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Colgate students to examine entrepreneurship through interdisciplinary, academic inquiry

By Barbara Brooks on November 28, 2012

Jeffrey Herbst, president and professor of political science, will co-teach Technology and Disruption with Vijay Ramachandran, assistant professor of computer science.

It takes much discipline to succeed as an entrepreneur, as Colgate students are learning as they work with alumni in the university’s Thought Into Action Institute and other extracurricular programs.

Next semester, a new pilot course will examine entrepreneurship through interdisciplinary, academic inquiry. Technology and Disruption (UNST 360) will be co-taught by Jeffrey Herbst, president of Colgate and professor of political science, and Vijay Ramachandran, assistant professor of computer science.

The course will take place over seven weeks at Colgate and will focus on patterns of technological disruption in various areas of society and the economy. After completing the course, all students will spend the summer in Palo Alto, Calif., working in paid internships that Colgate will arrange. Occasional lectures, led by Colgate alumni and parents, will take place at the Silicon Valley headquarters of Chegg.com, the innovative online student hub whose president and CEO is Daniel Rosensweig P’15.

The field experience will expose students directly to the types of changes induced by digital-era entrepreneurship. As the company that brought a low-cost, short-term rental option to the $5+ billion college textbook business, Chegg.com represents the kind of “disruption” students will be studying.

“To be ready for the fast pace of today’s economy, students need both a solid academic foundation and the workplace skills gained through apprenticeships,” said Rosensweig. He has called publicly for all companies to invest time, people, and expertise in order to create a pipeline of skilled interns and future employees.

Chegg, which has been called “the Netflix of textbooks,” is an apropos partner for Colgate’s new course. According to one report, the company “represents a bold new philosophy that’s changing commerce.”

Co-professor Ramachandran expects there to be considerable demand for Technology and Disruption, which, because of the internship that follows the course, will be limited to 12 students. No previous background with programming is necessary, although the seminar-style discourse (with a 6:1 student-faculty ratio) will require an intermediate-to-advanced level of work.

According to the syllabus, Technology and Disruption will focus on how current technological developments (e.g., social media, digital content, “big data”) have disrupted and will continue to affect our society and the structure of the economy. Among the issues to be examined are who benefits (and suffers) from disruption, the prospects for “brick-and-mortar” institutions (including universities), and possible future patterns of disruption. Some evidence will be drawn from previous examples of technological disruption (e.g., railroads).

“By working in Silicon Valley, students will be immersed in a culture of entrepreneurship, able to take part in creative and strategic development of technology,” said President Herbst, who has made it a priority of his presidency to connect liberal arts learning and entrepreneurial character traits needed for today’s economy. “During the internship, students will be able to recognize relevant technologies and patterns of disruption studied in the course. Thus, the course and internship go hand-in-hand.”

According to a timeline to be determined, students will be asked to submit a one-page statement of interest and letters of reference that provide pertinent information about the student’s abilities, interests, and readiness for a summer-long internship experience in Silicon Valley. The instructors will review these materials and notify students of acceptance into the program.

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2 Comments



  • Colgate alumna said:

    Why disruption instead of a more positive word to describe the ways that technology has shaped innovation?




  • Robert Chamberlain said:

    It would be nice (and useful) if Jeff and Vijay made use of some of the TIA program mentors to provide guest lectures as a part of this course. The disciplines of Human Factors Engineering (HFE) and Human-Systems Integration (HSI), when completed early in the technology development process, provide pathways to the development of disruptive technologies. Introduction of HSI and HFE to students in this course would be a benefit.