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New Business Pop-Up Course Helps Students Design Their Future

Center for Entrepreneurship Partners with Renowned Entrepreneur to Impact Students
New Business Pop-Up Course Helps Students Design Their Future
Applied Design Thinking: A Human-Centered Approach to Designing Your Life (MNGT 398), a new entrepreneurial pop-up course at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is showing students how to design a future of their own. Led by Andrew Hanna, assistant professor of practice in management and entrepreneurship, and Mike Smith, founder of The Bay and co-founder and co-executive director of Rabble Mill, the course was hosted at The Bay over four Saturdays.

A new pop-up course at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is empowering students to take hold of their future using the entrepreneurial skillset of “design thinking” to help address the feeling of being unprepared for life after graduation. Hosted at The Bay and taught by Andrew Hanna, assistant professor of management and Seacrest Teaching Fellow, and Mike Smith, founder of The Bay and co-founder and co-executive director of Rabble Mill, the course called Applied Design Thinking: A Human-Centered Approach to Designing Your Life (MNGT 398) shows young adults how to create a tailored five-year life plan to become the future self they envision as they move into their careers.

“The class teaches students about design-thinking frameworks from entrepreneurship and used Design Your Life tools from Stanford University. We utilized their community of peers and mentors to address the problem of feeling inadequately prepared to start the life they want once they’re finished with college,” Hanna said.

A nationally recognized social entrepreneur, Smith started The Bay, Nebraska’s first youth-only indoor skate park in Westfield Gateway Mall in 2010 and as interest grew moved to a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Y Street. The Bay also serves as a safe space for youth and the community, with more than 10,000 skaters and 1,000 youth supported yearly through its services and programs.

Students participating in the course.
University students and students in The Bay’s Gap Year Program spent their weekends holding discussions, reflection exercises and connecting with one another to define a five-year plan for their careers.

“This course focuses on using design tools to help you craft a direction for your life. I learned a lot of those lessons organically through my entrepreneurship and nonprofit experiences. Experiences young adults relate to, like starting my own nonprofit and being a professional speaker, make the class more relatable and down to earth to students,” said Smith, who recently launched Bay High, a Lincoln Public Schools high school focus program that gives entrepreneurial-minded juniors and seniors tools, access and stewardship to be successful creators.

Smith, who donates his time to teach the design-thinking course, provides students like Z Gividen, a junior marketing major at the College of Business from Tehachapi, California, a new perspective on their own lives.

“Mike was very involved and engaged. He used examples from his own life and was willing to openly talk about his failures and shortcomings in the past. It helped me realize it’s okay to not always do things perfectly or even fail,” she said. “I feel less stressed about situations and realize it’s okay to take a few steps back. There are always other options, and I don’t feel afraid to change it up.”

Open to all students at Nebraska and students in The Bay’s Gap Year program, which helps Nebraska youth from 18 to 22 years old get a job, go to college or start a business, the course engaged students for four Saturdays this February at the indoor skatepark. The unique environment and diverse enrollment of students made for an interactive and collaborative space.

“There was a lot of open space and opportunity to meet new people. The diversity of perspective and direction of everyone in the class was the biggest thing that made this course feel very different from other college courses I've taken. Despite commonalities between the groups, no one had the same vision for their life, which was unique,” said Maria Heyen, a senior international business and Clifton Builders management major from Astoria, Oregon.

In 2022, the Center for Entrepreneurship saw all 10 colleges represented among students in its curriculum and programming, with more than 150 entrepreneurial mentors engaged as well. The mentors include Center for Entrepreneurship Fellows, a group of successful entrepreneurs who volunteer their time to help students. The focus around interdisciplinary collaboration through this course and other events supports startups across a variety of fields and expands the students' networks beyond their normal circle of peers.

“I made many new connections with students I had not previously known, including those in the College of Business and in The Bay’s Gap Year Program. We spent time brainstorming or working through different frameworks or modules and then had time to share in large groups facilitated by a group leader. It was great to hear other students' dreams and get to know their values and what they want for their life,” Heyen said.

Like many of the center's programs, the course took an intentionally hands-on approach to learning.

Smith interacting with students in the course.
As a renowned social entrepreneur, Smith used his life experience to mentor students in the course, partnering with Hanna to incorporate entrepreneurial concepts and theory they can use in the real world.

“We primarily did a lot of discussion-based activities, assigned readings, reflection exercises and presentations about the conclusions students came to about their plans for their lives. The majority of the experience was giving activities to measure what’s important to them, reflections to help them parse out the details surrounding the conclusions they came to, making real-world connections to better explore the roads they’d like to travel, and use entrepreneurship theory to guide how to go about doing that in an informed way,” Hanna said.

The course parallels the learning environment provided by the center with numerous competitions, courses and events, which serve more than 1,500 students annually, giving students the tools and resources to build and be a part of future innovative business ventures. Hanna feels these initiatives plus one-on-one coaching supports and empowers entrepreneurial-minded students at Nebraska.

“We want students to leave their time here with more confidence in who they are, feeling better equipped to handle the uncertainties that await them and a clear idea about how to solve problems. This class provided all these things and more to the students, and in doing so, it was a course that beautifully embodied what the Center for Entrepreneurship is all about,” Hanna said.

With more than a decade of entrepreneurial and nonprofit experience under his belt, Smith foresees the course's strong impact on the startup ecosystem and workforce.

“I hope some of our students go on to create really cool side hustles or gig economy jobs, or full-time jobs for themselves because of this. I also hope some of them hop right into the workforce. This course helps make our creative class stronger and helps young people have a stronger direction they choose for themselves,” Smith said.

Ultimately, the course helped refine students' professional career paths. Heyen feels she has a clearer vision as she moves closer to graduation this spring.

“This class helped me think about what I want out of my new job, how long I plan to be there, what success looks like, and how my current actions will affect me five years from now. I've never had much time to think about the actionable steps of what my life truly looks like in the next five years, and this class helped me with that,” Heyen said.

With positive reception from students, Hanna and Smith hope to offer the course again in the future. Pop-up classes like this one enable the college to incorporate industry trends and innovations into the curriculum more quickly.

“This class allowed students to pause and think about their path to really focus on what they care about versus just getting a grade between our experiences at The Bay and other educational experiences. It’s designed for people who are still trying to figure out where they want to go. I truly believe the future belongs to those who design it!” proclaimed Smith. 

Published: March 30, 2023