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ODU Entsminger Fellows Lead the Charge for Entrepreneurship

When Old Dominion University launched its entrepreneurial initiative this year, sparked by an $11 million donation by alumnus Mark Strome and his wife Tammy, the idea was for a culture to develop campus-wide to nurture business entrepreneurs.

In order for that entrepreneurial ecosystem to flourish, it needed leaders across campus.

Thanks to a donation by alumnus Lee Entsminger, six faculty members - representing four different ODU colleges - are ready to lead the charge for entrepreneurship.

This past May, ODU's first class of "Entsminger Fellows" attended a seminar at the Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) in Massachusetts. The fact that they attended together, and are already sharing their ideas to collaborate, reinforces the value of the initiative to its participants.

"We were the envy of the other attendees!" said Janet Brunelle, senior lecturer of computer science in ODU's College of Sciences. "We have the opportunity at ODU to create a multi-disciplinary - and awesome - program because we do not have to breakdown any existing silos or infrastructures."

Entrepreneurship has traditionally been focused on university business schools. The idea of selecting a member from other colleges for the Babson SEE reflects the fact that good start-up ideas can come from any discipline, and that the principles that underpin successful entrepreneurial ventures - vision, attention to detail, networking - can be useful in any career.

Bryan Porter, professor of psychology, said he represents the behavioral sciences, which are not linked to entrepreneurial activity as frequently. However, " I found the opportunities for blending different disciplines and for bringing a behavioral perspective to activities, exercises and plans for teaching entrepreneurial courses exciting," Porter said.

Now that he's back at ODU, Porter is thrilled to be part of a group of like-minded, interdisciplinary teachers and scholars "well-positioned to building entrepreneurial thinking and action on our campus and in our community."

That charge starts right away, as the Entsminger Fellows will work collaboratively to develop and teach a 300-level entrepreneurial course in each college. Brunelle said the team is taking an entrepreneurial approach to the design and delivery of the course material, including cross-disciplinary student interaction.

It helps that the long hours and arduous curriculum forged fast friendships among the six ODU faculty members who attended the Babson SEE. "I made five amazing new friends," Brunelle said.

Avi Santo, associate professor of communications and director of the Institute for the Humanities in ODU's College of Arts and Letters, said it was enlightening to share experiences with faculty members from such different disciplines.

"I initially had some trepidation about finding my place among a group largely consisting of engineers and MBAs," Santo said. Instead, participation in the symposium reinforced his belief that the skills necessary for success in the humanities are directly connected to entrepreneurship.

"The workshop placed the onus on creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and understanding the needs and desires of the particular populations you seek to interact with and offer interventions to. These are all parts of the core mission of Arts & Letters, which repeatedly seeks to explore creative and critical forms of engagement with citizens, consumers and diverse social groups," he said.

Lisa Koperna, lecturer in the College of Health Sciences, is tangibly connected to an entrepreneurial venture already, as director of ODU Monarch Physical Therapy. She said the opportunity to promote entrepreneurship in a scholarly setting allows an opportunity to blend academic rigor with finding solutions to complex problems in fast-moving environments.

"As a health care provider and educator, I have a deep appreciation of the importance of teaching students how to successfully navigate through and excel in, the uncertain healthcare environment," Koperna said.

Engineering lecturer Charlie Daniels, a long-time entrepreneur himself, was excited to meet the eclectic group of educators at Babson, "many of whom were representing institutions that were just beginning to offer a single class in entrepreneurship.

"None of them had the support of their administration as we do at ODU, and no one was considering a program that crossed academic lines or involved the entire university or college. This is one of the most exciting aspects of our program. Entrepreneurs do not tend to limit themselves to a single discipline - they employ science, business, engineering, liberal arts and increasingly, health care. It feels like ODU is on the leading edge of a really massive and exciting trend!"

Roy Ogle, professor and chair of medical diagnostic and translational sciences in the College of Health Sciences, is the sixth Entsminger Fellow in this year's class, which will be joined in future years by other motivated, multidisciplinary faculty members.

Now that she has forged partnerships with the other Entsminger Fellows on campus, Koperna said she realizes more than ever how well situated ODU is to create a model for entrepreneurial education that empowers future business leaders. "I'm energized and ready to work with the E-Fellows to revolutionize entrepreneurship education."

That was the goal Lee Entsminger sought to inspire when he funded the program.

A 1974 ODU geology graduate, Entsminger has been active in numerous initiatives involving his alma mater, endowing a scholarship in coastal geography, guest lecturing in engineering and, recently, participating in the university's development of an entrepreneurial curriculum.

"Entrepreneurship, at its root, is a matter of problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to communicate. Those are skills that can be taught," he said.

Strome, a 1978 ODU graduate in civil engineering, is chief investment officer for Strome Group and Strome Investment Management LP. The Strome Family Foundation, led by Mark and Tammy Strome, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., has pledged $11 million to ODU in support of a new, multipronged program to nurture business entrepreneurs.

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