Increasing Student Engagement In Entrepreneurship: Four Key Motivational Tactics

IUSE Workshop Series; teaching entrepreneurship motivation; photo of students working together, against abstract background pattern

Through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) workshop series, funded by the National Science Foundation, social scientists collaborated with entrepreneurship educators to bridge the gap between their areas of expertise. The resulting white papers provide research-based insights and classroom techniques for teaching inclusive entrepreneurship. This ongoing series currently covers Motivation, Teamwork, Critical Thinking, and Problem-Solving. Stay tuned for more topics!

“There is a strong positive connection between entrepreneurial self-efficacy and intention to become an entrepreneur. Increased entrepreneurial learning can improve self-efficacy, thus contributing to higher intention to start a business.”—Reka Barabas, Cheryl Bodnar, and Joanna Garner

Tactics To Spark Student Motivation

Even the most inventive and innovative students may struggle to see themselves as entrepreneurs. For some, the word comes loaded with high-profile, high-stress associations. Others may simply have never realized that the creative, engaged, problem-solving attitude they take toward school could translate well to a career in entrepreneurship. However, the fresh perspectives and energy that students bring to their chosen fields of study make them terrific potential entrepreneurs, and educators can motivate them. They are the next generation of founders, whose ideas and companies will shape our world.

To spark student motivation, both in the classroom and toward a potential career, Barbas, Bodnar, and Garner explain that educators can help students develop the necessary self-perception, beliefs, goals, and intentions through four key tactics.

Download the full white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

Reka Barabas, chief relationship officer at the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium
Cheryl Bodnar, associate professor at Rowan University
Joanna Garner, executive director and research professor at the Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University

1. Show Students Their Progress and How Their Skills Are Expanding

Motivation begins with showing students that their efforts are garnering measurable progress. Through self-assessments, reflections, and even optional certifications, each benchmark can provide much needed validation that will allow students to measure their developing skills in real time.

“They need to feel [like] they belong to a community of peers that share similar goals, one that reaches beyond their own campus.”
—Barabas, Bodnar, and Garner

Offer a visual tracking method, such as a spreadsheet, and celebrate each milestone they reach. Rewards and public recognition that go beyond filling course or program requirements can also help. “They need to feel [like] they belong to a community of peers that share similar goals, one that reaches beyond their own campus,” write Barabas, Bodnar, and Garner. Consider sharing interviews, feature articles, and other stories about student inventors in the local community to create a sense of connection to entrepreneurship.

2. Identify Achievable Goals and a Clear Path to Success

The desire to take an idea to market—and ultimately, to launch a business—is a key motivating factor in the pursuit of entrepreneurship. By providing students with future-driven goals to focus their attention, that motivation can be cultivated over time. Students need to see and understand the actionable steps that can lead to success, and receive support along the way.

Partnering with faculty from a variety of disciplines to teach can create inspiring opportunities for shared projects. This can expose students to a broader range of perspectives and experiences while providing them with a deeper understanding of their work.

3. Build Confidence and Cultivate Their Identity as Entrepreneurs

When students meet with success, their confidence increases. As students explore entrepreneurship—whether in the classroom or in clubs and organizations on campus—and discover how productive and exciting it can be, they will identify more as entrepreneurs.

There is also an opportunity to encourage students to reflect on their progress. Illustrate the importance and tangible impact of their work, and whenever possible, connect students with working professionals in their communities. By meeting other entrepreneurs, students can better visualize themselves in similar roles and develop a sense of belonging within the greater innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

4. Connect Students with the Real-World Implications of Their Work

The importance of visualizing the connection between coursework and real-world impact can’t be understated. “If students can see the impact that they are able to have with their work, this may give them the necessary motivation to follow through even when they encounter challenges,” write Barabas, Bodnar, and Garner.

Each student will possess a unique passion. Consider offering projects with a variety of goals such as helping people, creating new products or services, developing competing products, or inventing products that would allow for the growth of an economic sector. This will allow students to see the many ways in which their ideas and hard work can impact the real world—a deeply empowering experience.

The Motivation To Make a Difference

Ultimately, the end goal is not simply to inspire student entrepreneurs to start a company. These four motivational tactics inspire students to intentionally and thoughtfully engage with their broader entrepreneurship ecosystem. Whether this newfound motivation pushes these early-stage innovators toward starting their own company or bringing their entrepreneurial energy and perspective to any other work, both they and the work will benefit.

Dig into the research and get more insights and classroom tools. Download the white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under IUSE Grant No. 2220329.

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