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Educational Advancement

by Stuart Michaelson

Educational innovations and initiatives succeed one student at a time, which is surely the case at area colleges and universities.

Witness an award-winning student-produced magazine at Widener University named after its home city of Chester; changes at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University’s Fox School of Business, Drexel University and Villanova University; programs at The Community College of Philadelphia targeting young men and at Cedar Crest College for young women; and a strategic-design MBA program at Philadelphia University.

Chester magazine motivated staffers like Khalil Williams, whose interest in journalism was also spurred by a 2015 Philadelphia Inquirer interning stint.

Before that, Williams says, “[I] was a little ignorant about the field and kind of thought of it as something I couldn't truly see myself doing because of negative perceptions that others held. … Too much risk, too little pay. I learned to appreciate storytelling [and] found there were more sectors in journalism than I saw in the newspapers and TV.”

He is also proud to contribute to a magazine highlighting the positive activities in his home city of Chester, which garners a lot of negative press.

Those are welcome words to Sam Starnes, editorial advisor for Chester, whose inaugural issue from 2014 took gold in the 2016 CUPPIE awards from the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP) announced in January. Starnes says his students generate story ideas and some are even thinking about public-relations careers; others, journalism.

The winning issue included articles about the Chester Children’s Chorus, and a fertility doctor at the Crozer-Chester Medical Center, stories Starnes says aren’t being told by media reporting heavily on area crime.

Incubating fresh talent
The University of Pennsylvania has several initiatives brewing, notably the Pennovation Works site (anchored by the Pennovation Center) and the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition (EBPC).

Pennovation Works is a business incubator and laboratory integrating and aligning entrepreneurs and researchers who hope to turn basic research into services, business ventures and products. The facility will house two floors of co-working space supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups from Penn and the private sector; the third floor will integrate computer science and electrical, mechanical and systems engineering.

Craig R. Carnaroli, executive vice president at Penn, says the third-floor research center will be occupied this month and that all three floors should open by September.

The second floor will include PCI Ventures (which seeks entrepreneurs), in an example of what Anthony P. Sorrentino, executive director, office of the executive vice president, Penn, calls “the transformation of the Philadelphia economy, from what used to be about brawn, to intellectual and pragmatic: brawn to brains.”

Sorrentino says, “[The Pennovation Center] creates a hub of activity for the best and brightest of Penn.” Carnaroli adds, “We hope to create greater opportunities in technology for Penn researchers and create employment opportunities for the workforce of the Philadelphia region.”

Also targeting society’s betterment are the initiatives of the Education Business Plan Competition & Conference (EBPC), which since 2010 has united education start-ups and entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and teachers.

Dr. Barbara Kurshan, Penn’s executive director of academic innovation, Graduate School of Education (GSE), who leads the EBPC, says this year’s finalists will be announced in April, with competition (top prizes between $10,000 and $40,000) in May. Participation has increased from about 100 in 2010 to between 250 and 275, with about 250 registered this year.

“[The competition] is a pipeline for incubators [creating] an exciting vibe for entrepreneurs,” she says.

Also brimming with innovation is Temple University’s Fox School of Business, where Tyra Ford, assistant director of practice, marketing and supply chain management, and Ellen Weber, executive director of Fox’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI), are bullish on 2016.

Ford, who joined Fox in 2014, touts its full-time Global MBA program, which improved seven places to reach No. 41 nationally, in the U.S. News & World Report ranking for 2016 graduate schools. She points to its consulting opportunities for business, including marketing strategy, executive leadership and risk assessment.

“Recent consulting projects,” she says, “show an increase in requests for analyzing large data sets, as MBA and MIS (management information systems) students have teamed up for such clients as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.”

Weber, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship, says Temple took top honors this year at College Pitch Philly (of which she is a founder) and notes fall plans for a course on empowering women.

Weber also notes that the Princeton Review, and Entrepreneur magazine, ranked Fox’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program at No. 8 nationally and believes Fox’s successes draw from its professors as well as the depth and breadth of courses including those emphasizing social impact.

Citywide effects
Social impact abounds in plans for Drexel, where school officials along with Brandywine Realty Trust, recently unveiled plans for Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Yards innovation development, a 14-acre master planned community.

Initial phases of the projected 20-year development plan will consist of five million gross square feet of mixed-use real estate on a 10-acre site next to Drexel’s main campus, adjacent to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station and Brandywine’s Cira Centre, for a collaborative neighborhood with entrepreneurial spaces, educational facilities and research laboratories.

