The mission of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) interdisciplinary area is to enable students to pursue their passion through innovative and entrepreneurial ventures in courses and co-curricular activities.
It is important to note that we use the word “innovative” in a particular sense, referring to creative, original thinking that leads to new ideas, products, or services that create value for society. Similarly, we use “entrepreneurial” in a specific way, referring to taking initiative and creating positive change in the world. Finally, our use of the word “venture” includes both for-profit and non-profit ventures, and more broadly any initiative to deliver a product or service in a sustainable way.
Innovation and entrepreneurship, understood in this sense, fit naturally into a liberal education. The cultivation of innovative, entrepreneurial thought and action requires one to approach problems from multiple perspectives, to think creatively beyond the status quo, to create and deliver coherent, persuasive arguments. These are essential skills that a liberal education aims to impart to its recipients. Graduates who embrace innovative and entrepreneurial attitudes will be better equipped to create fulfilling lives for themselves—lives that extend their liberal arts experience.
The case for entrepreneurship, innovation, and the liberal arts
One definition of liberal arts is based on disciplines. The set of disciplines that have been deemed appropriate “liberal arts subjects” has changed considerably over the years, and many have questioned whether a liberal education can be usefully defined by the subjects it covers. In his May 2013 TEDxLawrenceU talk, former Lawrence President Rik Warch argued that
In addition to a definition of the liberal arts based on curricular subject areas and content, there is another predicated on what might be called intellectual process and style, what we might consider the instrumental qualities of a liberal education, those habits of mind and skills of analysis a liberal education promotes. One of the principal proponents of this view was Henry Merritt Wriston. … Wriston emphasized that “liberal learning cannot be defined in terms of a standardized body of subject matter.” Rather, he argued, the values of liberal learning “arise out of familiarity with basic disciplines,” and he went on to define discipline not as an academic field of study (like history or chemistry, for example) but as “the essential mode of thought in a field of study, the inherently characteristic mental method of attacking that kind of problem. … If one has some mastery of the basic disciplines, he is in a position to attack a new field independently, as an adult should do.”
We believe that innovation and entrepreneurialism are examples of those “habits of mind and skills of analysis” that a liberal education ought to cultivate in the 21st century. Liberal education has provided a broad foundation for the fulfillment of the lives of many of its recipients. It has provided students with skills that help meet the needs of society, and it has contributed to the accomplishments of many in diverse fields. And yet a number of observers in recent years have articulated various challenges that liberal arts colleges face today. One of these challenges is the charge that a liberal education fails to prepare students adequately for applying their education to become powerful contributors to society and to become agents of positive change. By cultivating innovative thinking and entrepreneurial action in the context of their liberal education, Lawrence students will be much better prepared to become powerful contributors to society, whatever their chosen vocation.