chung created Rhuen Storytellers in response to frustration with a school system that teaches writing through non-interactive ways. Instead, her program takes students from the second to the eighth grade and embraces their interests. By adapting the fun and addictive qualities of video games and television shows, Chung has developed a way to teach creative writing in a way that gets students excited. “The students are the characters in their novels,” Chung said. “As they become better writers, their characters develop new skills. It’s an innovative program that embraces all types of learners.”
That is the difference — instead of developing standards and compelling students to meet them, Chung listens to what interests her students and lets them lead the direction of the class. “Storytelling is one of the most communicative and important skills,” she said. “Even if it is taught, it’s taught in a very structured, stale format.”
It hasn’t been an easy road, however. Chung runs every aspect of the program, from the administration to the cover design. As a piano and English double major, she has been finding it difficult to keep the program running while at Lawrence. “It’s really time consuming,” she said. However, in the end, the hard work pays off. While Rhuen Storytellers has helped pay her way through Lawrence, Chung has developed a relationship with her students. “While I’m away at Lawrence, my students will sometimes call to see when there is class next,” Chung said. “I can’t think of another situation where students would be asking for more classes.”
The next step in Sophia Chung’s own story is giving back to her community. “I’ve started a nonprofit, The Empower Project,” she said. “It deals with exploring tolerance, peace and human rights through reading, writing and speaking. I currently have 90 registered students.” Beyond her work in her own community, Chung is also working on bringing both Rhuen Storytellers and the Empower Project to Valley New School in Appleton this coming fall.
For more information on Rhuen Storytellers, visit www.rhuenwriting.com.
Vince Dyer ’10
To cap their Lawrence experience, many students find themselves taking on an honors project. Vince Dyer, of Elmhurst, Ill., however, didn’t just write a paper. He laid out new guidelines and standards in an effort to develop a new residential rating system that could
redefine how homes should be built.
A philosophy and environmental studies double major, the idea came to Dyer after he completed an internship with Lawrence Trustee Terry Franke ’68. “I spent a summer working with [Franke] on his small residential development project in Pentwater, Mich.,” Dyer said, and because Franke wanted the development project to be LEED certified, Dyer learned a lot along the way about home
He learned that LEED certification was not a consumer-friendly process and an ineffective way to produce energy efficient homes.
“So,” Dyer said, “I began thinking, ‘If I were going to create a rating system, what would I do differently?’”
In attempting to create a better system, Dyer chose to analyze LEED for homes — the most widely used system in the United States — and Passivhaus — the most widely used system in Europe. While both rating systems have their advantages, according to Dyer, the two have a lot to learn from each other.
“LEED for Homes is generally too qualitative — it is possible to build a LEED Platinum home that still consumes the same amount of energy as a conventional home.” Passivhaus has the opposite problem — it’s quantitative approach focuses heavily on minimizing energy consumption after construction. “It is possible to build a Passivhaus-certified house out of materials that used as much energy to make as they save in their lifetime by using them,” he said.
Dyer’s work retools the contradicting rating systems into a new system he calls CO2BALT. His system works with designers and builders to help them know their building site and material sources so that they can minimize the impact on the environment and the overall release of CO2 over the life of the home.
Now comes the hard part — getting builders to recognize CO2BALT as a legitimate option for residential design. “I operate under the belief that nothing has ever been more inefficient, as humans are today,” Dyer said. “So that means that the room for improvement has never been larger, and opportunities are abundant.” Working within this mindset, Dyer hopes to find like-minded individuals in order to put together a team and begin work on a prototype. “It’s something I will pursue,” he said, “after graduation.”
Harjinder Bedi ’09
When the seven members of Fatbook were joined together by Harjinder Bedi, they probably never imagined that two years down the road they would have back-to-back DownBeat awards under their belts. Now, with the graduation of the last three members, Fatbook has embarked on its first month-long tour.
Bedi, who prefers to be called the “instigator” behind the creation of Fatbook rather than the founder of the group, said there was a moment of “slight disbelief” in hearing the news the band had won for the second year in a row. “But then I felt a sense of validation,” said Bedi, who plays guitar and sings lead vocals. “The award tells me that what we have going on with this project is worth investing our efforts in.”
