English Majors Can Do More Than Teach. U-M Liberal Arts Students Push For Entrepreneurial Classes

Rebecca Weisz was looking forward to studying entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan.

A freshman in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), she was hoping to apply what she learned from her communication studies to running the custom-made accessories business she launched earlier in the school year.

To her dismay, Weisz learned U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship is housed in the College of Engineering.

Today, Weisz is one of hundreds of students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) who have joined 1,000 Voices, a campaign to lobby the university for more entrepreneurial classes.

The student organization MPowered Entrepreneurship has so far collected more than 300 signatures on its online petition.

“I bet there are a lot of students like me who feel that the business school, as great as it is, is a lot of numbers and not a lot of creativity,” Weisz says. “I’d much rather get a communications degree and if LSA had classes in entrepreneurship it would be a good way to be both creative and business minded.”

MPowered president Ankit Mehta hopes officials will open classes in the business or engineering schools to LSA students and to establish a center in LSA similar to the Center for Entrepreneurship. 1,000 Voices, though, wants students of all majors to think like an entrepreneur, even if they’re not planning on starting a business, he says.

“The main thing that we’re trying to push for is this entrepreneurial mindset, which is doing what you’re passionate about and applying what you’ve learned in school to your life and making a positive impact, says Mehta, a LSA student himself. “It’s about being proactive.”

Although entrepreneurial classes are usually found in business schools, colleges across the country are starting to embrace a cross-campus approach to teaching innovation, says Cathy Ashmore, executive director of the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education.

“We forget as we teach people in different areas of specialty that working for somebody else isn’t the only option,” Ashmore says. “We are beginning to recognize that providing experiences to students while they’re still in school is a way to get them to think about what the opportunities might be.”

Sophomore Noel Gordon, a political science major, is supporting 1,000 Voices because it encourages a “much needed discussion” at U-M of what it means to be innovative.

“A lot of students are entrepreneurs and they don’t realize it and I think a lot of that has to do with this narrative that entrepreneurs are only in business,” Gordon says. “I think the campaign does a good job of showing students that entrepreneurs come in all shapes, sizes and different disciplines.”

Gordon is such an atypical entrepreneur. He founded the Michigan Political Union last year after observing that school lacked a public forum for political discussion.

“I think if LSA students were to see that, they’d see that my desire to publish a selection of poems or a story or my desire to invent this product all make me an entrepreneur,” he says.

Once LSA students start to think like entrepreneurs, “you’ll start to see a lot more students taking the initiative, becoming engaged and doing the things that they think are important,” Gordon says.

Aparna Ghosh is a liberal arts student that took an idea to fruition. In 2008, she founded Dance to Empower Stronger Healthcare, a non-profit organization that wants to improve health care conditions in rural India.

“Being an entrepreneur is having an idea that will affect a bunch of other people, not just yourself,” Ghosh says. “It’s important for people to realize that just because they have an idea and it’s not a for-profit business, that doesn’t mean they’re not entrepreneurs.”

Weisz recalls a friend who wants to pursue a career in fashion industry but was discouraged by lack of job opportunities.

“If you want to do it, then why don’t you just start your own company?” Weisz says of her friend’s dilemma. “If people knew more about entrepreneurship, I feel like they might be more inclined to go out and do something like that and take a chance.”

Ashmore says 1,000 Voices helps dispels the myth that only business-minded or tech-savvy students can strike out on their own.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurs out in our world some of whom have never even been to college and they learn in all different kinds of ways,” she says. “It’s all a matter of exposing people to that option.”

Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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