[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or the inaugural issue of Ball State Magazine, we sat down with two champions of entrepreneurial learning, Jennifer Blackmer and Mike Goldsby. They discussed the teaching style key to Ball State carrying out its vision of becoming the model of the most student-centered and community-engaged of the 21st-century public research institutions.
Here is an excerpt:
Ball State Magazine: Jen, do you remember when The Centennial Commitment concept was being developed? Ball State was looking at how immersive learning wasn’t quite meeting the needs of the entire campus. How do you remember the university refocusing on entrepreneurial learning?
Jennifer Blackmer, associate provost for entrepreneurial learning: I was in Washington, D.C., and got a call saying, “We want you to be involved in this conversation about entrepreneurship.” I said, “I’m at a theater conference, and I’m going to be on a conference call about entrepreneurship?” And that’s what happened. But the more I listened, the more I chimed in about my own experiences before entering academia … because I’d been building a business as a theater artist. This was a new way of creating a context for talking about college students preparing for the rest of their lives. We’re teaching them to be their own entrepreneurs — to be proactive and find answers to questions about what they want to do.
Magazine: The trend in higher education for entrepreneurial learning has swelled. It parallels the conversations going on in Indiana about how we’ll fund Ball State as the entrepreneurial university. Mike, where in the process did it click that, “This is my world, and I can contribute”?
Mike Goldsby, chief entrepreneurship officer: We’ve found a nice link at Ball State in that entrepreneurship is the process, but the best entrepreneurs are artistic in the sense they come up with great visions. Mixing traditional business approaches with creative, artistic approaches is what this economy and Indiana need.
Magazine: Now that Ball State has begun the second year of The Centennial Commitment, the university is finding its new vision resonates with students, faculty, staff, legislators — especially this concept of values-based entrepreneurship, where entrepreneurship meets beneficence, a Ball State tradition.
Goldsby: Yes. Some people are driven purely by economic success, but others are driven by a personal mission that comes from very deep inside — a calling.
Goldsby: Yes. I think when people have that motivation, it goes beyond the business and changes the very fabric of that community. That really is the beneficence approach.
Magazine: Jen, how are you building the concept of entrepreneurial learning with faculty and the students?
Blackmer: I think students are already there. They come into college knowing they have a desire or drive, and a lot of their time with us is spent figuring out what that looks like. That’s our job, to mentor them through that. I’ve talked to a lot of faculty, and when you bring up entrepreneurship, their initial reaction is that it’s about economic gain and “I want to make a million dollars.” What we have to overcome is this perception that everybody is going to become a business major.
Magazine: But aren’t you surprised by how much it has been accepted?
Blackmer: Yes. Because once we get over that initial hump, then faculty gets it, and it intersects with what they’re doing as educators.
Magazine: Creating this team — a professor from theater and professor of entrepreneurship coming together to promote entrepreneurial learning — was strategic. How is the synergy between you two?
Goldsby: Jen and I hit it off right off the bat. I think because we both realized we had the same mission: to give all students an opportunity. If they have a dream or goal in life, we encourage them to pursue it.
Blackmer: We also talked about higher education in general, which is at a crossroads, and entrepreneurial learning as a marvelous response to that. What we’re asking of students and faculty is not just the traditional approach to learning, this concept of a sage on the stage spouting information. In all the literature and news, those are the aspects of higher ed most under attack.
Magazine: What are you doing to prepare faculty for that?
Blackmer: I want to provide faculty with as much support to do these high-impact, student-driven projects at a number of levels. It doesn’t matter what they teach; there are opportunities where entrepreneurial, student-driven learning can fit, even in an introductory class. We also want to provide financial support, hopefully for travel and anything out of the ordinary the student might experience. It’s providing a very connected form of faculty development.
Magazine: A new way of learning, a new way of teaching … that’s the shift?
Blackmer: Exactly! And the attitude. The traditional version of teaching is that a faculty member develops a syllabus, dusts it off and teaches it and puts it back in the filing cabinet, then takes it out, dusts it off. … Teaching this new way — where you don’t always know what the student is going to bring to class — is risky and exhilarating because it requires faculty to respond to what the students are giving them. There are still opportunities for faculty to say, “Look, I’ve been teaching this for a while and here’s the context you need to learn.” But every class has the opportunity to get students involved in driving their education.
Magazine: That goes across all platforms of how Ball State functions: its scholarship, its research, its community engagement. The entrepreneurial model, in addition to fostering a creative student-faculty space, implies that university management and faculty have to be more creative in how they offer their services. Do you see that as part of the trend in higher education?
Goldsby: It very much is, and the universities that are going to succeed will recognize that, like we are, and embrace it. Because I think it’s going to make education better.
Magazine: And the student-centered, community-engaged concept of that vision is also a driver?
Goldsby: Absolutely. We’re responding to what society needs, and I think that’s why I’m happy with where we’re going as an institution. It’s in our strategy, our structure, our operations and our mission of how we’re teaching students.
Magazine: The success of entrepreneurial learning is modeled in your interdisciplinary commitment to this, and the university is extremely grateful.