This fall, the Center for the Study of Public Life is offering a new, partial-credit course designed to give students knowledge and experience in the world of social entrepreneurship. Offered during the second academic quarter, “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship” will introduce students to the formation and implementation of practical solutions to pressing social issues. The 0.25 credit course will be conducted by Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE) Director Makaela Kingsley ’98.
“Students will be exposed to numerous terms, resources, and skills that can be used to effect change,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus. “Most will be practical, such as human-centered design and writing a business plan. Others will be theoretical, such as an exploration of the similarities and differences between social entrepreneurship and activism.”
Though it is described as a crash-course, students with any level of experience in social entrepreneurship are welcome to enroll.
Participants will start by defining social entrepreneurship before moving on to theoretical and project-based learning. While there is no single definition, social entrepreneurship includes a variety of practical applications geared toward improving societal conditions.
“[Social entrepreneurship] can be about the use of business practices towards social good (“doing well by doing good”), innovation (tackling entrenched problems with new solutions), disruptive and sustainable system-change, corporate social responsibility, effective philanthropy, or a number of other concepts,” Kingsley wrote.
For the experiential portion of the course, students will work on devising human-centered approaches and business plans, as well as partially incubating Wishing Well, an early stage social endeavor launched by recent alumni Brent Packer ’15, Tavo True-Alcala ’15, and Nina Gerona ’15, as well as Mads O’Brien ’16.
Winner of a 2013 seed grant from the PCSE, Wishing Well aims to provide sustainable hydration solutions through mobile faucets, thereby reducing the waste generated by disposable plastic bottles.
“Students in the class will learn about Wishing Well’s progress to date and contribute meaningfully to its next stage of growth,” Kingsley wrote. “I could even imagine partnerships forming that last beyond the conclusion of the course.”
Chris Wyckoff ’18, who contributed to the creation of the course’s syllabus as part of the Spring 2015 “Innovation through Design Thinking Seminar,” cited the merits of studying and formulating creative solutions to societal issues at a college level.
“As students entering the job market we can no longer be content with knowledge limited to a single discipline, [because] the problems of tomorrow will not be overcome by individuals but by teams working together bouncing ideas off one another,” he wrote in an email to The Argus. “Learning these techniques allows one to be a better citizen, student and leader as they [sic] lay the foundation for better problem solving skills, allowing us to see walls not as dead ends but mere obstacles to be [sic] overcome.”
Katya Sapozhnina ’16, President of the Wesleyan Entrepreneurship Society, admires the passion of the student body when it comes to the implementation of social change.
“Wesleyan students are the most caring people I have ever met,” she wrote in an email to The Argus. “It makes sense that we care about social entrepreneurship, about helping the world.”
Furthermore, she recognizes the need for courses such as “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship” and services provided by the Patricelli Center in order to prepare students for success in this field.
“We need to learn business skills, use those skills to work on ventures and network with other leaders,” Sapozhnina said. “If we want to make the world a better place, we need to take advantage of every opportunity available to hone relevant skills. I am so glad that Wesleyan is offering more and more classes on social entrepreneurship because the demand is high.”
Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen is also cognizant of this demand and aims to respond to it.
“We are trying to create additional opportunities for students to be able to integrate their wide variety of co-curricular interests and their career explorations with their formal studies in a mindful way,” she said.
The Center for the Study of Public Life offers courses each semester that focus on strategies for implementing social change. Students are also welcome to bring any ideas for social entrepreneurship efforts to the Patricelli Center. There, they can receive guidance on how to navigate future stages of their projects.
“Some [students] come to the Center with a nugget of an idea or a social issue they care deeply about, but no specific plan of action,” Kingsley wrote. “Others have a fully-formed business idea and are looking to make immediate connections to mentors and resources. Regardless of their stage, we introduce them to various tools and help them learn and implement those that will be most useful in their work.”
Kingsley is enthusiastic about bringing these strategies in to a larger group setting, with a focus on student collaboration.
“I’m looking forward to this course because we’ll apply the same process in a larger-group setting,” she wrote. “I am a fan of peer-to-peer, project-based learning, and I think this format works particularly well for Wesleyan students.”
Director of the Allbritton Center for the Study for Public Life and John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Rob Rosenthal sees the addition of this course as part of a natural progression in the CPSE’s development and offerings to the University community.
“The growth and success of the workshops given by the Patricelli Center has been really impressive during [Kingsley’s] time running the Center,” he wrote in an email to The Argus. “It makes sense to see whether gathering a group of the workshops into one coherent course is the next step, and so that’s what we’ll be trying this year.”