A double major in music education and anthropology from Appleton, Wis., Bedi has been the band’s entrepreneur from the beginning. “I’m booking performance dates, scheduling rehearsals, planning events, creating promotional materials, managing finances, networking and doing whatever else I can think of to learn how to be an effective manager/leader of our group,” he said. “Not to mention writing and playing music.”
Last year’s DownBeat award was a springboard to club dates throughout the Fox Cities and Wisconsin, with future concerts in Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago in the works. “It’s grown into a project that has carried on outside of the Lawrence bubble, and I’ve really just been trying to use every opportunity possible as a learning experience,” Bedi said.
What’s his biggest challenge? “The interpersonal nature of this job I think is one of the most challenging parts,” Bedi said. “You are mixing art, business and personal relationships when doing this, and it is a tough position being the one who has to keep all of that positive and everyone cohesive and behind what you’re doing. I’ve learned a lot having to navigate those situations.“
With all of the challenges he has encountered, Bedi is still enjoying his multiple roles within Fatbook. “In this business you have to create your own opportunity out of nowhere — and that’s really exciting to me.”
With graduation behind him and a student-teaching position in Chicago on the horizon, Bedi is hoping to keep the things going by establishing a base for Fatbook in the Windy City. “Being in this position requires you to be an artist/musician/performer, business entrepreneur, aesthetic designer, financial manager, event planner, group leader and just a level-headed friend. It’s crazy and I really
Johnathan Vanko ’13
What is the recipe for a student art gallery? Start with an idea, add a dash of volunteers and combine it with an empty dining hall. The result is a full course of student-produced artwork served up in what used to be the main dining hall at Lawrence — brought to you by a freshman with an eye for innovation. On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the former Jason Downer Commons building opened after being transformed by freshman Jonathan Vanko into a student art gallery.
Vanko, a studio art major from East Dundee, Ill., said the idea came to him during a discussion about the lack of gallery space for student artwork. He sent a 17-page proposal to Lawrence President Jill Beck suggesting that the vacant Downer Commons could be put to good use as an art gallery. Vanko and Beck met and the president invited him to present his plan to the President’s Cabinet. Soon after, Vanko was meeting with faculty and staff advisors for the project.
The project was put in motion — but it wasn’t a smooth course. “The building was packed with furniture,” Vanko said. “The city of Appleton had questions, and the fire department wanted to inspect the place to ensure its safety.” With the help of Facility Services, the space was cleared up, cleaned up and ready for inspection.
Beyond converting the building, coordinating volunteers and selecting artwork for the exhibit, Vanko also had to balance his other responsibilities. “Pulling this all together, I had to remember that I had three other things called classes — not to mention the other campus activities that I am involved in,” Vanko said. “It took a lot of time management — more like juggling.”
While the Jason Downer Commons Student Art Exhibition is not a permanent addition to the Lawrence Community, the experience has turned up the heat on Vanko’s innovative nature. “A little less then a year ago, this space that is now occupied as a gallery was serving our community food daily,” he said. “Being a freshman and proving to people that I could not only dream big but follow through and solve a problem and that I could change things was rewarding. The gallery will close at the end of spring term, but I promise this is not the last big dream for me while I am here. There will be much more to come.”
Ana Kennedy ’11
When Ana Kennedy of Portland, Ore., was shown a film on global aid in one of her classes, she didn’t just take notes — she took action and mobilized students into a global aid organization.
After spending a term at the Urban Studies Program in Chicago, Kennedy came back to the Lawrence campus with an interest for grassroots community organizing, community development and social justice movements. With the help of other interested students, Kennedy started SEGA — Students Engaged in Global Aid.
SEGA operates under the mission, “to provide members of the LU community hands on involvement in sustainable international development through microlending. The grassroots approach of SEGA works to foster a relationship between members of the Lawrence community and the individual entrepreneurs in developing states by using a tangible form of aid that allows for high visibility.”
Kennedy’s inspiration for forming SEGA came from Professor Jason Brozek’s Introduction to International Relations class, where she also learned about KIVA.org. This past year, SEGA partnered with KIVA, an Internet-based organization that connects entrepreneurs in developing countries to individuals and groups, like Kennedy’s organization.
“KIVA.org uses the internet to facilitate microloans between lenders and entrepreneurs in developing countries,” Kennedy said. “Money is lent, repaid to the lender and then re-lent to more entrepreneurs.”
