teaching students the power of innovation and courage: Q&A with John Hadjimarcou of The University of Texas at El Paso

John Hadjimarcou

Our Faculty Spotlight series highlights educators within the VentureWell network who are doing good work—faculty members who are catalyzing change in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention. This month’s spotlight is John Hadjimarcou, Chair of the Department of Marketing and Management at The University of Texas at El Paso. He helps students develop crucial business and marketing skills to transform their groundbreaking ideas into successful ventures. Hadjimarcou strongly believes that entrepreneurship can solve our biggest problems; earlier this year, he received a Faculty Grant to help students create innovation in the clean-tech sector.

how did you become interested in teaching entrepreneurship?

Growing up, my family owned a small business, which was a major part of our lives. I got to witness both the good and bad things about owning your own business. Unfortunately, my parents did not have any formal business education and they, in fact, did not even graduate from high school. Their intentions and instincts were very good, but lack of organization and financial planning created major issues for the business. Thinking back, I wish I knew then what I know now to help them and, more importantly, to ease all the heartaches they went through to keep the business going.

I feel that entrepreneurship involves having the good instinct to recognize an opportunity, the courage to take the risks involved in doing something that perhaps has not been done before, and importantly, understanding how to run a business. As a marketing professor, I consider entrepreneurship as the engine of the U.S. economy and marketing plays a critical part in that process. Without entrepreneurship, you remove all incentives that people have to create new things, solve big problems that are truly life-changing, and earn a better living.

what is your favorite thing about teaching?

Teaching is a complex and multifaceted endeavor. I like to challenge my students, but mostly enjoy seeing them overcome those challenges. The greatest satisfaction I get out of teaching is seeing or hearing about the success of my students and knowing that I played a small part in that. Good teaching changes lives for generations to come.

where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?

It would be great to see entrepreneurship making inroads in K-12 institutions. We need to start teaching our kids to think like entrepreneurs as early as possible. Make them understand, experience, and think about solving big problems in the world while appreciating the idea that nothing is free or easy. Entrepreneurship is the key to addressing all inequalities in the world and lifting all sorts of people out of poverty. This is a game-changer.

what are the challenges you’re tackling in your work today?

My biggest struggle right now is finding ways to get all my students fully engaged in my online courses. It’s just too easy for them to quickly disappear behind their webcams and hide behind that invisible barrier. While I believe excellent organization is very important for an online course, I also feel that catching students attention might need some detours from the regular routine. During the last few weeks of this semester I am thinking about ways to stimulate interest by introducing a lot of incentives, contests, and attention-grabbing exercises.

what books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately, and how have they been insightful to you?

I read the Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau as part of a research project. It taught me that successful entrepreneurs are by nature exercising the idea that they will not follow the crowd and choose instead to go their own way. Being different, thinking different, and doing different are good things for entrepreneurs. Those are actually good lessons for everyone that wants to live an interesting life and be successful in what they do. I always believed that teaching in different ways would make my classes much more interesting and help my students learn. The book reinforced my approach to teaching.

what’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?

I recently introduced a team project on entrepreneurship and sustainability in my large-section freshman class. This is still ongoing, and some of the new product/service ideas I have heard from my students so far are just simply amazing. So many of them have the potential to turn into real businesses in the future as long as the students choose to pursue them. There is just so much potential our students bring into the classroom (even virtually!) and it is up to us to help them realize that.

VentureWell Faculty Grants provide up to $30,000 to help fund and support faculty with innovative ideas to create new or transform existing courses and programs to help students develop novel, STEM-based inventions and gain the necessary entrepreneurial skills needed to bring these ideas to market.

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