My Appalachian Vision: Defining an entrepreneurial future

Dr. Heather Dixon-Fowler

I envision an exciting future with opportunities for entrepreneurship at Appalachian State University as we continue to emphasize and build programs focused on global opportunities, cross-disciplinary collaboration, social and sustainable entrepreneurship, industry engagement and experiential learning.

Our students increasingly seek international opportunities. I envision a future in which, with the appropriate support, the campus Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is realized, faculty trip leaders are recognized and rewarded, all students can take advantage of international opportunities regardless of their financial position, and every student graduates from Appalachian with a passport. In entrepreneurship, we have already created relationships and led programs to Vietnam, Thailand and Panama.

We will continue to focus on countries that show promise for future opportunities for our students in both traditional and social entrepreneurship. My undergraduate study-abroad experience changed my life and now I have witnessed, firsthand, how it can change the lives of Appalachian students.

My second hope for the future is that we encourage more collaboration among programs, departments and colleges in order to best prepare our students for the rapidly changing workforce and as citizens in the 21st century. I can envision more joint-degree programs such as sustainable development-entrepreneurship and technology-entrepreneurship and co-teaching opportunities, which provide a rich learning experience for both students and faculty.

There is demand and a need for a sustainable and social entrepreneurship major where students take relevant courses from multiple departments across campus. Entrepreneurship skills are relevant for students in many disciplines including arts, sciences and sustainable development and vice versa. I have been impressed with faculty across campus and it is clear that many of us want more collaboration and understand its potential benefits. While the faculty and students seek more collaboration, an opportunity for Appalachian would be to provide more infrastructure mechanisms, resources, flexibility and policies to make this a reality.

In entrepreneurship, we will continue to build on our relationships with industry. When I have the opportunity to meet and interact with an entrepreneur, I learn things that I take back to the classroom. When entrepreneurs visit campus and share their stories in class, when guest speakers share knowledge and network with students at Association of Student Entrepreneurs meetings, or when an aspiring student entrepreneur is mentored through our Dale Tweedy Mentoring Program, students are inspired, make contacts that can help them find jobs or start their own business, and are able to make important connections between the concepts they learn in the classroom and the real world.

Relationships formed with industry partners also help to provide important experiential learning opportunities for our students through entrepreneurship practicum projects and internships, so our students can apply what they have learned in the classroom and continue to learn by “doing.”

As I look at my colleagues, interact with my students, and raise a family in the Boone community, I continue to be impressed and inspired. Under unprecedented budget cuts and resource constraints, our faculty has stepped up to do more and more with less, often making personal and professional sacrifices, so our students can continue to receive a high-quality educational experience both in and outside of the classroom. In considering my vision of the future, I see challenges but also potential amazing opportunities for entrepreneurship at Appalachian.