In its first year as an organization, SEGA fund-raised more than $800. Because some of its original loans have already been repaid, the group has lent more than it raised. To date, SEGA has made 34 loans of $25 each to women and groups of entrepreneurs in Africa, its continent of focus for the past year.
“I am extremely proud of what SEGA has achieved in our short time as a student organization,” Kennedy said. “I think we have had a strong impact, both on and off campus, and it is incredibly rewarding to know that the work we do on campus has tangible effects in the world.”
While SEGA has been happy to work with KIVA, the group is hoping to branch out to other microfinance organizations in the future. “We hope to continue at this level of fund-raising and encourage more Lawrence students and community members to become involved with SEGA in the future,” Kennedy said.
Will Meadows ’13
Marking 126 days into his freshman year at Lawrence, Will Meadows celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day watching the installation of a solar panel on the roof of Youngchild Hall — a project he spearheaded with fellow classmate Austin Federa ’13. In the true nature of innovation, Meadows saw a need and then sought to fill it. With a LEED-certified campus center and campus organizations focused on the environment and conserving energy, clean energy creation was missing from the Lawrence difference.
With guidance from Associate Professor of Geology Jeff Clark, Meadows and his partner went beyond theorizing to making it happen. “Once we got started,” Meadows said, “people really gave us a lot of support.” Roughly two-thirds of the cost of the panel was paid for by grants from outside the university. The remaining funds were donated by a group of donors from the Phoenix area. The new panel will reduce Lawrence’s carbon dioxide emissions by about three tons of carbon per year and will have a lifespan of about 30 years.
The installation of the solar panel is just the beginning. The 2.92-kilowatt (kW) unit is expected to generate approximately 3,700 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a year — enough energy to power the entire environmental studies department. In addition to reducing Lawrence’s electric bill, the panel will serve an educational purpose, feeding data directly to environmental science, physics and chemistry classes. However, according to Meadows, the most important byproduct of the solar panel is the spirit to make a choice toward clean energy. “As these kinds of choices are being made, people will follow.”
While Meadows could have taken things as they were and accepted that energy production was only a possibility for Lawrence, he took a chance. “Taking that chance of success is how I view innovation and entrepreneurship,” Meadows said. Most importantly, “the project showed that we as students can take initiative and make things change on campus.” Meadows hopes that the success of their project will encourage others to innovate and stand up for a greener campus and send a signal to administrators that clean energy is an important issue for the university.
The ultimate goal? “A carbon negative campus,” said Meadows. By continuing to look toward renewable energy sources such as solar power, it is possible for Lawrence to offset its carbon footprint. While this goal seems a long way off, with a few more entrepreneurs like Meadows, Lawrence could rapidly become a role model for universities nationwide.
As a resident life assistant, Mohr was required to be on campus all three terms during the academic year. Instead of choosing between the two experiences, she instead chose to apply for a summer program at the Foundation for International Education in London and through an internship at the Three Faiths Forum create an educational program for Muslim girls called Faith in Fashion.
While there were many opportunities available at the Three Faiths Forum — a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the understanding between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities — Mohr chose to initiate her own project. “When a person’s faith gives guidance on clothing it becomes even more interesting to explore,” she said.
The Faith in Fashion program uses the choices Muslim women make in the way they dress as a way to send positive messages about Muslim identity. “The hope for this project,” Mohr said, “is that it can become a powerful stepping-stone in enabling young Muslim women to demonstrate their understanding of and commitment to Islam, which they will pass on to future generations.”
The majority of Mohr’s work was researching and compiling information to create the educational materials that she considers the backbone of the project. However, the challenge was in the writing. “I wasn’t writing for a college professor,” she said. The materials she developed need to be adapted for young women. “I continuously needed to keep in mind the target audience while working on this project.”
Currently, the Faith in Fashion program works with five traditional Muslim schools in London and Birmingham. The schools use the educational materials that Mohr developed through her research to explore issues of identity and faith. “It is my hope that the research and educational materials I created for the Faith in Fashion program in London can one day be put into use here at Lawrence in the religious studies department,” she said.
“Being modest should not mean women have to lack beauty. Thus, individuals can still be modest while being fashionable and trendy.”