Mar 22, 2011

A Year Abroad – The Life of an Erasmus Student Part 2

Stephen Culligan


“The world as whole benefits most when you do something new or when you do it better or differently.”
-Roger Babson


“I just want to go to college, have fun, and then get a job.” This is the attitude that pollutes the dreary halls of the arts block, that greys the whitewash of the Hamilton, and infiltrates the seclusion of Aras an Phiarsaigh. It’s demotivating, it’s boring, and it’s wrong.

Entrepreneurial spirited

“I just want to go to college, have fun, and start my own business.” This is the attitude that races through the self-sustaining Reynolds Campus Centre and doesn’t stop ‘til it reaches the tip of the Entrepreneur Tower of Babson College, Massachusetts. It’s inspiring, it’s competitive, it’s exactly what Ireland needs.
The Celtic Tiger brought free education, a glut of jobs and a sense of entitlement that is slowly being beaten out of every college student in the country. The healing for that beating is true entrepreneurial leadership. It is not giving your degree to other countries in the hope of finding a job. Stay. Make your job. Use your resources. The time is right for fight, not flight.

There are four characteristics of an entrepreneurially-friendly economy; Ireland has the conducive market conditions; we have the infrastructure; we have the people; we do not have the culture, the attitude, the spirit. That is why only 7 in every 100 people in Ireland are considered entrepreneurs, compared with double that number in the US. That culture, that attitude, that spirit should be spawned in our colleges, of which Trinity is the leader. So, why are the Americans 100% better at this than us?

It is their mindset that sets them apart. Irish students and professors are involved in an education process. American students and professors are committed to it. Trinity teaches business to people whilst Babson creates business people.

Babson College, a 350 acre emerald park that is situated in the heart of dry town Wellesley, Massachusetts, is a business school with a primary focus on entrepreneurship. Founded in 1919 by the Prohibition party’s nomination for President of the United States, Roger Babson, the school holds 3500 students, of which, about half are undergraduates.

Entrepreneurship is the focus of both the student population and faculty. This institution boasts such notable alumni as Arthur Blank (owner of the Atlanta Falcons) and Akio Toyoda (President and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation). Classes are not merely lectures on a subject matter, they are, rather, a debate shaped by the students based on pre-prepared work. Grades are weighted towards participation points rather than end of year exams. Group projects, company feasibility studies and business start-ups make up the rest of the marks for classes.

The draw of such a hands-on approach to college work is obvious for a Trinity business student, familiar only, for the most part, with hundred plus person lectures and arms-length interaction with professors. Lecturers at Babson expect, and sometimes even incorporate into the grading, individual meetings during office hours. Sure, this can foster forced and awkward conversation, but isn’t this better than no conversation? After two months, I am on first name basis with all four of my professors, compared with a measly two over three years in Trinity.

Massachusetts scenic beauty

The lively curriculum and active student-teacher relationships are backed up by a vibrant, close-knit and entrepreneurially minded on-campus student community. With almost all undergrads living on campus, a supercharged, frenetically paced, and competitive environment exists that constantly drives innovation.
Although the neighbourhood aspect is important to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit, ‘close-knit’ is not always a good thing. When you put 1500 18-22 year old competitively natured entrepreneur students in a box and shake them, they will all try to get to the top, above everyone else. This is perfect for potential business creators and owners who forge important functional relationships. Not so perfect, however, for real friendship. A sort of ‘friendly hostile’, somewhat (I imagine) Cold-War-like, atmosphere lingers in the air here.
But you can get past that. It contributes to the competitive nature of the school, and as simple economics indicates; competition drives innovation.

“Innovation is creativity with a job to do.” – John Emmerling.

Trinity doesn’t have the on-campus arrangements to hold enough students to create a competitive environment like that. However, it has other, greater strengths that it can use. Just like Babson uses its specialisation to its advantage, The Dublin University can use its diversification. Make the engineer student talk to the business student. Integrate the different departments. Join the students of various degrees in ‘creativity’, and let the business student take care of the ‘job’.

Caelainn Hogan recently wrote in this paper that entrepreneurship is the path to economic recovery. She was right. She was not right, however, about it being alive and well. There is so much more that can be done. Let’s be Babson and more. We can create the right class room environment. We can promote the ‘can do’ attitude through grading and assignments, and we can foster stronger relationships between professors and students. We can use our huge range of course subjects to our advantage. We can create our own jobs. We will lead Ireland to economic recovery.

As tennis player Martina Navratilova put it; “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”

We’ve been laying eggs for far too long. It’s time to be the pig.

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