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Converse College

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Converse College]

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Converse College is an all-women’s liberal arts college in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Founded in 1889, Converse College continues to adhere to its founder's ideals, seeking to inspire "voice, value, and vision" in its students. It has received press in past years for lowering its tuition by 43 percent. In 2014, it ranked 23rd among Regional University South’s college rankings.

At the end of the 2014/2015 academic year, Converse initiated many progressive changes to its curriculum and culture under the umbrella "LEAD" Action Plan. The LEAD Plan (Learning, Enrollment, Access, and Activation) at Converse College includes the addition of programs, certificates, and centers in a variety of disciplines, an experiential learning graduation requirement for all majors, and the "Creativity that Works" plan in the School of the Arts. Converse College also has a strong presence in the Spartanburg community for service and service learning. This January, Converse had the highest participation rate in Spartanburg, SC, for students actively involved in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Promoting student innovation and entrepreneurship

For what Converse lacks in engineering and technology programs and resources, it makes up with student passion and initiative. Students are encouraged by faculty, staff, and campus leaders to participate in innovative activities, provide solutions for campus-wide problems, and create programs or organizations to tackle them. There is no formalized problem solving or venture creation process, but some channels students can access when looking to implement solutions or open dialogue are the individual academic departments, the Center for Professional Development, the Office of Student Life, the Center for Leadership and Service, the President's Office, and the Student Government Association (SGA).

A significant portion of the student body is actively involved in the SGA. Converse College Radio, a new venture this year, has been notably entrepreneurial from its inception. At present, there is no SGA organization that caters to the specifically entrepreneurial needs of the students. 

The college and its faculty and staff encourage student innovation and entrepreneurship through the Creative Collaborative Grant program and SCICU grant applications. Aspects of the new LEAD Action Plan are already being implemented. The School of the Arts is in its first year of conducting courses that specifically link innovation and creative entrepreneurship with arts disciplines for freshmen and sophomores. Eventually, the entire campus academic system will follow this lead. 

Encouraging faculty innovation and entrepreneurship

Faculty members are encouraged to engage in innovative teaching methods, including addressing typical subject matters in out of the box ways. This includes everything from teaching economics through Harry Potter, team-teaching interdisciplinary study travel courses around the world, hosting guest speakers and entrepreneurs for class sessions, and conducting field trips to spaces like The Iron Yard. Some have founded their own social enterprises and businesses. Beyond these, however, Converse faculty members are not prominently involved in entrepreneurship culture. 

The Center for Professional Development at Converse strives to provide students with the very best resources from Career Peer mentoring, various free workshops, and for-credit courses aimed at students who want to discover their potential and make things happen. 

Still, there is no formalized, established system through which teachers and faculty members are spurred to pursue entrepreneurship and innovation in and outside the classroom. Innovation is pursued on a personal basis, and is a direct response to students clamoring for better options.

Actively supporting the university technology transfer function

Converse currently has no formalized function to support student ventures on campus. Students looking for venture support should look to outside sources of information, like the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, communicating their need and vision to various donors, partnering with local businesses like The Iron Yard, or with like-minded students on campus to start an initiative for a project or business idea. Support is available through many sources, but the majority of students do not seek it. 

Facilitating University-Industry Collaboration

Converse currently has no formalized partnerships with companies or groups in the space of I&E. However, individual students have gone on to work with local incubators, labs, art studios, and so on. The fruits of these individual partnerships have not resulted in permanent relationships with the insitution. Converse would fare well to more succinctly create and maintain these partnerships, so that interested students will have pipelines to follow once they are interested. 

Engaging with Regional and Local Development Efforts

As an Algernon Sydney Sullivan school, Converse has a longstanding tradition of service to others. In recent years, this focus has continued to develop to an academic and experiential focus on social entrepreneurship.  A select number of courses are dedicated to Social Entrepreneurship’s applications in the surrounding community and worldwide. Particularly interested individuals can choose to attend the Sullivan Social Enterprise retreat in the fall or spring sessions. Converse has also sent a team to the foundation’s social venture competition. Converse continues to increase its Social entrepreneurship offerings, from courses and seminars to exploratory learning trips.

There is a strong need for concretized partnerships between Converse and its neighboring colleges (Wofford, USC etc.) as well as Spartanburg area businesses. Because of Converse's long standing commitment to service, there is much that could be done between college-community partnerships that could aid the development of Spartanburg as a whole. 

Future

In 2014, Converse funded its first university Innovation Fellow, Nadia Gathers. Funding this program has put Converse’s dedication to constant growth and institution-wide innovation at the forefront. It joins other upstate SC universities in the program, including Wofford, Clemson, and Furman.

Converse currently offers extensive programs in skills such as leadership, managerial processes, and others necessary to build a successful repertoire outside of college or university. It also provides multiple opportunities for students to conduct individualized institutional research.

Among the news initiatives that will all be in effect by the end of the 2016/2017 academic year are the Business Professional Development Certificate (Economics, Business, and Accounting), the Digital Arts Certificate (English, Graphic Design, and Computer Science), and the Vocational and Career Development Curricular Integration Plan in the School of the Arts (Art & Design, Theater and Musical Theater, School of Music, and Dance). Programs such as these, and the attitudes they instill in campus culture, will propel the college forward. 

 

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Related Links

Converse College

Converse College Student Priorities

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Converse College Project Pitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0cd6s6FWAI

University Innovation Fellows

Spring 2016:

Sanuja Goonetiieke

Spring 2015:

Nadia Gathers