Changing concentrations

As the world shrinks, schools expand their majors and programs
By SEETHA NARAYAN  |  January 24, 2007

Thomas Friedman from the New York Times writes that “the world is flat.” International borders are more porous, markets are expanding, cultures are transforming, and you might compete for a job with the articulate and well-educated Indian across the world. To keep higher education relevant to the changing world, four Boston-area universities recently added twists to traditional programs to equip students for the global society they will graduate into.

School for anti-geeks
Picture an engineer charismatic enough to network with investors and attract funding. Likely he or she would go places. At Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, which was established in 2004 with a master’s program begun in 2006, a coterie of interdisciplinary faculty equips scientists with entrepreneurial skills and business types with the niceties necessary to run technological startups.

Technological-entrepreneurship programs are usually attached either to an engineering school or to a business school, says associate professor John Friar, “but courses are general and not geared towards technological entrepreneurship. Engineers and business don’t talk to each other.”

The school at Northeastern, by contrast, is an independent entity with faculty from business, engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities, who create and team-teach courses tailored to issues faced by technological entrepreneurs.

Technical people often have ideas for which markets don’t yet exist, explains Friar. In such situations, standard business models about market research and customer desires don’t help. “We teach them a different kind of analysis. It’s more complicated for technological entrepreneurship.”

Asked what need the school met, he says, “Most people who’ve developed technology-based businesses come up from the engineering side and learn how to manage the business. We’ll let you jump five, 10 years ahead in your experience, avoid mistakes, and be further along in your competency.”

Many scientists and engineers are creative, noted Paul Zavracky, dean of the school, “but few have the skills to convert breakthroughs into viable products and services. However, economies around the globe are strengthening. For the US to maintain its leadership, we must develop new skills, stay ahead of the curve.”

Timothy Chadwick, 25, a Master’s student, came in with an idea for software for campus student organizations. He’d developed it for his alma mater in Rochester, New York, and wanted to refine it and market it more widely. “I used the classes to investigate my idea,” says Chadwick. “There’s not one class that wasn’t immediately applicable.”

Asked whether he’d been transformed from geek to charmer, Chadwick laughed. “I see that stereotype reinforced daily,” he says. “People who have a good idea on the engineering side are inhibited.”

In one course, Chadwick learned that the first step is to identify your own personality type: are you an inventor; a small businessman; or a sociable, charismatic entrepreneur? “You have to know where you start,” he says. “The goal is to get to ‘charismatic,’ get out of ‘nerdy, geeky,’ and just practice.”

And students get a chance to do just that every summer at retreats at the university’s Ashland campus under the mentoring eyes of already-successful entrepreneurs.

The School of Technological Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, 617.373.2788, offers undergraduate-minor, certificate, and master’s degrees.

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