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Ready to Launch

In honor of National Entrepreneur's Day, the College of Liberal Arts would like to share a story from the 2017-2018 issue of Pillars.

Editor’s Note: In honor of National Entrepreneur’s Day, the College of Liberal Arts would like to share a story from the 2017-2018 issue of Pillars. Enjoy!

By Allen Janek ’18

Excellence. Integrity. Leadership. Loyalty. Respect. Selfless Service. These core values are not merely words to an Aggie but are the guiding principles in everything they do. They are also the makings of a successful entrepreneur.

“It’s just a short step from the Aggie spirit to the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Patricia Thornton, who joined the College of Liberal Arts faculty in 2015 to establish an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in innovation and entrepreneurship. The new minor will be available to all undergraduate students and is expected to open for registration in the fall of 2018. 

The core of the curriculum is two required courses all students in the minor must complete—one that addresses the more abstract elements of entrepreneurship such as market strategy, societal impact, and organization building; and a second that covers specific business practices such as accounting and management. The innovation and entrepreneurship minor will also require two elective courses and a final capstone course to help students ultimately launch a startup, product, or even a nonprofit. 

“In these courses, students are expected to come up with ideas and develop them into a concrete part of entrepreneurship in some way—it’s about getting their hands dirty,” Thornton said.

The 2008 recession and the years that followed have had an enduring impact on the business world and made it more challenging to create a successful startup. Financial assistance can be harder to acquire as many lenders have tightened their policies to minimize their risk. For Debbie and Mike Hilliard ‘73, this was an important factor in their choice to support the new entrepreneurship curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts. The couple created the Debbie and Mike Hilliard ‘73 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment, which will provide scholarships and faculty support to develop curriculum that produces the business leaders of tomorrow.

“We live in a different world from when I wanted to start my business, when you could still go to a bank and have a chance to receive funding,” Mike Hilliard said. “It’s our hope that future A&M students can have the same chances my generation had.”

Texas A&M is well positioned to be one of the nation’s leading universities for entrepreneurial studies, as noted in a recent edition of the Princeton Review. While extracurricular opportunities and programs are widely available across the university, there currently exists no curriculum on entrepreneurship and innovation available to Liberal Arts students. That’s where Thornton comes in, bridging the gap between disciplines and connecting the existing programs to an academic component to maximize entrepreneurial resources and education.

“Think of Liberal Arts students as part of a three-legged stool—they study how to identify problems, engineering students learn to solve problems, and business students learn to commercialize solutions. To have the ability to think across all of those disciplines is part of the goal,” Thornton said. “We want to coordinate with other colleges to maximize our resources and to allow students to work in interdisciplinary teams, because innovation comes from a diversity of ideas.”

The College of Liberal Arts is a natural fit for an entrepreneurship minor because liberal arts majors develop strong critical thinking skills that are needed to fuel innovation.

In fact, billionaire investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban said in a recent interview that automation is changing the nature of the workforce and eliminating many jobs in areas like finance and programming, making the analytical skills provided by a liberal arts education especially valuable.

“I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data,” he said.

Entrepreneurs can make a significant impact with the potential to stimulate the economy, improve quality of life with new discoveries, and enact social change. Today’s college students in particular feel businesses have a responsibility to help address major social challenges such as inequality, unemployment, and health care. By developing curriculum in innovation and entrepreneurship at Texas A&M, the College of Liberal Arts is putting Aggies on the front lines of driving our economy and improving our communities.

With a broad liberal arts education steeped in Texas A&M’s core values and strengthened by the Aggie network, Liberal Arts students stand ready for the challenge.