Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The University of Michigan, Entrepreneurship and Its Students


Students from the State of Michigan know the score: These are times of fierce economic challenges – perhaps more so in Michigan

than in any other state of the union. Teachers also know that they have to change the way they do business – they’re well aware of what lies ahead for their students, especially those pursuing engineering and science degrees. Education has had to change with the times.

Today’s world is flat and changes rapidly! Competition is fierce – each engineer we educated in the U.S. has to compete with 50 engineers on the global stage. So education had better be good. And it had better be relevant.

Unfortunately, to a certain extent our education has lost value – a diploma used to be a passport to a great career; now it’s merely a single-entry visa. It’ll get a student his first job. After that, however, it takes a lot more than a piece of sheepskin and good performance on the job to maintain a career. It takes a mindset that one must become a life-long learner – coasting on yesterday’s knowledge and achievements doesn’t cut it, anymore. Students’ success will come from a never-ending process of learning and incorporating that learning into their lives. It will also come from developing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Entrepreneurs are a different breed. In the words of two who would know – Hoa Ma, a professor of management at Peking University, China, and at the University of Illinois at Springfield, USA, and renowned entrepreneur Justin Tan – entrepreneurs are people with a mindset that gives them “the desire to achieve, the passion to create, and the yearning for freedom, the drive for independence, and the embodiment of entrepreneurial visions and dreams through tireless hard work, calculated risk-taking, continuous innovation and undying perseverance.” Entrepreneurs aren’t just two guys in a garage; they’re people Michigan needs to fill its companies, small and big, if the State is to strive again!

We want to produce entrepreneurial engineers at the University of Michigan. But we can’t do that only by preaching in classrooms, which we’re doing very persistently, by the way. We also have to give our students the encouragement, the resources, the challenge and the empowering feeling that we want them to go out there and try.

Michigan Universities are addressing this challenge. We’re not there yet, but we’re surely on the way. I’m optimistic about the future of Michigan because I can see the potential in our young students waiting to be unleashed.

Thomas Zurbuchen is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a professor of Space Science and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

This post appears simultaneously on Metromodecom.