New learning accelerator emphasizes service learning
The eight weeks Sean Butze '10 spent in rural Guatemala during his senior year helping local entrepreneurs made him an early believer in the school's newest experiential learning accelerator, SCOPE, which made its formal debut in October of 2009.
SCOPE, which stands for Sustainable Community Outreach and Public Engagement, is similar to the school's other learning accelerators in that it is both student and project focused. However, its mission is quite different. Instead of focusing on corporate or financial partnering as a means of giving students real-world business experience, SCOPE's aim is to help improve the effectiveness of both non-profit and for-profit companies with strong social outreach components.
At the same time, it gives students the opportunity to use their skills to help others, creating future business leaders who are prepared to meet tough societal challenges.
Butze was one of 10 UConn students chosen to participate in the Guatemala internship run by the Social Entrepreneurship Corps. During their two months there, students did a variety of jobs, such as helping weaving cooperatives export their goods and assisting in the distribution of essential products like water purifiers and reading glasses.
"That was the first time I engaged in serious service activities and it really opened my mind to how beneficial and rewarding they could be," Butze said. "I feel like I really made a difference." [See Student Perspectives for more on the Guatemala experience.]
The Guatemala internship was the first pillar of SCOPE to get off the ground, noted Dr. Elaine Mosakowski, a professor of management at the School of Business and the Executive Director of SCOPE. Student scholarships for the program are funded by a generous donation from UConn alumnus Ed Satell '57, founder and CEO of Progressive Business Publications.
"Especially during such difficult economic times, this donation was instrumental in helping students cover the costs of the program, and they were not shy in expressing their appreciation to Mr. Satell during the public presentation of their activities to the UConn community last October," Dr. Mosakowski said. "Many of the students expressed their appreciation for how the program changed the way they look at business, entrepreneurship, and poverty and how it influenced the types of careers and jobs they will pursue after graduation."
In addition, the students' work had a lasting impact on the Guatemalan communities in which they worked, through such initiatives as bringing business expertise to local companies and collectives, providing products like eyeglasses and water purification systems to consumers, and developing economic systems of savings and investments for networks of local entrepreneurs.
Partnerships with Social Impact
In addition to the Guatemala program are two pillars that will address very different, but equally important, societal needs. The first is a partnership with Special Olympics International that assigns students to help the organization determine how it can provide coaches with additional tools to help athletes succeed.
The second is the school's participation in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which helps disabled veterans develop and start their own businesses. Management Professor Kathleen Dechant, Director of the EBV, stated one of the primary goals of the program: "The young men and women who attend EBV have made a tremendous personal sacrifice for American freedom.The bootcamp is an opportunity to help them achieve economic freedom as a small business owner, despite their injuries. Indirectly, it is a means of boosting their self-confidence and of helping them to feel productive again."
By joining EBV, UConn becomes the sixth member of a consortium of business schools, and the first school in New England, to offer the program. It was developed by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. "The purpose is to help disabled veterans who might be experiencing personal, professional or familial transition issues," noted Dr. Mosakowski. Add a struggling economy to the list of challenges disabled veterans face, she added, and the need for this sort of program is obvious.
The veterans first participate in a four-week on-line business course that helps them formulate their entrepreneurial ideas. They then attend a nine-day immersion workshop at the Storrs campus taught by business faculty and local entrepreneurs. An on-going mentoring program, intended to help support the veterans as they go forward with their business plans, rounds out the program.
Dr. Mosakowski said the school will bring in faculty from other schools and has lined up some of the state's top business leaders and experts to mentor the veterans. "We see it as a way to get the whole community involved," Dr. Mosakowski said. "It takes a whole community to help with these challenges."
SCOPE Breaks Through Silos
That is, after all, the premise behind SCOPE, she added, and one of the fundamental reasons that it is structured to pull in students and faculty from across the campus. "We're actually a multi-departmental learning accelerator," she explained. "This is not limited to the School of Business. All these people are coming out of the woodwork to help with this. It's very exciting." Dr. Wynd Harris, a marketing professor and the faculty member in charge of overseeing the Special Olympics partnership, said the level of interest among students has impressed her. "I think there was a pent-up need here," Dr. Harris said. "Today's business students are not 'all about me.' They're about finding out what their role is in society and how they can contribute in the richest possible way to the betterment of human-kind."
SCOPE is a perfect fit for the School of Business because it engages students in a way that is beneficial to them, to society, and to the future of businesses themselves. "There's a need for a balance between for-profit and community enrichment," Dr. Harris said. "We want to show them that the skills they've learned in business school can be used not only in for-profit businesses but in meeting the critical needs of society."
Dr. Mosakowski led a group of five undergraduate and graduate students to a Special Olympics Fall Holiday Tournament in New Haven last year to begin work on their project. At that time, they had an opportunity to observe and meet athletes and coaches. Special Olympics International, which was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1962 as a summer day camp for children with intellectual and physical disabilities has grown into a global movement with nearly 3 million athletes competing in more than 180 countries. It is recognized as a global leader in the training of athletes.
The Special Olympics partnership with SCOPE is completely funded by a donation from UConn alumnus David A. Gang '81, CEO and Co-Founder of Perfect Sense Digital, LLC. In addition to his donation to the Business School, Mr. Gang's company provides free web services to the Special Olympics and will be helping with the SCOPE project. According to Mr. Gang, "Several years ago the Gang Family Foundation set aside money to fund a program at the University that would genuinely get students involved in professional work environments around challenging problems. We also continue to expand our family and business involvement with Special Olympics.
SCOPE allowed us the opportunity to combine those core missions. Our expectations are that the students will be able to apply their educational skills with a desire to participate in public good to help make a difference in the lives of our coaches and athletes." UConn students will gather data, through a combination of interviews and research, to help the organization improve its ability to train athletes. Dr. Harris said her team hasn't yet decided whether to look at what coaches need to enable athletes to achieve their personal best, or address the question of what athletes need. Whichever route they choose, Dr. Harris said, the process will help lead the Special Olympics on its path of continual quality improvement, which is something all organizations need to engage in from time to time.
Macro and Micro Projects
While the Special Olympics, Guatemala and EBV initiatives are considered "macro-scope" in nature – meaning they are intended to promote global, national and regional programs for social innovation and entrepreneurship, Dr. Mosakowski said the school is also committed to engaging on a "micro-scope" level by promoting state and local programs.
That mission would be to provide business-related assistance and educational services to local organizations that help economically disadvantaged communities. One example of this is for SCOPE to assign an accounting specialist to the UConn School of Law's Tax Clinic, which provides legal assistance to low-income taxpayers.
"We will also be making connections with the medical school on health-orientated projects and the art school, where we will look at the financial sustainability of art-based organizations," Dr. Mosakowski said. All of these efforts, including the larger initiatives with Special Olympics and disabled veterans, are funded through a combination of resources that includes generous donations from alumni sponsors.
As SCOPE expands, Dr. Mosakowski is increasingly busy overseeing the different facets of the program and raising money for an endowment that would ensure its future sustainability. "The more people who are out there to work with us on this, the more successful we will be," Dr. Mosakowski said. "How can you not use the power of the people?"