St. Thomas Campus News
During fall semester, seniors Katherine Bernal, Marc Natusch, Jack Cunningham and junior Ethan Finger researched mental health, as well as what could be done to improve it, on campus. Mental health, especially on college campuses, is widely discussed, but these students brought a business lens.
The team was tasked with finding a problem and a possible solution. While many of the business classes in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship ask students to start a business, Entrepreneurship 350 focuses on innovation through a process called design thinking. Design thinking, or “human-centered design,” puts a user instead of a product at the center of the design process. So, in this case, the team focused on the mental health needs of students.
“All of us really like design thinking a lot and realize it’s a powerful tool to help people,” Bernal said.Researching mental health
With their task laid out, the team looked for a problem they could tackle at St. Thomas with the potential to help around the country.
“If there was a way for us to help other people deal with their problems or situations, it has a really deep meaning,” Finger said.
They started by interviewing as many people on campus as possible. That often entailed walking into the Anderson Student Center and asking random students if they had used the mental health services on campus and, if they had, what their experience had been like. With the stigma that is often attached to discussions around mental health, the team had to precisely hone their communication skills.
“It’s asking why,” Bernal said. “You understand the underlying issue, not just what they’re saying, but the meaning behind what they’re saying.”
In addition, they interviewed the people in charge of mental health resources at St. Thomas, including staff at Counseling and Psychology Services and at the Wellness Center. In total, they estimated they interviewed 50-60 community members.
After that, they narrowed their focus to an issue they could feasibly help with.
“It’s to look at the problems and say, ‘Let’s throw more resources at them,'” Bernal said. “We had a challenge of trying to come up with a unique and creative idea that the university could actually provide. We didn’t want to come up with something that couldn’t ever be used.”
They focused on the waiting list for Counseling and Psychological Services, which, like many providers in the industry, is long. The team zeroed in on the fact that at universities there are individuals who have mental disorders and mental crises, and would benefit from long-term counseling help; there are also individuals experiencing high levels of stress whose problems may be acute. Everyone goes on the same waiting list and is offered a spot when it becomes available.
One solution was to pull some of those high-stress, acute students from the waiting list. Ideally, then, the waiting list would become shorter, allowing for people with mental illness and crises to get into counseling faster. Another solution focuses on therapy rooms, which reduce anxiety.
At the end of the semester they were prototyping two types of rooms: a nature one, with natural light and plants intended to be more calming and rejuvenating; and a dark room, intended to be relaxing and dull the senses. St. Thomas students tested these prototypes and had high praise for the concept, they said.
Another added benefit of the therapy rooms is to build community around mental health, which could reduce some of the stigma.
“There’s a space for it,” Cunningham said. “There’s strength in being around people dealing with similar things and banding together.”
The team said staff was interested in their idea as they were conducting interviews, and are hopeful this is a plan that could be implemented at St. Thomas.The value of an entrepreneurship degree
As the team members approach completion of their entrepreneurship program, they reflected on how it built on skills they had gained in previous classes and added value to their overall education.
“Everyone wants to talk about this design thinking because it’s so full-bodied,” Cunningham said. “You’re seeing things from different angles, and it’s really applicable to any problem and any industry that’s human centered. I think it’s been cool to get my feet wet in the concept of design thinking, and it’s a great talking point when I talk to future employers and show my value and the value of my degree.”
All agreed the value of their degree has been incredibly apparent in part because the alumni network is strong.
“Entrepreneurship is a tight-knit community,” Finger said. “I’m starting to look for jobs, and I’m having coffee with three Tommies who are out doing really cool things in the community who want to talk to me because I’m in the program. The whole Tommie network is tight, but I think it’s even more refined in entrepreneurship, and Minneapolis also has a really tight entrepreneurship community. It’s cool how we feed into that.”
Natusch emphasized how every entrepreneurship class has been hard work and that each one adds a new experiential-learning experience.
“Every time I have an entrepreneurship class, it brings out the best in me,” Natusch said. “I ask, ‘What am I going to learn?’ Because I know I’m going to learn something.”
