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Conference Proceeding

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Social entrepreneurs utilize the traits of commercial entrepreneurs; organizational abilities, opportunity identification, combining resources in novel ways, willingness to accept and manage risk and explosive growth or returns, to create enterprises that return high social value. As educators, we see opportunities where entrepreneurial skills can be applied to education, not-for-profit organizations, government offices and programs and philanthropic concerns and create service learning opportunities for students beyond the boundaries of the university. Many of us involved in higher education are frustrated with students who do not attend class, turn in assignments late or exhibit a lack of effort in classes where they pay tuition and receive a grade. It is a challenge, therefore, to gain the involvement of students in social entrepreneurship efforts where the reward (grade, pay or recognition) is not immediate or minimal and the trade-off (time management for their schedule) may be more fun or financially rewarding. This paper discusses the evolution for the process of enlisting student involvement in two distinct social entrepreneurship programs at our university.

The first program involves linking university skill sets in the arts, digital media, technology and project management to the planning, implementation and evaluation of a regional arts and music festival held in the city where our university operates. Students involved in this social entrepreneurial venture work with community volunteers, city government officials and local business owners for a period of nine to ten months. In the first two years of sponsoring this program the strategy has evolved from enlisting the help of a student technology club (Edge Club, Digital Media) to working with a small volunteer student team (3 to 4 students). In each case, the organization or student team that worked on the project received no academic credit for the work involved beyond enhancement of their resume. Initial enthusiasm was high but tended to decline as the time horizon for finishing the project extended beyond the current semester and other activities or demands competed for the students’ participation.

The second program also utilizes a student organization (Students In Free Enterprise, SIFE) to work on social entrepreneurship projects. In SIFE we have found that the students prefer projects that entail an afternoon of preparation for a short presentation, or service within a 3-4 day period. In that this group is involved in a “competition” with SIFE teams from other institutions at the end of the year, it is important that they seek projects that will differentiate themselves. The short-term projects that they prefer do little to accomplish this differentiation. The projects that truly differentiate are those that require a high degree of preparation for an event that culminates at the end of the semester, or even the following year.

To that end, all students of this select team are required to create a long-term project that they will spearhead throughout the year. This leads to an escalation of commitment due to their “ownership” of that project. They are also required to assist another team member on their long-term project. Their efforts on these projects tend to be greater in that they realize that the other members will be assisting them on their project and they want to receive a conscientious effort from their teammates. This synergistic performance enhances both the number and quality of the projects. Using this method, we typically create 5 to 6 viable projects each year. Most teams that we compete with tend to have one major project per year. Using this system our university team has completed an average of 10 projects per year for presentation, of which 2 to 3 have been major projects.


Honolulu, HI

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© 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. This document was originally published by the American Society for Engineering Education.