Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
January 8, 1999

Teaching the American Dream

by Kevin Brown

When they finish his class, Howard Van Auken wants his graduate students in entrepreneurship to understand what a business idea is and what a business opportunity is -- and to have the skills to recognize the difference.

For example, Van Auken said his students researched the idea of creating a shuttle service in Ames.

"It looks like a lucrative opportunity. I was surprised," Van Auken said. "If you charge 75 cents for a ride, it has potential."

Van Auken said the concept of being your own boss is "engrained in American culture," but that students don't understand the technical aspects of entrepreneurship.

"We want to see these students become successful," he said. "It is the American Dream: independence and control of one's own life. It's important to explore that dream early on."

To explore the world of self-employment, Van Auken, an associate professor of management, relies more on real world business interaction than textbooks.

"Reading is not learning," he said. "I have textbooks available, but students are not required to buy them. I want the class to be more dynamic. I want to offer exposure to innovation."

The lack of reliance on textbooks provides students with a more enriched atmosphere for learning from business people, he said.

Van Auken said he invites lots of guest speakers to his class. The speakers are involved in small business, entrepreneurship and innovation, and include business people from the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center, the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, Subway restaurants in Ames, Cy's Roost and Ames Racquet and Fitness Club.

Van Auken's students recently worked with an entrepreneur attempting to introduce information kiosks into certain markets, such as health and fitness centers. Students evaluated a full-functioning kiosk at Ames Racquet and Fitness Club.

The students offered valuable feedback for the entrepreneur, and the businessman was able to instruct the students in the research process he used to arrive at the working kiosks.

"This gave the students the opportunity to work with a real business to see how a new product is brought to market," he said. "They can make a difference and be a part (of the process). The students become more involved. It is another dimension to the classroom."

He said student interest in entrepreneurship has prompted the College of Business to introduce a university-wide minor for under-graduate students. David Hunger, professor of management, is leading curriculum development in this area and also teaches a new class on entrepreneurship.

Van Auken said the new class -- Management 310 -- typically has 100 to 150 students from across ISU colleges.

"We are experiencing a large influx of students from other academic areas," he said. "We have a lot of students from the engineering colleges, from soil and turf management, from agriculture and from the general sciences."

Veterinary medicine students also are attracted to the course because many will operate their own practices following graduation.

"There is a subculture of entrepreneurship in central Iowa," Van Auken said. "A lot of what is occurring in business isn't being done by business people -- it is the engineers and the scientists. They're the ones that will be the entrepreneurs of the future. They are the innovators."

The difference between old and new ways of viewing business education, Van Auken said, is that in the past students were taught how to be good employees. Today, they're taught how to be good employers.

Teaching entrepreneurship is a natural for Van Auken, who opened The Racquet and Fitness Corner in the Ames Racquet and Fitness Center. His son Chris now owns the shop and family members work there.

Van Auken said his personal involvement in entrepreneurship helps in the classroom.

"I sometimes use my own business as an example of the positive aspects of entrepreneurship, as a cause of family bonding," he said. "A business teaches everyone how to deal with people, how to keep accurate records, how to recognize that your word is your bond, and shows the importance of reliability."

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