It began with some frustration. One day, Marcie Stokman’s daughter Beth, a new mother, called her to say, “I’m done going to mother’s groups. All they talk about is diapers. Isn’t there a place after college where women can keep growing and learning and asking [important] questions together?”
Beth ’11 had experienced a kind of approach to the Catholic intellectual life in her Catholic studies courses that she wanted to continue to pursue after college.
Stokman, a Tommie parent five times over, had been speaking to mom’s groups throughout the area about children’s literature and then more generally about being well read. She found herself coming home sad from events because women were not reading.
“They were too busy, too tired, didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t reading so well myself and that we needed to do this together. It mattered that we do this. If we quit reading as women, then our children don’t read, our husbands don’t read. There is a ripple effect, and women are key here.”
Stokman’s solution was simple but extremely catching: gather moms together to read and talk about great literature once a month. So, in 2012, the first official meeting of Well-Read Mom (WRM) consisted of 20 women gathered in Stokman’s living room. Today, five years later, WRM has hundreds of groups in over 40 states and 10 countries, an annual conference hosted at the Center for Catholic Studies, about 1,000 registered members and as many as 4,000 unregistered around the world.
“Something is happening way beyond what we ever intended,” said Stokman, who also sits on the advisory board to Catholic Studies. “It has expanded in an explosive way, so I think it must be addressing a very real need.”
Every woman who attends a WRM group might describe that need differently, but there are common threads: receiving a renewed sense of one’s personhood and the sanctity of every life, no matter how flawed.
April Gallus ’07, a mother of three, said, “It’s very life-giving for me to read. As moms, we’re always pouring out, and reading is a way to receive. I can have renewed vigor then to serve my family by ruminating on a character or an idea or something beautiful.”
“There’s something interesting too in story in how it respects our freedom,” said Stephanie Stokman, daughter-in-law to Marcie. “Most people like to read nonfiction, but somehow [nonfiction is] telling me what to do. ‘You should live your life this way.’ Story helps me to enter [into these deeper questions] in a more discreet way, a more beautiful way.”
“To enter into another’s story,” Marcie said, “you have to surrender. So right away, [in reading great literature] you’re in a different mode. We live as if we are in control, which is an illusion, so even to enter into story puts us in a more real mode. To see that, over the chronology of time, there are consequences – the story could go this way or that way. The decisions I make really matter; they are not without consequence. They really matter for my soul.”
Stephanie, who also designs the WRM newsletter, recalled that in the beginning there was a fair amount of pushback on the exclusivity of the group. Why not Well-Read Family or Well-Read Teen?
Stephanie explained it this way: “Coming together as women, I’m reminded of my personhood. We’re so busy doing good works for others, our families, our community, the church … we have to be reminded of our personhood. [WRM] is you taking your person seriously.”
Seeds of beauty, wisdom and truth
Many of the WRM groups are populated with Catholic studies alumnae, which isn’t surprising as, “in both Catholic Studies and WRM there is a challenge to engage the work before us,” said Jackie Bernal Wald ’09, “to go beyond a ‘gut response.’ … Catholic studies [teaches] its students to take in great works and learn how to digest them … to ask the questions that would stir the imagination and employ their conscience. There was a real gift in doing this in a classroom setting as well because we were able to see how individuals wrestled with the same works differently.
“This particular skill that Catholic studies fostered has carried into WRM. … Our WRM group knows that the discussion is part of what feeds our souls, forms our conscience and helps us see where and how the Holy Spirit is at work in us individually and collectively as a group,” Bernal Wald said.
Annie (Moosbrugger) Berthiaume ’07 pointed out that some of the books assigned in WRM were books she read in Catholic studies as an undergraduate.
“I’m reading them now through the lens of a wife and mother,” she said, “hopefully, a little wiser and more spiritually mature, and gaining so much more from the content of the books and the discussion we have at our meetings.”
She recalled in particular reading Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – first in a Catholic studies course and then in WRM.
“I realized that when I read it in college, I simply wasn’t ready for it – spiritually or intellectually,” she said. Rereading the work in WRM has reopened the book to her in new ways.
“Catholic studies was without a doubt the blade, if you will, that tilled what was once hard soil in me, leaving me ready for the seeds of beauty, wisdom and truth that the books in WellRead Mom offer, to grow and bear fruit, not only for myself but for my family as well,” Berthiaume said.
