Encompass Distinction: Good for Students and Westminster

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay user ngocphuc).

This semester, McDaniel College introduced Encompass Distinction, an entrepreneurial program with the slogan “Ignite Your Passion.”

A combination of courses, workshops, field trips, public showcases, and connections with local entrepreneurs, I believe this program is an important step to establish stronger ties between McDaniel and the Westminster community and give interested students an edge to one day starting their own business or organization.

Encompass Distinction is possible because of the support of McDaniel alum Dennis Sisco ‘68 and his wife Alexine Lesko through The Sisco Fund for Enterprise Management.

Faculty involved in creating the program researched other programs like it, but according to Dr. Bryn Upton in the History department, none of them were what McDaniel was looking for, and there are not a lot of programs like it.

This is hard to believe since last fall, Entrepreneur posted an article listing what they believed to be the top 25 colleges for entrepreneurship (http://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/237330). Some of the programs listed started before 1990. What makes McDaniel’s program different, and why has it taken so long for them to join the list of schools with this type of program?

A quick search through some of the programs on Entrepreneur’s list reveals one aspect that I believe sets Encompass Distinction apart: it is not just an academic program. An Entrepreneur-in-Residence will be available to mentor students, there’s an event series, and there will be opportunities for first-hand experiences working with local start-up businesses and entrepreneurs.

There is also going to be an Innovation Challenge each spring with cash prizes for the winners. According to Dr. Katie Staab, the prizes for the competition aren’t finalized, but “it will be on the order of thousands (plural).”

Although there are programs that do include aspects similar to these, such as the program at the University of Houston, Encompass Distinction is different because it aims to connect the students with the local Westminster community from the very start through internships, externships, and mentorships.

Many of the schools on Entrepreneur’s list are also big colleges, some with enrollment in just their entrepreneurship program being higher than the entire undergraduate enrollment at McDaniel. Encompass Distinction might seem to be late in the game when searching for programs, but it’s certainly ahead of the game, or at least in the race, for this type of program at schools this small.

Encompass Distinction also stands out because of its desire to connect the entrepreneurial aspect not just with business, but with other disciplines and departments on campus.

“A lot of people miss just how connected a liberal arts education and the business world are,” says Dr. Upton, who currently runs the program. “A program like this one can help us better understand those connections while helping prepare students who want to be innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Classes such as Writing for Nonprofit Organizations, The Forest Online, Food on the Table: Contemporary Local and Global Food Issues, and Topics in Biology: The Sick Molecule show the program’s determination to give students in any major with any interests the opportunity to connect their business classes, of which at least 4 credits are required, with their learning within their major.

Although it is possible for the program to fail, I believe it has a good chance to succeed at McDaniel. Entrepreneurship is about people as much as business, and the McDaniel faculty has a knack for caring about people.

“The faculty have been very enthusiastic so far,” Dr. Upton says. “We have had good turnouts for our workshops and several faculty from a variety of disciplines have been involved in developing new courses for the program.”

We also have many students on campus interested in helping others and being their own boss, something Encompass Distinction can help them do.

“I’m basically excited about the program because it can teach how to bring our business, nonprofit, and social entrepreneurial ideas to life, and I kind of want to start a non profit someday,” says Jason Swartz, one of roughly thirteen students currently enrolled in the program.

Since the program is only available for sophomores to join, it gives students time to get their bearings as a college student and figure out a little bit about what they want to do before taking on the responsibilities, opportunities, and classes of the program.

Although the program has some classes open only to Encompass Distinction students, most of the classes are available to all students. I think this is a smart move since it gives students that do not want to take on the program’s responsibilities access to the ideas, and it allows the program to function at a school McDaniel’s size.

Although I am not sure the program is exactly as unique as we’d like to believe, I do believe it will be good for students and faculty as well as for McDaniel’s relationship with the local community.