Why Entrepreneurship is a Perfect Match for the Liberal Arts Student
One of the most important components of a successful liberal arts education is learning how to question assumptions about the world. It necessitates the strengthening of creative thinking skills, alongside learning how best to harness the powers of individual ambition and inquisitiveness. All of these qualities sound perfect for the type of person you will find working day and night at Hub101: the humble, hardworking entrepreneur. There are those who mistakenly believe the entrepreneurial mind does not mesh with that of a liberal arts student, as well as those who believe an institutional embrace of entrepreneurial culture is negative for students within these schools. However, neither side could be further from the truth.
While some believe liberal arts students cannot offer the technical expertise necessary for a successful startup idea, the reality is these students bring in all of the requisite soft skills for success in a fast-paced, unorthodox work environment. These are the students who spend their time in school honing their resiliency and critical thinking skills through grappling with interdisciplinary ‘big questions’. They are the ones who, by spending four years in a close-knit setting, build their interpersonal networking skills through their interactions with people from a variety of backgrounds. There is a common misconception that liberal arts students are too ‘intellectual’ to prove effective in real-world settings with requirements for long-term planning and adhering to budgets. However, some of the best entrepreneurial visionaries and business success stories were bred within the liberal arts college setting: Steve Jobs, who credits Reed College and its strong calligraphy program for building an interest in design; Ken Chenault, the CEO of American Express and a director at IBM whose history degree informed his views on how to succeed in building a business movement; and John Mackey, the Whole Foods Co-CEO who has written that his lack of formal business education enabled him to more easily see possibilities for innovation.
Those skeptical of the idea to bring entrepreneurship support into more liberal arts colleges have misguided fears as well. Introducing more students to the possibilities presented within entrepreneurship is an excellent way to provide more outlets for students to be the change they want to see in the world. Startup incubator funds at schools such as Middlebury College in northern Vermont provide amazing potential to blend real-world practical demands with the intellectual challenge provided within a more theoretical liberal arts curriculum. This particular program at Middlebury has already empowered students to create the types of careers they want to see within the world. Providing an entrepreneurial outlet at a liberal arts school is not a zero-sum game, in which nurturing business ideas take away from the liberal arts tradition of encouraging creativity and inspiring visionaries of the next generation. Rather, this is just another tangible way for liberal arts colleges to empower visionary students with another outlet for flexing their creative muscles. Besides, is there anything more stereotypical of a liberal arts student than being nonconformist to the point of creating a new career path?
Mike Panesis, the Executive Director of the California Lutheran University Center for Entrepreneurship and a beloved mentor at Hub101, excellently summed up the connections between entrepreneurship and the liberal arts student. “Liberal arts students who study entrepreneurship enjoy the best of both worlds. They can major in a subject they’re passionate about, then use their entrepreneurial studies as a guide to finding purpose with that passion.” He also found a multitude of commonalities between the mindset of an entrepreneur and that of a liberal arts student. “The liberal arts and entrepreneurial mindsets complement each other. Liberal arts students learn to think critically, question conventional wisdom and communicate effectively. The entrepreneurial mindset includes all of these traits, but in the context of creating a compelling value proposition, and with an emphasis on taking action.” And for those who believe studying entrepreneurship is detrimental to the liberal arts educational experience, Panesis makes a strong case for a change in mindset.
“For anyone who is studying the liberal arts and thinks that entrepreneurship is a waste of time, I’d encourage thinking critically about one’s path through life following graduation. Entrepreneurship can help clarify purpose. I’d also encourage liberal arts students to suspend belief about the role of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneur is a French word meaning ‘adventurer’. We’re not talking Shark Tank. We’re looking for people who want to change the world.”