It is a common experience to discover something about oneself through the characters – even the characters a reader might initially judge very harshly. While reading Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, for example, Stokman recalled, “I saw this woman was shutting her husband out. I kept saying to Kristin, ‘You need to let Erland in,’ and suddenly I realized, that’s what I’m doing. I’m shutting out my husband and I need to let him in.
“I think that women in general have lost a sense that motherhood can be a vocation,” Stokman said. “Women guard leisure, and we’ve lost the concept of leisure. We think it’s entertainment and running kids to soccer games. … We’ve lost a deeper capacity to understand liturgy as feast, celebration, keeping the holy days; we’ve lost this in the home as well.
“I think that’s what this movement is about,” Stokman said, “bringing back an understanding of leisure, to be intentional about true leisure.”
Updated January 9, 2018
The countdown to Super Bowl Lll is underway. The University of St. Thomas is preparing for business continuity with increased security on our Minneapolis campus during this special event. Due to road closures in Minneapolis and increased population around the Super Bowl and Super Bowl Experience, we are expecting significant traffic delays and parking shortages for our Minneapolis campus from January 23-Feburary 6.
Students, staff and faculty of the School of Law; Opus College of Business; Dougherty Family College; and College of Education, Leadership and Counseling should have already received information from your college encouraging you to allow added time for traffic and parking if you are coming to the Minneapolis campus. Classes are expected to be held as scheduled. Any changes will be communicated by your instructors using your St. Thomas email.
Access to campus buildings will be restricted to main entrances only during normal business hours. All other exterior doors will be secured with authorized card access only. When entering campus, please use:
- School of Law main entrance
- Terrence Murphy Hall main entrance
- Opus main entrance or Skyway doors
Public Safety will have additional officers on duty in each building and at each greeter’s desk.
Our Minneapolis campus in particular will see significant impacts. Preparations have been underway for months and have involved the NFL, the City of Minneapolis Public Works, Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, Super Bowl Host Committee, Minneapolis Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, Minneapolis Office of Emergency Management and others. As many as 1 million visitors and 10,000 volunteers are expected during the Super Bowl events. The majority of the visitors are expected to be in town Thursday, Feb. 1-Sunday, Feb. 4.Super Bowl LII is not a one-day event.
Super Bowl Live is 10-day series of events running Jan. 26-Feb. 4.
Activities including free concerts, national media broadcasts, ice sculptures and food will take place on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Events will be held in the evenings beginning at 4 p.m. during weekdays and all day on weekends. During this time, streets from 12th Street to Sixth Street will be reduced to two lanes where they cross Nicollet Mall. Eighth Street from Marquette Avenue to LaSalle Avenue will be closed from Jan. 19-Feb. 7.
The main impact for our Minneapolis campus will be along its northeastern border. The Minneapolis Police Department will have officers along LaSalle Avenue. Intersections in the area will have police and National Guard presence.Think now about how and when you access the Minneapolis campus.
Plan for increased auto and pedestrian traffic during this week.Avoid scheduling events on the Minneapolis campus.
Departments and individuals planning meetings and events on the Minneapolis campus are encouraged to avoid scheduling them during the Super Bowl activities to avoid operational issues.Plan for changes to parking and shuttles.
The surface parking lot near the School of law (Lot 3) has been rented by the NFL and will not be available Jan 26-Feb. 4. Alternative parking for up to 300 vehicles will be available in the Harmon Ramp at the corner of 11th Street and Harmon Place.
Members of the community who work and attend class on our Minneapolis campus are encouraged to carpool. Information about using public transit is available on the Super Bowl website.
Public Safety will evaluate the traffic conditions between St. Paul and Minneapolis for shuttle use. Shuttle users are asked to plan for delays due to increased traffic in the area. Visit the Shuttle Tracker on OneStThomas.Classes will go on as scheduled.
The deans of each of our colleges and schools are having ongoing discussions about the impact Super Bowl activities could have on campus operations. At this time, all classes will go on as scheduled in their assigned classrooms in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Students are asked to stay in contact with professors for any changes to class locations.See something? Say something.