Brandywine CEO Gerard H. Sweeney says, “[Schuylkill Yards] will be a community, not a corporate campus,” describing it as an ecosystem “where magnificent physical spaces are simply the framework to accelerate intellectual creativity, academic research, commerce and community engagement.”

He says Brandywine wants to focus national attention on Philadelphia’s brand of innovation and on our drive toward socially responsible, inclusive development with a goal to “change how people outside of Philadelphia perceive our city [and see its] rising reputation.”

Brandywine plans to begin the construction of Drexel Square later this year, and begin the re-imagination of One Drexel Plaza shortly thereafter.

Innovations are also evident at Villanova, where II Luscri, executive director of the school’s ICE (Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship) Institute, says ICE has expanded its profile across campus since he took on his post in 2011. Starting last fall, Luscri notes, all students, faculty and alumni can get involved with ICE, which now reports directly to the provost, Patrick G. Maggitti.

One growth area, he says, is the student-entrepreneurship competition, Pitch Day, which since 2012 has roughly doubled annual judging participation to about 100 in addition to the ICE’s Meyer Awards for innovation and creative excellence, which go to one graduating student per school and college.

Luscri touts the Idea Accelerator promoting cross-college interaction with Villanova’s community, tied in with a facility that opened last fall; a women’s leadership institute (assisted by ICE) that opened during the past year; and a commitment to open resources for those outside the school.

“We believe,” Luscri concludes, “in getting smart people into a room and letting them bump into each other.”

Education for all
Smart, caring people are also making their mark at Community College of Philadelphia, where the Center for Male Engagement (CME) assists students under the leadership of Derrick Perkins, CME project director since 2012.

Perkins says that since its inception in 2009, CME has assisted nearly 900 young men, and as of September, 159 participants transferred to four-year institutions, with 80 gaining associate’s degrees and 15 earning proficiency certificates.

Perkins says CME, geared toward black males, received the 2015 Talent Greater Philadelphia Higher Education Award for improving educational outcomes. And, in support of the White House’s My Brother's Keeper initiative, in 2015 the college was selected as the lead higher-education institution for Philadelphia’s strategic action plan in improving outcomes of young men of color.

Participants—some with criminal records —are encouraged to stay in school, Perkins explains, by letting them know someone cares about them through such efforts as Real Talk sessions featuring addresses by area business people.

One CME speaker, Ron Davis, director of diversity and community development at Parx Casino in Bensalem, called his first visit, in 2013, an uplifting experience. He and other businesspeople host real talk sessions, featuring frank dialogue for students who Davis—a former NFL player—says need someone to help navigate them through life.

Parx last kicked off a three-year commitment of annual contributions of $7,500 to CME for the Strong Lives, Strong Futures, Strong Men Scholarship program last year.

“It takes a lot of strength, and engagement for young men to successfully face their futures,” he concludes.

Strength and engagement are also making a difference at Cedar Crest College, an Allentown institution for women where president Carmen Twillie Ambar says about 40 percent of 1,400-plus students are firstgeneration college students.

New initiatives since Ambar took her post in 2008 include global connectivity, creativity and the liberal arts, an MBA program beginning last fall and this year’s opportunity for sophomores to study abroad starting in 2018.

Full-timers with at least 2.5 GPAs in good judicial and financial standing will be able to spend seven-to-10 days abroad (location to-be-announced) without cost beyond standard tuition.

Through a surplus and an anonymous gift, sophomores get to travel, and Ambar—inspired by her experience studying in Japan and France—adds, “To say we are excited is an understatement.”

Excitement also stems from Philadelphia University’s Strategic Design MBA program, started in 2013, for those seeking corporate, nonprofit and entrepreneurial-ventures success by combining business school and design thinking with methods borrowed from engineers and designers.

The program includes 10 courses divided among frameworks, processes, implementation and the summative project, meeting four times on alternate weekends. Course work extends beyond the city, as 22 students will study in Italy this year.

Key to the program’s success, says Dr. Natalie Nixon, the Strategic Design MBA program director, is a mix of business and design approaches to such areas as finance, product development and social work that avoids throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Whether it’s supporting those who need an extra hand, coaxing innovative ideas from tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, exposing young people to exciting new concepts or influencing entire neighborhoods, Philadelphia’s colleges and universities are putting students—and thereby the city—on track for future success.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 4 (March, 2016).
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