By TYLER ELLYSON
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.
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.
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.”
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 email@example.com or 308-865-8135.
Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Academy Participants
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
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