Safety of our campuses and community are the top priority. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our campus safe. Suspicious activity is any observed behavior that could indicate criminal activity. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Unusual items or situations: a person wandering the halls, not on the main skyway; a package or luggage is unattended; a window or door is open that is usually closed; or other out-of-the-ordinary situations.
- Eliciting information: A person questions individuals at a level beyond curiosity about a building’s purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel, shift changes, etc.
- Observation/surveillance: Someone pays unusual attention to buildings beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation, particularly in concealed locations.
Public Safety urges you to be proactive and alert to help prevent crime and create a safer community. To report suspicious activity, contact Public Safety at (651) 962-5100 or for emergencies, (651) 962-5555. Describe specifically what you observed, including:
- Who or what you saw;
- When you saw it;
- Where it occurred;
- Why it’s suspicious;
- Last known direction of travel
To request an escort, call Public Safety dispatch at (651) 962-5100.
McLean Donnelly ’14 MBA believes it’s essential to possess business skills if you’re in a creative field. A UX (user experience) executive, the St. Paul native describes his line of work as a unique hybrid fusing traditional product management with user experience and design. The ability for a UX designer to understand the business side of a company is a rarity, Donnelly said, but it shouldn’t be.
“Very few creative people have gotten an MBA,” he said. “This is a new economy. People want creative leaders who understand what the company is trying to do. An MBA also helped to give me the tools and skills to set up great, organizationally run departments. It’s given me a level of maturity as an executive and passion in organizational management that hasn’t traditionally been seen in creative functions.”
A former digital specialist and speechwriter for Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, Donnelly “stumbled” into user experience while working as a senior communications coordinator at Target. It was around this time he decided to pursue his MBA Since then he’s led design teams at major companies including Expedia and Shutterstock, where he was vice president of product design and user experience. Recently, he became head of digital product and user experience for Minneapolis-based Sleep Number.
We talked with Donnelly about his experience at the Opus College of Business, combining creative and business skills and his current role at Sleep Number.
Why did you choose to get your MBA from the Opus College of Business?
The flexibility of the program, and I appreciated the ethics component of it. I appreciated the program itself – organizational management, leadership, great electives, ethics class. That’s something that even businesses and other institutions overlook – those leadership skills. I wanted to take the time to think through structured ways of how you improve as an emerging executive. It was a fusion of two things at once and it really helped shape my thinking.
Was there a specific experience you had at St. Thomas that shaped the success you’re having now?
As far as the curriculum, I really appreciated the Great Books Seminar. It was a really wonderful thing where we spent three months reading through this canon of Western and Eastern literature. Then you get together as a group for a week and, through the Socratic method, you debate this wonderful literature. I’ve always been a strong reader in fiction, but that really grounded me in understanding different texts and approaches to business thinking I hadn’t previously considered. It’s now part of my normal intake of reading.
The other part is learning the nuts and bolts of accounting, finance, manufacturing overhead and bonds – it’s invaluable to go through that experience. That helped give me the foundation to help make creative functions strategic functions.
How did you go from political speech writing to the world of UX?
A lot of folks come from a graphic design, very heavily visual background and that’s important because it’s UX design. But I think the other part is you see a lot of folks coming from content strategy to help with the larger information architecture. To me, the jump wasn’t that significant because speech writing is pretty comparable. You take very large, complicated problems with very vast data sets and you think about your audience. You think about what you want to communicate, what you want to get across, what you want to achieve. Then you build around strategies to how you properly communicate to those people. The thought process was identical with UX. It was just a question of gaining the technical skills to help execute those strategies. Working at Gov. Pawlenty’s office and working at Target helped get me started.
At that point, I really wanted to work on my UX skills. A good mentor of mine at the time told me to go work for a start-up because they’re willing to let you do anything. It’s fantastic advice when people are looking to get into technology and new parts of our economy. I started working with a couple start-ups in the Twin Cities and became a real UX practitioner working on front-end development, UI [user interface] design, content strategy and really stretching across the UX spectrum. That’s where I earned my chops.
Why do you think there’s a disconnect between the design and business sides of a company?
