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Yale University Student Priorities

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There are many ways in which Yale can improve the culture surrounding entrepreneurship on campus. We have an amazing group of innovators who have plenty of resources available to them, however, one of the biggest issues is that not enough manhours are being put into innovation. This is because of lack of time for students who want to innovate, and also the lack of student innovators. The more time that can be put into solving big problems, the more amazing solutions can come out of Yale. I've listed some strategies below, and also described a few things I want to implement immediately on campus 

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Strategy #1: Encouraging Risk Taking by Providing Insurance 

Yale students generally do not like taking risks, so we need to find a way to encourage risk-taking. The top 15% of students from many schools, Yale included, are swept away to work in New York and consulting and financial companies. These are the students who are most likely to succeed with their own businesses. These are the smartest people that you want to be working on the biggest problems in the world. Instead, rational thinking about stability and security has prevented entrepreneurship from being a valid goal that they strive for. 

Yale students are passionate people and it is really easy to excite someone about a meaningful and valuable goal. Social entrepreneurship is thus an effective way to provide motivation because it takes a different set of metrics into account and encourages people to look at impact instead of stability as "success." Clubs such as Engineers Without Borders take service trips and formally structure them. This allows many people to work together on a project and succeed easily where a single person may have a hard time.

Classes such as 'Appropriate Technology for the Developing World' also align the ideas and goals of a larger set of students in a slightly more structred way to encourage innovation. These kinds of guided entrepenuership classes and clubs help to ease people into the idea of innovating. Successive failures can be demoralizing, especially for younger students, so these kinds of activities are esepcially useful for freshmen and sophomores. 

Having a larger group usually makes activities less risky, so trying to bring people together is an easy way to minimize risk. Another way this can be done is by showing 100 people that if we assign their passion/idea to a slightly more general problem, we can easily link multiple people with the same interest. Thus, 100 startups with 1 person each can easily become 10-20 groups of like-minded individuals all working towards the same end goal. This is acomplished in groups such as Design for America, where, on the first day, everyone throws ideas onto the board, but those ideas are narrowed and focused by forming groups. Similar strategies can help other organizations. 

Finally, groups such as the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute are making progress towards structuring the process of innovation and providing mentorship at every step. Having someone who has gone through the process guide can make students feel safe when they're starting a new company, and having a dedicated group whose goal is to incubate start-ups further reduces risk by providing experience and knowledge. 

Strategy #2: Creating a Support Network for Engineering Leaders

Leaders often run into the same problems in very different situations and environments. It would be a powerful tool to have a group of students who regularly meet to discuss these general leadership problems and how to fix them. This can be the form of something as simple as a weekly or bi-weekly brunch, or in something as formal as a leadership forum. Either way, having these leaders would be a valuable resource for the members of the group, and also for anyone who would like to join the group of leaders as a leader themselves. Seniors who know the ins and outs of the engineering department (where funding can be found, fastest ways to get approval, who to talk to for outside sponsorships etc.) need to pass this information along or else time is wasted re-learning something that has already been attempted and/or accomplished for several years.  

Incorporating alumni into the system would make it even more valuable because they have experience from outside Yale that they bring to the table. Several of the students I spoke with were telling me that they chose thier current careers based on alumni or faculty mentors who had done similar careers. I can't remember the last time I heard a "Masters Tea" (events with Yale alumni or successful people where they will engage in conversation with students) was held with an innovator. It will become a more popular career interest as soon as we can expose young students to it. 

Strategy #3: Creating Entry Level Positions for Entrepreneurship

Providing a way for all, even someone with no experience, to get involved is important for gaining new students and retaining them throughout their time at Yale. We need to find a way to encourage roles for freshmen and sophomores that will work with their limited engineering skillset and enable them to create without knowing advanced physics or 3D modeling. Perhaps working with freshmen and sophomores as leaders while juniors and seniors help lead but also do the heavy lifting on the engineering front. This encourages big ideas for younger students and gives older students the opportunity to take a deep dive without sacrificing the longevity of a project or club.

Strategy #4: Give Students More Time to Create

Certain classes currently exist that are heavily lab based and involve students playing with arduinos, sensors and other basic electro-mechanical elements to create projects. At the end of the semester, the class of predominantly freshmen were able to complete and present engineered solutions to a plethora of problems. Working in small 3 people groups, they develop a range of products and projects, simply because they were given the time to do so. If Yale can somehow make students less busy with coursework, they can encourage students to spend that free time innovating. Almost everyone I talked to said they would innovate and think big if they had time to do so. 

Google values this kind of "free time" very highly. Every employee is given 20% time, a time where they can work on thier own ideas that may or may not directly relate to their work. If we consider a student's time, 20% would be a LOT of manhours. 20% is approximately one class per semester here at Yale, and I think that there should be required entrepenuership, innovation, or independent work class. This is a new kind of thinking that should not be left out of a liberal arts education simply because it is new. 

Strategy #5: Teach Students the Basics of Entrepreneurship

Intro micro-economics is the bread and butter of a Yale Education. The class is always taught and is the fundamental class many Yale students take at some point during their time here. It is a basic overview of rational thinking and an equivalent style class for innovation would be an amazing move towards completely changing the way our campus looks at engineering and innovation. At a school as traditional as Yale, it is important that we take time to explore the wild possibilities, and many people get locked into a conservative viewpoint early in their time here. There should be a contrast to intro micro-economics, the class that all Yalies want to take, and that will ideally be taught by an engineer. 

Strategy #6: Increase the Reach of Engineering and Advertise Better

Many students on campus will never see the amazing creations that are made in the labs on science hill. This portion of campus is separated from the housing buildings, off to the side by less than 2 blocks, but ends up being a space were not many non-science majors venture. Why is it the case that engineers do not present their senior projects to a broader audience than just the engineering students and faculty? Yale has existing programs that answer this queston, such as the Mellon Forum, a student presentation series where people can show their senior research and studies to their peers. This is underutilized by engineers; once the word gets out about projects happening, people will come and want to help. 


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Yale University

Chinmay Jaju