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New academy supports UNK's entrepreneurial mindset

New academy supports UNK’s entrepreneurial mindset

  KEARNEY – Entrepreneurs are creative problem-solvers. They love a challenge and aren’t afraid to take risks or try something new.

Lisa Tschauner, director of the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, calls them “critical thinkers and change-makers.”

And they can be found all across the UNK campus.

“It’s not just business students who have this aptitude or this desire to pursue opportunities related to entrepreneurship and business development,” Tschauner said.

Assistant professor of communication Sonja Bickford, center, is one of six UNK faculty members participating in the new Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy. Faculty fellows are teamed with student scholars to develop and execute plans for a business, product or service related to their field of study. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey, UNK Communications)

A new pilot program launched last month supports this entrepreneurial mindset by bringing UNK faculty and students together to think innovatively about their fields and ways to grow rural Nebraska.

The Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA) includes six faculty fellows and 11 student scholars representing a variety of academic departments. Each team, organized by academic interests, will work together to develop and execute plans for a business, product or service related to their field of study.

The academy, which is customized to meet participants’ individual goals, exposes students to entrepreneurial ideas and concepts so they’re ready to make a difference in Nebraska after graduation.

“There are some amazing things happening at UNK,” Tschauner said. “This gives us a different lens to see all the talent we have.”

Supported by grant funding from the Aksarben Foundation, the academy fosters the experiential, hands-on learning emphasized at UNK.

Throughout the yearlong program, student scholars will have the opportunity to participate in research, community projects and business competitions. They’ll also engage in professional development activities such as internships, mentorships and state and regional conferences, as well as network with area professionals and visit businesses and organizations.

Participating students are encouraged to join the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a business and entrepreneurship group open to all UNK students, and serve in off-campus leadership roles. Each student receives a financial stipend after completing the program.

In addition to serving as mentors, UNK faculty receive financial assistance so they can revise or create a course within their discipline by adding an entrepreneurial focus.

UNK senior Shelby Hoffmann works on an innovation activity during a recent meeting of the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy, a pilot program launched last month. The academy brings UNK faculty and students together to develop businesses, products or services that can enhance their field of study and grow rural Nebraska. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey, UNK Communications)

Shelby Hoffmann, a senior from Aurora, is among the student scholars participating in the inaugural Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy. The visual communication and design major says it aligns with her creative personality.

“It’s so important for people to be creative,” said Hoffmann, who’s minoring in marketing and management. “You need to get out there and try new things, invent new things and experience something you’ve never done before.”

Hoffmann is teamed with associate management professor Brooke Envick and fellow UNK senior Paige Kristensen, a business administration and sports management major from Minden. They don’t have a specific project idea yet, but Hoffmann said it will likely promote UNK since both students are “diehard Loper fans.”

Computer science major Adam Spanier, left, and cybersecurity operations major Chris Schaaf share ideas to improve the telescope during a recent meeting of UNK’s new Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey, UNK Communications)

For UNK senior Adam Spanier of Kearney, the academy is an opportunity to further develop a project he’s already working on.

The computer science major is teamed with Matt Miller, an assistant professor in the cyber systems department. Along with associate psychology professor Evan Hill, they’re designing a system that uses audio signals to prevent pigeons from roosting on infrastructure such as buildings, bridges and overpasses.

“Pigeon roosting is a big problem everywhere, but there really isn’t a good solution available,” Spanier said. “If we can provide an efficient solution that deals with pigeons in an effective way, it could be an extremely lucrative thing. It’s one of those ideas that kind of sells itself.”

The project team envisions municipal governments, roads departments and colleges and universities as potential clients. UNK’s Health and Sports Center is their testing area.

Spanier believes technology and entrepreneurship are a perfect match.

“If you take somebody with that expertise and add a little bit of entrepreneurial mindset, that’s when you get some really cool businesses,” he said.

The Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy is coordinated by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, which is part of UNK’s College of Business and Technology.

Eventually, Tschauner would like to see the pilot program grow to include 15-20 faculty and 35-50 students each year.

For more information on the academy, contact Tschauner at tschaunerle@unk.edu or 308-865-8135.


Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy Participants


Faculty fellows

William Aviles, professor, political science

Sonja Bickford, assistant professor, communication

Julie Campbell, associate professor, criminal justice

Brooke Envick, associate professor, management

Ben Malczyk, assistant professor, social work

Matt Miller, assistant professor, cyber systems


Student scholars

Aurora – Shelby Hoffmann, visual communication and design

Hershey – Tehya Eckhoff, criminal justice

Kearney – Madison Dimmitt, advertising and public relations

Kearney – Emily Freske, social work

Kearney – Moriah Johnson, aviation and music

Kearney – Adam Spanier, computer science

Minden – Paige Kristensen, business administration and sports management

North Platte – Vanessa Smith, criminal justice

Stanton – Michaela Hall, criminal justice

Stuart – Chris Schaaf, cybersecurity operations

Windsor, Colorado – Katelyn Miller, political science and public administration

New academy supports UNK’s entrepreneurial mindset