Associate Professor of Flute Mihoko Watanabe plays the flute against a backdrop of student artwork in the Art and Journalism Building.

“The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.”

Mihoko Watanabe clearly remembers when she decided to employ the strategy of that centuries-old Japanese proverb in her own life.

“If a baby can learn to speak English, I can learn at 21,” Watanabe remembered thinking. “I’m going to America.”

With her parents’ blessing, if not their full understanding, Watanabe set out to get her master’s and doctoral degrees in music from American universities, then moved to Canada to teach. She returned to the States and taught at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh before coming to Ball State. The professional concert flutist has traveled the world, performing and teaching, offering clinics and judging competitions.

“I’m a risk-taker,” said the associate professor of flute. “I never thought, ‘Why?’ I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”

That fearlessness continues to fuel Watanabe as she challenges herself to look at things in new ways. After attending a summer music education festival where the partnership between entrepreneurship and musicianship was explored, Watanabe returned to Ball State inspired.

“She came to me and said, ‘We have to do this at Ball State,’ ” said Ryan Hourigan, director of the School of Music.

Hourigan agreed and encouraged Watanabe to write a class proposal that would explain how students would learn life skills, like writing grants or pitching proposals to nonprofit groups — any tools students would need as professional musicians to be self-sufficient and successful.

But before she could define how a course could be taught, Watanabe knew she still had things to learn.

“I was educated in the traditional way,” she said, with great emphasis placed on performance acumen and music history. The need for that knowledge remains, she said, but to be successful today, students have to know so much more.

“Many orchestras have devolved into bankruptcy; opera companies have shut down. The idea that a student will be ‘found’ is done,” she said. “So what can we do for our students to really position them for 21st-century success?”

With Hourigan’s encouragement, Watanabe enrolled in MG241 in spring 2015, the undergraduate entrepreneurial experience class taught by Mike Goldsby, chief entrepreneurship officer at Ball State.

“Oh, I just had a fabulous time,” she said. “Mike was so gracious, answered so many questions, and it all became just so clear. For our students, for any student, it’s not just about making money and being able to support yourself. It’s about finding and pursuing your passion, and it’s about taking risks — that all just resonates so naturally with the arts.”

Then Watanabe, Hourigan and their colleagues devised a certificate of entrepreneurship program in the School of Music that will be available beginning this fall.

“I don’t consider this to be fluff; I consider this to be fundamental,” Hourigan said, reiterating the importance of challenging and preparing students in ways that traditional performance education can’t.

“It’s difficult for musicians who have been clapped and cheered for their whole lives to suddenly face failure,” Hourigan said, adding that those setbacks can derail careers. “If we challenge our students to try new things and to take risks while they’re here with us, if they fail or fall on their face, we’re here to catch them. We can help them learn how to stand back up and try again.”

While the certificate program is new, some entrepreneurial components have long been present in the school’s degree programs. Hourigan specifically notes the jazz concentration’s entrepreneurial focus.

There, students are required to take some business classes and to produce a marketable product such as a CD or DVD, along with preparing for and presenting a senior recital. It’s a formula that students are responding to.

That potential and verve only serve to further excite Watanabe about the program’s future.

“Entrepreneurship is really something that has defined my whole life,” she said. “Do some faculty maybe think I’m crazy pursuing this? Maybe. I’m OK with that. Because I know, I know, this will work.”

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