I think it’s a question of leadership. People might not have exposure to those concepts, so it feels uncomfortable to them. Then you naturally push away. I think the inverse is true, too. I oversee a product management function, as well, and the inverse is true there. Just as creatives and designers should absolutely up their IQ and understanding of business practices and how markets work, the same should be true for our business professionals and strategists as well. They need to understand the long-term value in investing in user experiences that might not be immediately revenue generating. They should really observe how UX professional work together – they’re naturally inclusive, they work in certain methodologies. That’s true not only in business, but for human resources and all parts of the company – it’s a new way of working. I love the emergence of the generalist position where people can fluidly move along the spectrum of business to design depending on the situation.
That to me is a question of leadership. Looking at where we want to go and then getting the right type of support for people in order to find the right balance between those two disciplines.
You’ve said, “If I get trained in business skills, I can become a strategic design leader.” Could you elaborate on this?
What we’re starting to see is some of the best companies and leaders in the new economy starting from a UX perspective. Netflix is a great example. All they’ve done is solve customer problems. I don’t want to go to Blockbuster, we’ll do it here; I want to be online, we’ll do it here; I want this type of content, we’ll build it. All they continually do is work off of customer problems. Warby Parker is a great example of an empowering consumer experience. This isn’t just fluffy design talk, it’s real business. This is how business is done now. Millennials are now becoming a major purchasing powerhouse in our economy, and they’re rewarding businesses that think like this. Some of the most innovative companies in America started with an UX approach, but they also have that business understanding.
Why did you want to work for Sleep Number?
I had never worked in the digital retail continuum and – as a consumer – it’s still a disjointed experience. I thought Sleep Number had all the fundamentals to put forth a retail-to-digital/digital-to-retail experience that would be unlike what we’ve seen in the economy. Working on that is very exciting. I love health and well-being engagement. Sleep is a great part of how we think about wellness today. There’s ample opportunities of how to think about not just being a mattress provider, but how do we help with overall quality of sleep and wellness in one person’s life.
It was a new experience for me directly managing our product and design functions. It felt like everything was coming together in a true synthesis – our business and design teams as a single unit. It’s the dream, right?
At this point in my career, I love working with scale. It’s challenging. It’s fun. It gives enormity to your work. Sleep Number is more than 500 stores, $1.3 billion in revenue, all while sleep is a human experience and business that is ripe for digital innovation. I think in many ways I’ll be on the forefront of an explosion – digital, e-commerce and engagement. That’s where I want to be spending my time.
That’s exactly what 57 Liturgical Choir alumni did on Jan. 1, the highlight of a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome that featured several other performances, tours of historic and religious sites, and the chance to reconnect with St. Thomas friends and family.
“It’s been so great to come back with this group of alumni,” said Meg Gehlen Nodzon ’99. “It’s the 20-year anniversary since I was here for the first time. To be able to see all of my friends and all of these folks; it’s kind of like family in that nothing has changed and everything has changed.”
The St. Thomas Liturgical Choir, since its founding in 1977, has traveled to Rome to perform several times. This trip celebrated the choir’s 40th anniversary while providing a unique experience to its collection of alumni – some of whom were traveling to Rome having performed there before, others for the first time.
“It’s been really nice to relive the old memories and make new ones, and also meet the other Liturgical Choir alums and their families and friends,” said Mark Thomas ’11, who also performed at the Vatican as a student. “It’s been a wonderful trip.”
The choir sang on Dec. 31 at Te Deum Mass with Cappella Musicale dell’Oratorio, as well as at the New Year’s Day Mass, and at Mass on Jan. 2 at the Cathedral of St. Agapito.
“The New Year’s Day was one thing that I was really looking forward to,” said Arthur Valera ’00, who also performed in 1997 at Midnight Mass in Rome. “That’s been the highlight of the trip, but New Year’s Eve was amazing musically, too.”
Choir alumni – plus many family members and friends – joined founding and retired director of the Liturgical Choir Rob Strusinski, who worked with Nodzon and alum Barry Lau last year to recruit alumni for the trip. Original hopes for 25-30 people quickly turned into a waiting list, and over the final four months of 2017 rehearsals took place both in person and digitally.
