Rowan University, Rohrer College of Business
Empowering Underrepresented Youth Across the Globe
Rowan's Think Like an Entrepreneur Academy program, which helps underprivileged and underrepresented students hone their entrepreneurial mindsets by working to address the U.N. SDGs, has awarded 945 hours of free college credit to date.
Call to Action
Rowan University’s Think Like An Entrepreneur (TLAE) program provides high school students from underprivileged backgrounds and underrepresented populations a meaningful college experience by helping them work to develop viable solutions to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). TLAE aims to:
- Develop and promote the entrepreneurial mindset of student participants
- Help students develop a basic understanding of business models, opportunity recognition, resource marshaling, and written and oral presentation skills
- Increase student awareness of local, regional, and global social issues and challenges
- Facilitate the development of a bias towards action in addressing these issues
- Provide a realistic preview of college life for students who would be predominantly first-generation college students
- Instill confidence in higher education as a viable path for participants
The program is offered in partnership with the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) and via the support of the TD Charitable Foundation. Interdisciplinary teams of Rowan faculty, staff, students, and members of the business community serve as the program leaders, speakers, coaches, and mentors.
Through our partnership with ICSB, our students also receive personalized, live, synchronous access to representatives from the UN and International Labour Organization so they learn firsthand from leading experts in the field. These partnerships help the students draw real-world connections to global problems, resulting in their recognition of the power they have to effect large-scale change from simple, innovative solutions.
TLAE has evolved from its humble beginnings in 2017 as a two-week, non-residential pilot program pulling students from a single high school that worked almost exclusively with underprivileged and/or underrepresented students. Students identified problems and developed solutions. They were taught the fundamentals of design thinking, rapid prototyping, and customer discovery, and the course was taught by one faculty member supported by volunteer guest speakers.
In 2018, we expanded the program throughout the region, doubling enrollment and pulling in students from 14 schools. We also doubled the number of faculty and introduced a meaningful peer-mentoring component. In 2019, the program evolved again as this was the first year we formally integrated a focus on developing diverse and meaningful solutions to the UN SDGs. We also increased enrollment approximately 20 percent, drawing in students from 16 schools. Select modules began to be co-taught by UN staff, amplifying the program’s credibility and global connection.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that TLAE be delivered virtually, so it was expanded to be a synchronous program offered over a six-week period. While there were some limitations to a virtual offering, we capitalized on the opportunity by going national, allowing us to double enrollment and include students from 47 high schools spanning seven states: NJ, CT, FL, MS, PA, SC, and WI. We continued to scale the 2021 TLAE program as a virtual synchronous program, this time servicing nearly 100 students spanning the globe, making the program’s reach international.
Over the last five summers, TLAE has awarded 945 college credit hours to 315 underprivileged or underrepresented students from seven U.S. states and three countries, at zero cost to students, their families, or their schools. Data shows over 70 percent of our students “would like to see themself as an entrepreneur,” with the majority noting they intend to start a company in the future.
A representative exit survey quote from the summer 2020 program illustrated the socially aware perspective our graduates possess: “It is possible for anyone to make a positive impact in the world. By being creative and innovative in crafting new ideas, we all can contribute to making the world a better place.” Another student stated, “My biggest takeaway was how diverse entrepreneurship can be; nothing is impossible, and at any age you can make a difference in the world.”
Startup concepts included:
- Elimiwaste: Aims to reduce needless waste in production by truly recycling plastic waste; a new four-step process for recycling
- Climbing Cascades: Focus is on the gender pay gap; wants to offer childcare in workplaces so women may continue to work
- Education Resuscitation: Focus is on providing quality education to underprivileged children in Afghanistan; creating education “hotspots” that promote learning
- Embrace Change: Mobile application for teachers and parents to teach about racial literacy in creative and fun ways