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HP LIFE: Sparking Alum's Entrepreneurial Spirit

Posted By James W. Dottin, Monday, October 7, 2013

Connecting With Alumni

Frequently, I am contacted by former students who have moved on to a four year institution or have entered the professional work world. For a number of them, they are using social media as the main medium of reconnecting with me. These alums are searching for a fulfilling career option to fuels their true passion, professional guidance via a mentoring relationship or simply a letter of recommendation for a new job or university. Ironically, earning a degree does not complete your educational experience or make you an expert in your field. The degree is truly the beginning of enlightenment as we faculty members hear repeatedly at every commencement exercise. I often tell these alums to discover from within what their passion is, and then pursue the best path that obtains their goals. Also, I often share with them that there is no substitute for real world, hands-on experiences to perfect their craft. The educational frontier provides a number of different options to realize the ideas and dreams of the "Millennium Generation.” A vast array of people who govern their lives in the digital age by utilizing social media as a way of life communication regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, income or educational level.

Alums Connecting for Purpose

Middlesex Community College (MCC) encourages both formal contact through the Alumni and College Advancement Office as well as informal contact through faculty engagement with former students one-on-one. Alums seek me out to listen to their ideas and dreams of creating a viable business venture. I am often curious to know why these aspiring entrepreneurs seek out community college faculty. The only rationale I can come up with is a trust relationship has been built up over time. I believe in being transparent by openly sharing out of the abundance of my academic and professional experiences. By providing alums with concrete examples and practical strategies they are capable of implementing is critical in capitalizing on a real business opportunity. The fact that these former students seek out assistance informs me that the need to nature their ideas is greater than one realizes. Alums want to connect back in order to be mentored by someone they trust. 

Recently, a former student reached out to me on LinkedIn after seeing my comments as a HP LIFE eLearning Faculty Ambassador promoting entrepreneurship skills development. Social media is proving to be a very powerful tool to connect potentially vast networks of like-minded people regardless of the platform such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to name a few.  These like-minded individuals of the "Millennium Generation” are constantly expanding their network and areas of influence with people that support them.  My former student developed and implemented the idea to create a software app for smartphones to scan bar codes placed at historical sites of the National Park throughout the city of Lowell.  Visitors can conduct their own self-guided tours with detail information of the specific site such as the Boot Cotton Mill complex that was at the center of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. He wanted to reconnect with me to explore other technology business ideas he could implement. Each week this student is expanding his network by adding other like-minded technology people to his LinkedIn network. 

One of the Success Keys: Mentoring Relationships

The alums I have been in contact with usually are seeking a mentor to act as a sounding board as well as a facilitator that guides their learning of new business skills. Providing real world examples of the implementation of these business ideas are strategic for any type of continuing relationship. The HP LIFE eLearning curriculum is designed to be relevant for real life business situations of the entrepreneur. These modules spark your curiosity and imagination beyond the traditional lecture or textbook examples. They provide practical technology skills to help you advance your business goals in the area of finance, marketing, operations and communication. These modules build the foundation to assist in deepening ones understanding and connect your personal experiences in order that they can be applied. This approach to learning-on-demand has become a natural way of accessing needed information immediately for the "Millennium Generation.”   The uniqueness of HP LIFE is not only is it entrepreneurship learning-on-demand platform but it has a mentoring component of degrees of levels of intensity of one-on-one relationships. Mentoring connects the dots and solidifies the entrepreneurs’ accountability to someone other than themselves. Mentoring relationships keeps entrepreneurs on the track of success. The mentor is one of the success keys in building a growth oriented venture because it is built on trust.

Advancing HP LIFE eLearning to Our Alums

Visualizing that your ideas can become a reality is critical to the success of any entrepreneur. For many of our alums, the visualization of their success will not come until they are presented with real life examples that are believable and to test drive their idea via hands-on learning of critical business concepts and technology skills. The HP LIFE eLearning platform is an online educational tool that the "Millennium Generation” is at total ease with this delivery platform of learning. These modules are designed to enrich the learning experience and engage the learner in further developing their business skills in practical suggestion. I have embedded the HP LIFE eLearning modules in my F2F classrooms. No matter the level of familiarity with the subject matter such as social media, students who have completed the "Social Media Marketing” module says that they learned how to apply the power of social media in new and effective ways. 