“I said that it would be a pick-up group. Little did I know that they would be coming from 13 different states, including Europe and the Middle East, and that much of the [rehearsing] would be done by live-stream and individual preparation,” Strusinski said. “Starting with the Class of ’81 there were people who went through the Class of 2015. We have two people on tour who graduated in 2015, so it’s a very diverse group. … I love the fact that a couple singers brought their kids. This is an intergenerational experience. We have people ages 9-76. It worked out wonderfully.”
Schulze School of Entrepreneurship is proud to welcome MPR’s Chris Farrell to campus in February, for the second event in a series of conversations about the creative economy and entrepreneurship. The events are free and open to the public with advanced registration.
Creativity and innovation are critical for generating dynamic economic growth in Minnesota. Organizations need to nurture and unleash the artist, the designer, the innovator, and the problem solver among employees. So do educators. All the great economic challenges of our time connect to the need to hone everyone’s creative abilities on the job. St. Thomas students, faculty and staff are invited to each of the events: Jan. 18, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Walker Art Center and Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship on the Minneapolis campus.
On Jan. 18 at the Walker Art Center, Conversations on the Creative Economy host Chris Farrell, MPR’s Senior Economics Contributor, will interview Deanna and Roger Cummings, Directors of Juxtaposition. Hear how their social enterprise is training the next generation’s creative workforce through art and design education. The conversation will focus on lessons learned about developing creative skills and entrepreneurial ambitions among youth. RSVP for this event here.
On Feb. 21 in Schulze Auditorium, Farrell will interview three women entrepreneurs from the Twin Cities. Doors for the event open at 5:30 p.m. The conversation runs from 6 to 7 p.m. with networking following. The interviews are recorded for broadcast on MPR News.
Minnesota Public Radio’s Conversations on the Creative Economy is in its fourth season. These hour-long one-on-one conversations explore and highlight ways that leaders – chief executives, founders and entrepreneurs – promote creativity and innovation in their organizations. Past interviews for the series include Doug Baker of Ecolab, Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Kieran Folliard of the Food Building. Listen to past broadcasts at: https://www.mprnews.org/topic/creative-economy-conversations
As a 6-foot forward on the 1981-84 women’s basketball teams at St. Thomas, Mary Zimmer ’84 was a force in the lane. Now she’s a force in the financial services industry.
A regional president for Wells Fargo Advisors, Zimmer’s passion for advancing women’s roles in the finance field has helped advance her career, kept her connected to her alma mater and defined her legacy as a Tommie.
“I’m putting my money where my mouth is in terms of something I’m very passionate about,” said Zimmer, who recently accepted a role to lead Wells Fargo’s diverse client segments aimed at including more women and multicultural clients. “The industry has huge opportunities … and we have the chance to accelerate the rate of change.”
Zimmer is no stranger to getting new initiatives rolling, including at St. Thomas. Eight years ago Zimmer returned to campus for a basketball game and, afterward, coach Ruth Sinn asked her and others about potentially starting a mentorship program for current players and basketball alumni. Zimmer had plenty of experience facilitating such connections from her time at RBC Wealth Management, and told her former Tommie teammate Sinn she would love to help get things started.
“It’s a great connection into someone who’s in their career and can help them navigate that,” Zimmer said. “It also reconnects those alumni back to the school.”
It has certainly helped do that for Zimmer, who sits on the Opus College of Business’ Strategic Board of Governors. Zimmer and her family also have solidified their support of young women earning degrees from Opus with an endowed scholarship, which has been in place for nearly a decade and “hopefully has a lasting impact,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer credited Sinn and Assistant Director of Annual Giving Jenny O’Brien ’97 with helping facilitate such a strong relationship back to St. Thomas. With support from alumni like Zimmer, Tommie graduates will continue to help move the financial services field forward in its diversity.
“That’s something I’ve continued to be passionate about and woven into things I do career-wise … being an advocate for women in our business,” Zimmer said. “I do see it changing [throughout my career].”
On a snowy day in December, several businesses lined Dorsey Way in the Anderson Student Center. As students milled by, the business owners tried to catch students’ attention and prove their products were useful and valuable.
