Since its founding in 1864, Swarthmore College has given students the knowledge, insight, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good. Offering a liberal arts and engineering curriculum, the College is private, yet open to all regardless of financial need. It is also decidedly global in outlook, drawing students from around the world and all 50 states. The diversity of perspectives represented by Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff - including different viewpoints, identities, and histories - contributes to the community's strong sense of open dialogue and engagement with ideas and issues.”
Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship on Campus
Center for Innovation & Leadership (CIL) The CIL's mission is to engage innovative thinking to foster student leadership practice. According to their website, the CIL "provides opportunities for Swarthmore students to develop the abilities to lead and inspire, to listen and learn in ways that meet the challenges of our time, and to reflect the values of our community. ... The CIL strives to give all Swarthmore students the individualized support they need to become strong imaginative leaders of tomorrow. We support students by creating opportunities to hone their leadership skills in capacities like team-based collaboration, the development of social and cultural capital, and inventive thinking processes." This is done through resources available to students developing projects as well as event series that promote innovation and leadership.
Social Innovation Lab
The Social Innovation Lab is housed at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and is an on-site “makerspace” that provides students, faculty, staff, and community partners with room to grow. The space promotes design thinking and tools for prototyping ideas. This center works closely with the Center for Innovation and Leadership (above) and resources that come out of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, like the Lang Opportunity Scholarship (below).
Swat Tank, an idea competition, focuses on an inclusive model, one that provides students with the opportunity to take a rough idea, product, or concept and develop it towards its next incarnation, ideation, or realization. However, SwatTank is more than just a competition; it is a chance to transform the ideas you think and dream about into a business or social enterprise.
Lang Opportunity Scholarship
The Lang Opportunity Scholarship (LOS) Program each year selects members of Swarthmore’s sophomore class as Lang Scholars. Selection criteria include distinguished academic and co-curricular achievement, leadership qualities, and demonstrated commitment to civic and social responsibility. This program offers a diverse range of benefits including a $10,000 grant, a designated adviser, and networking opportunities to support the development of a project that creates a needed social resource in the U.S. or abroad. The program was conceived and endowed by Eugene M. Lang ’38.
Community-Based Learning Initiatives (CBL) Coursework that bridges the liberal arts curriculum and civic service serve at the core of Swarthmore's commitment to educating students on becoming lifelong learners. Many courses throughout the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences divisions of the college offer classes that incorporate a community service extension of the course that brings students to local community organizations to apply their classwork to serving the greater community.
Faculty Entrepreneurship on Campus
Because Swarthmore is a teaching rather than research based university, professors are encouraged to focus on students and classes rather than their own projects. Nevertheless, the Lang Visiting Professor, Denise Crossan, is a prime example of faculty entrepreneurship on campus. She is working on a social innovation map, which charts all kinds of entrepreneurial activities going on at Swarthmore. She has also created a Swarthmore Social Innovation Lab and has helped to spearhead the Presidential Sustainability Research Fellowship Program, which connects faculty and students over sustainability initiatives on campus. Denise is also the faculty advisor for the University Innovation Fellows chapter at Swarthmore. We hope that she will encourage entrepreneurial activity in other faculty and staff!
Facilitating University-Industry Collaboration
Center for Innovation and Leadership trip to San Francisco
The Center for Innovation and Leadership (CIL) at Swarthmore seeks to build capacity for entrepreneurship and leadership, by fostering collaboration and innovation while promoting experimentation, collaboration, and reflection. One of the ways the CIL implements its mission, is a fully funded 6-day intensive trip to San Francisco. During this trip, a group of ten students visit Swarthmore alumni at major companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The tech-oriented nature of the trip, allows students to engage with a variety of entrepreneurs in start-up, venture capital, and tech communities.
Swarthmore’s externship program allows students to participate in a one-week shadowing experience with alumni, which in turn gives a glimpse into specific careers. The externships offered encompass a variety of different sectors, and provide students with the ability to learn from, and connect with alumni that are experts in their respective fields.
Regional and Local Economic Development Efforts
Firstly, 180 Degrees Consulting is a national student consulting group that offers free consulting services to nonprofits. A selected few students at Swarthmore are trained to support startups and nonprofits in various fields from education to healthcare with consulting services. These startups and nonprofits can be located all over the US and students carry weekly meetings with their management teams to provide their services.
Secondly, the Lang Center for Social and Civic Responsibility is heading Swarthmore’s Regional and Local Economic Development. The mission of the Lang Center for Social and Civic Responsibility is to connect “curriculum, campus and community through engaged scholarship and collaborative action.” Not only does it provide students with engagement, counseling, and networking opportunities for action outside of Swarthmore College, but it also provides students with funding opportunities that can last beyond a summer project. The most prominent example is Project Pericles.
Project Pericles empowers students to take on “social and civic action projects whose scope and sustainability will advance solutions for the issues in question and also promote recognition of students' motivation and capability to address such major issues effectively.” It offers grants of up to $25, 000 for regional, national, or international projects. Some of the Project Pericles awardees went on to develop sustainable eyewear in Iran or implement geospatial analysis tools to increase wider scope food security in the Philadelphia area.
However, outside of the Lang Center for Social and Civic Responsibility and 180 Degrees Consulting, there are no concrete technology/industrial/wet lab spaces nor outside Lang Center financing opportunities (i.e. VC, angels) that encourage and support grassroot student commercialized enterprises/projects to continue and pivot over a 3 to 10 year span.
2019 Swarthmore University Innovation Fellows
2018 Swarthmore University Innovation Fellows
2017 Swarthmore University Innovation Fellows