Here are several examples of what my current semester students shared about the HP LIFE eLearning "Social Media Marketing” module: 

"Although most people in my generation know thoroughly how to use things like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging, I am sure there are some aspects that we don't. One aspect in the Social Media Marketing module was creating a Facebook ad. Although I handle the business Facebook for my father's business, I never knew before how to create an ad. This segment was very helpful for me personally and will also benefit my father's business if I decide to create one…”   Cortney 

"In an age where technology and social media is booming, it would be crazy not to implement it into your business. It gives people an outlet to share information on a massive scale, for free, in potentially a short amount of time it may go viral. Almost every company has at least one form of social media they use frequently to post information about their companies regularly. This information can be sales, new products, promotions, fundraisers and much more. With the content you put out, a company can begin to achieve great numbers of "Likes", "Follows" and views on their pages...”  Dennis

"The social media module was fun and very current and easy to relate to. Since, of course, most students have Facebook, blogs, and Twitter accounts it was a module that was easy to understand and comprehend. Understanding and learning how businesses go about advertising on Facebook was extremely insightful. I think that was one of the best things to learn from this module.” Sasha

"Social media marketing is an effective and cost friendly method to market your business. Taking advantage of the free and popular internet helps greatly make a business known. A new "thing" has been hash tags. Hash tags are used on social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and they link a group of people together which can be considered a target market. It's free and gets people interested in your product. Also, you are able to design Facebook ads in order to reach a certain audience such as age group and also reach people who have liked specific pages. Social media marketing is a great tool to invest in and use.” Sabrina

If the testimonies of these F2F students hold true, alums may also find them of great value to their business development as entrepreneurs. The advancing of entrepreneurship education to our alums maybe be based on a multi-stage program strategy of awareness, demonstration, and integration. 

Multi-Stage Program Strategy

Awareness can be effectively made through the utilization of all the social media the colleges principally utilize. The Alumni Office of MCC uses Facebook, LindedIn, Twitter, email blasts and blogging to deliver its message to alums as an efficient and cost effective means of immediately reaching the alum base. Through this medium, specific targeted audience of types of entrepreneurs can be reached through paid advertisement used on social media sites as suggested in the HP LIFE eLearning "Social Media Marketing” module. Also, by creating network opportunities for entrepreneurial alums to communicate and respond to each other the postings about HP LIFE and how it has impacting their business bottom line may create the opportunity for one’s message to go viral. 

Demonstration of HP LIFE can be given at alumni entrepreneurship events as well as alumni and advisory board meetings of academic programs including automotive, business, engineering, hospitality, restaurant, cosmetology, retail, health and entrepreneurship. Also, presentations maybe given at job fairs or evening training sessions at your college’s career resource centers your college is partnered with. MCC has two such centers, the Career Place and Career Source. They provide career resources for those who are seeking employment. The entrepreneurial educational opportunities of HP LIFE eLearning may be a life changing event for those who are jobless. Cherie Fisher, MCC College Career Navigator at the Career Place and Career Source, concurs that "Providing modules regarding entrepreneurship to a community that has been hit by an economic downturn free of charge would be an indispensable service.” 

Integration of HP LIFE eLearning can be adopted into the fabric of entrepreneurial-minded alums via a self-directed learning pedagogy that guides one through the modules in a specific sequence. Self-directed learning will be supported by various levels of mentoring services providing through the HP LIFE eLearning program. The combination of self-directed learning and mentoring support from HP will ensure that proper checks and balances of the entrepreneurial venture are realized. Being accountable to a specific mentor in whom a trust relationship has been established may result in the successful launching of a sustainable business. 

Voice Your Opinion

Are these strategies applicable in the community college you serve in? Are there major differences at community colleges located at an urban campus versus suburban campus versus a remote campus that the multi-stage strategy con not be implemented? If so, what are they? What would be your ultimate strategy in reaching your alums with the HP LIFE eLearning message?

Dr. James Dottin is a tenured Professor of Business at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts. Through innovative technological pedagogy and best practices, Dr. Dottin engages his students in such courses as Entrepreneurship in Small Business Management, Principles of Marketing and Computer Applications by integrating students’ web design e-Portfolios and signature course work as an integral part of their learning experience. Since 2011, Dr. James Dottin has been a member of the business faculty delegation to Morocco through the Broader Middle East and North Africa - U.S. Community College Entrepreneurship Development Grant. He has provided his expertise in entrepreneurship to the Moroccan faculty of Enset Rabat and Enset Mohammedia in their development of an entrepreneurial curriculum within the Moroccan higher education system. Dr. Dottin earned his doctorate degree from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Graduate School of Education. 


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