Helping Students Redefine “Entrepreneurship”
February 19, 2023
New team-taught course offers real-world perspectives on leveraging the value of engineering.
This semester, Olin is piloting a new course called “Real World Lessons in Creating Impact,” intended to help students envision their own perspectives on how to create and capture the value of their work in a sustainable way.
The idea for the course came about through conversations between Olin’s President Gilda A. Barabino, Ph.D., and alumnus Leif Jentoft ’09, cofounder of RightHand Robotics.
“The spark came from talking with Gilda about her Engineering for Everyone vision and how to make engineering education accessible,” says Jentoft. “I’ve always been interested in what happens when someone has a big dream—how do you make it happen? How can you make it sustainable by capturing some of the value to support the team and stakeholders needed to make it a reality? How to do this in a feasible, viable, ethical way?”
“Real World Lessons in Creating Impact” is a seminar-style course that invites entrepreneurs and leaders from industry and nonprofits to share their real-life experiences of accomplishing their professional goals. The class is team-taught by Barabino; Jentoft; Lawrence Neeley, associate professor of design and entrepreneurship; and Gillian Epstein, senior lecturer in English and writing initiatives specialist.
The notion of entrepreneurship can be polarizing; while every student at Olin arguably sees themselves as an engineer in some capacity, the same can’t be said for the identity of “entrepreneur.”
“For many, entrepreneurship is seen as a separate concept from engineering, or maybe something that is relevant only to a specific subset,” says Neeley. “Fundamentally, we are trying to encourage students to mush those concepts together through the understanding that every engineer needs to have some appreciation for and insight into how people will be able to access and benefit from their big ideas.”
To help students better recognize the many ways entrepreneurship exists—from large venture capitalist-funded firms to small nonprofits seeking to make a difference—“Real World Lessons” invites speakers from all walks of life. Guests this semester include Jon Hirschtick, founder and former CEO of SolidWorks; Dr. Rachita Navara ’11, cardiologist and co-founder of SafeBeat; and Ellen Chisa ‘10, author and partner at investment firm Boldstart.
“Through a number of Olin-wide initiatives, we’ve been working with Gilda on ways to harness the power of storytelling to broaden people’s perspectives,” says Epstein. “This idea of learning from someone else’s experience fits organically into this class, helping students engage with stories from diverse entrepreneurs and leaders to see what resonates with them and to remain open to what doesn’t.”
To that end, Neeley and Epstein have developed a simple scaffold in which students are asked to reflect on what they connected with and what they didn’t after every guest speaker’s session. “We hope that by thinking about creating and capturing value in this way, students can hold some space for the larger meaning of entrepreneurship and how it may shape their identity, now or in the future,” says Epstein.
By having Barabino and Jentoft as co-instructors, the course provides students with two differing but relatable perspectives on the practice of creating and capturing value: one from a not-for-profit entity with a big mission for global change, and the other from a for-profit robotics firm focused on problem-solving solutions for its customers.
“Our course is exceptional in a number of ways: the combined expertise of the instructors and the incredible lineup of guest speakers, the level of student and alumni engagement, and the promise of creating impact through the creation and capture of value,”says Barabino.
“Beyond gaining a better understanding of how entrepreneurship can manifest itself in their own lives and careers, we also want to help students prepare for that big, schismatic jump from college to the real world,” says Epstein. “We want to help them transition in a way that’s more mindful and fulfilling by preparing their hearts and their minds for the future.”