New course to allow students to tune into diversity, entrepreneurship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If a little rap music can add diversity to the entrepreneurship ecosystem, then Betsy Campbell is in tune with that.

Campbell, assistant professor of education in the College of Education with a research focus on entrepreneurship as practice and the democratization of innovative entrepreneurship, is co-teaching a course with Scott McDonald, associate professor of science education, in the fall 2019 semester, titled Accelerator Rap. The course is cross-listed as 497 in education, art, music and English. The course also is pre-approved in the New Media Cluster of the entrepreneurship and innovation (ENTI) minor and may be the first step toward creating an ENTI minor in the College of Education.

In the course, interdisciplinary teams of students will learn about entrepreneurial fundamentals and express what they are learning through their primary interests, according to Campbell.

"The course doesn't expect people to study entrepreneurship on the side of their main interests. Instead we're empowering students to use the skills that they are honing in their majors to bring an entrepreneurial concept and case to life," Campbell said. "Students will create short, multimedia pieces that remind some of us of 'Schoolhouse Rock'. However, these animated musical pieces will be digital and will teach entrepreneurial fundamentals to kids over the web."

While the course may attract students who already are interested in entrepreneurship, others may take it simply because of its creative edge.

"People who are already performing or otherwise creating beats and contemporary music, people who are interested in animation and drawing, and anyone who's interested in learning to work within an interdisciplinary team," should consider taking Accelerator Rap, Campbell said. 

"No matter what your major is, when you graduate, you're going to have to work with people from different backgrounds and with different skillsets. This is a good chance for students to collaborate with peers from across campus; to discover how people from other disciplines approach their work and how we can work together on a shared project," she added.

Campbell will teach case studies and key concepts of entrepreneurship. Professors who teach poetry, visual arts, curriculum development, and music will collaborate by relaying their specialties in class-based workshops.

The students will render the animations, write the lyrics, and compose the beats, before performing, recording and integrating the works. The end result will be informal educational materials in the form of multimedia pieces that teach entrepreneurial basics to children who might not otherwise imagine themselves as a future entrepreneur.

"The students will work in interdisciplinary teams and each team will produce one multimedia piece," Campbell said. "The semester will finish with a design critique that will be semi-public and open to everybody who's been part of the workshops along the way."

The class itself, Campbell said, is one part of a larger interdisciplinary movement related to issues of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Campbell is working toward the creation of a new center that does scholarly research, offers courses and creates a community of practice focused on changing the demographics of entrepreneurship.

"A curriculum that works in Silicon Valley doesn't necessarily work in other contexts. Learning opportunities imported from other contexts often attract people who already see themselves as entrepreneurs," she said.

"I'm interested in finding out how we can make entrepreneurship relevant to people who traditionally have been outside of entrepreneurial careers; to more women, people of color and people from working-class communities, for example," added Campbell. "Part of my research investigates how entrepreneurship is taught and whether changes in the context and curriculum can influence who is interested in entrepreneurship and who becomes a successful entrepreneur."

Campbell said the case studies used in the class will feature entrepreneurs who come from underrepresented backgrounds. She started Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs, a 501(c)3 which she grew to about 6,000 people around the world before leaving to attend to her terminally ill father. (The organization's current membership is nearly 10,000). 

She also founded for-profit ventures, and has had the experience of being the only woman involved in a team or in a fund-raising meeting.

"I know something about what it means to be 'other' in the entrepreneurial ecosystem," she said.

Campbell, who this year will have two books published with Routledge — "Practice theory in action: Empirical Studies of Interaction in Innovation and Entrepreneurship" and "The innovator's discussion: The conversational skills of entrepreneurial teams" — said students in the Accelerator Rap class will tell the story of a particular case study and emphasize a particular entrepreneurial concept.

"But the sonic and rhythmic way they do that is up to them," she said. "We're not orthodox about a particular kind of beat. We've selected the word 'rap' to signal a contemporary kind of sound more than a particular genre," Campbell said.

Through the course, its output and other efforts, Campbell is attempting to change the meanings people associate with entrepreneurship.

"Helping people recognize that regardless of your background, you can create high-impact innovative ventures is important," she said. "The class is an experiment and an exciting chance to explore how entrepreneurship can be reinterpreted and made relevant to more people."

Last Updated March 20, 2019