Take 19 strangers from different places and with different interests and perspectives straight out of high school. Put them on one wing of a building for six months and bombard them with a series of assignments, challenges and competitions for cash prizes and opportunities that give them a head start in launching their careers and securing their futures.
Then, watch what happens.
No, it’s not a reality TV show à la Big Brother or The Real World. It’s the Honors College Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community (E-LLC) at the College of Charleston. And, instead of eliminations and cameras, there are collaborations and whiteboards. Lots and lots of whiteboards. And what happens is pretty amazing.
Now in its second year, the Honors E-LLC program aims to promote the entrepreneurial mindset in a group of Honors freshmen from a variety of academic majors who have one thing in common: a passion for innovation and the desire to bring their ideas to fruition.
“These are students who are open minded, students who value the interdisciplinary connections, students who, if they are made to learn in silos, do not thrive,” says professor Lancie Affonso ’96.
Affonso teaches teaches in the Department of Computer Science, the School of Business and the Honors College and serves as the advisor to the Honors Entrepreneurship Mentoring Cohort, of which all E-LLC students are members.
“I want to push these incoming students beyond what boundaries are out there by exploring the interdisciplinary connections between entrepreneurial endeavors,” he adds.
The 19 students selected to be part of this year’s E-LLC cohort started making those interdisciplinary connections as soon as they moved onto the first floor of Joe E. Berry Residence Hall, where they share an idea lab, kitchen, whiteboards and plenty of inspiration from the 13 different majors in their community.
“By being a member of this community, I was introduced to students from a variety of majors whose paths I may never have crossed otherwise,” says sophomore business administration major Leanna Conti, who was a member of the College’s first E-LLC cohort last year and is now the program’s student director. “You improve your self-knowledge, while also bettering your emotional intelligence through your interactions with a diverse community.”
Computing in the arts major Emmanuel Lopez Rivera agrees.
“Don’t look at the E-LLC as being only for a certain major,” says Rivera, adding that he’s seen improvement in his leadership and networking skills since joining this year’s cohort. “The E-LLC lets you explore a new field of potential interest while making friends in the process.”
Case in point: Sarah Dinning, whose experience in the Honors E-LLC convinced her to change her major from computer science to marketing.
“Seeing all the different majors is what made me change – it made me see different connections and possibilities between different fields of study,” she says. “Living with people who have the same kind of interests but are all so different is really cool.”
It’s also pretty useful when it comes to coursework.
“We can collaborate and help each other with class assignments and readings, and if we need help or an idea on something, we’re just right there to go ask, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ because we all have our own specific area of knowledge,” says Dinning. “It’s like having a bunch of experts at your fingertips.”
“Whether you’re working on homework, baking something delicious or getting a little too competitive over a game of Scattergories, you’re always learning from one another,” says Conti. “The people I’ve met through the Honors E-LLC program have inspired me to be radically different in terms of my life trajectory.”
Renee Fraley has had a similar experience.
“I never expected the E-LLC to shape my career goals, but now I have a strong desire to start my own business,” says the business administration major. “Without this program, I would have never considered this is a viable future for myself.”
And that’s exactly what Affonso hopes for these students – that the E-LLC opens up possibilities that they hadn’t previously considered for themselves.
“The Honors E-LLC is an investment in the students not just so they invest in themselves, but so other people invest in them, too,” he says. “We let the students take the ball. We throw it to them, and then it’s their game.”
Students in the E-LLC are thrown all sorts of opportunities. They are members of Enactus, the College’s student entrepreneurship club, which works with local businesses and charities to help them pursue entrepreneurial goals and which hosts initiatives such as the Student Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.
They also compete for cash prizes in the DEMOS (Disability and Entrepreneurship: Models of Success) Competition and in the ICAT (Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Technology) program, which challenges them to create globally scalable high-tech companies and allows them travel to explore the local and international tech scene.
“That’s what’s cool – we get to practice entrepreneurship, and get real experience,” says Dinning. “There are so many opportunities – it’s all what you put into it.”
And the Honors E-LLC students are certainly putting a lot into it.
“This program offers a framework, tools and – most importantly – a place and a community of peers and mentors focusing on the same topical industry issues through assigned readings, reflections and in-class exercises. But it is the passion and ambition of individual students that keep it alive and thriving,” says Conti. “The Honors E-LLC works because the students within it inspire one another to reject complacency.”
The results have Affonso beaming.
“This is impact entrepreneurship – when you serve in leadership roles to positively impact others,” he says. “But it’s more than that. It’s seeing something and recognizing how it can make a difference: the ability to look for opportunities to make the world a better place. I believe in investing in students who take entrepreneurial action to positively impact others and create a better world with boundless opportunities for all of us.”
And that’s what happens when you put 19 Honors students together under one roof and give them the opportunities, incentives and perspectives they need to thrive across multiple disciplines.
It’s well worth watching.