These business owners were unique: they were also students, there not only to show off a semester’s worth of work but to test its viability. The Foundations of Entrepreneurship class (or so-called “Lemonade Stand Class”) tasks students with envisioning and launching a business. The goal is to develop confidence in one’s ability to do so, and to begin to grow and hone entrepreneurial skills.
“A lot of people claim they are too young and don’t have enough experience, but they can do it,” said Alec Johnson, one of the Opus College of Business professors who teaches Entrepreneurship 200. “Part of the criticism will come from people who haven’t done it. But what they don’t understand is that entrepreneurship is not a one-off event. It is a process.
“We give them their first thing. The first real experience – for most of them – i.e., the lemonade stand,” Johnson said.
While creating a sustainable business is a possible perk of the class, Johnson and Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Jay Ebben are really looking for students to learn business practices by experimenting and adapting to arising issues.
“Part of them gaining confidence is letting them figure it out for themselves as much as they can,” Ebben said.
“Confidence includes making mistakes and being challenged on their judgment,” Johnson said.
“And realizing, in the end, they can figure it out,” Ebben said.
While students are learning self-reliance, they are also provided with a supportive environment: They receive some coaching from the professors as well as collaboration with other students.
“They want to network and collaborate and be mentored by other people in the same boat,” Ebben said.
Students check in and reflect regularly with Ebben and Johnson, and, at semester’s end, pitch their business to an alumni panel.
Here are two projects produced this semester.The universal water bottle holder
Junior Jacob Mischke and Amari Ziton teamed up with engineering students on campus to create a universal water bottle holder that can fit on beds in residence halls.
Mischke connected with junior Kyle Schneider and embarked on a 3-D printing adventure. To keep costs down, they used the university’s 3-D printers in the create[space] in the Anderson Student Center. Both said figuring out the production side of the business was a challenge, particularly for Mischke, who learned just how much time, energy and money can go into that side of creating a business.
While a business with more money could have paid several thousand dollars to create a mold for their holder to then be mass produced, they had to first create a prototype and then had a labor-intensive process for creating each unit.
“I didn’t envision it being as difficult as it was,” Mischke said. “But I didn’t envision the end product to be good, either.”
The business took one of the top three slots from the alumni pitch panel at the end of the semester. Mischke said if they could make enough money that they wouldn’t have to inject each mold, he would consider growing the idea into the future.
“This is real-world stuff,” Mischke said. “It was good experience, and I can say that it has humbled me in regard to starting a business. There are a lot of pitfalls, and it’s about overcoming those and learning from it. You have to adapt.”The ColLedge
Juniors Mitch Roers and Saif Ahmed and first-year Mackenna Cristilly also set out to solve a space problem: They created a ledge that is anchored underneath the mattress to create an easy and convenient nightstand without taking up valuable residence hall room space.
With the task of creating a physical product, Ebben connected them with Garrett Faust ’13, one of the owners of Uptown Woodworks. Faust said he mentored the team because his own undergraduate experience at St. Thomas was so positive and he wanted to give back to the community.
“I think this experience just reinforced how important it is to develop mentor-mentee relationships in our communities, especially in the context of college,” Faust said. “It makes a world of difference for students if you have somewhere they can turn for help to develop their ideas and dreams. I think St. Thomas does a great job at developing these resources and it continues to improve as time goes on.”
“Meeting with him gave us this wisdom of, ‘That doesn’t really work, or yes that does work,'” Cristilly said, and Roers added that it was also a valuable networking opportunity in the Tommie network.
The team worked through several prototypes and feedback from the class until their product emerged.
“It’s trial and error the whole semester,” Cristilly said. “You figure out the steps, with guidance obviously, but you figure out the steps in a way that I think is really beneficial.”
They were also excited to have the hands-on experience of pitching their product to alumni, saying they were glad to show off their hard work from the semester.
From the class, Roers said he learned not to be afraid of the risk that can come with starting a business.
“A lot of people have ideas that they think will be cool, but if you don’t act, someone else is going to do it or the time will pass you by,” Roers said.
“There’s never a right time,” Ahmed added.”You just have to jump in and do it.”