The resignations of two key players at the University of Akron’s Experiential Learning Center for Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement Center, will not stop the center from continuing its mission, say the new co-directors of the program.
Better know as the EXL Center, the project provides students with various experiential learning programs, called “unclasses” aimed at getting them involved in entrepreneurship, campus and civic issues. Started in July 2016, it was one of former UA president Scott Scarborough’s initiatives.
The future of the center came into question after program founder Jeff Hoffman resigned earlier this month citing a lack of support by UA’s leadership for the venture.
While interim UA president Matthew Wilson has said that the program is a good one, it is operating on a much smaller budget than when it was created. UA trustees budgeted $500,000 for the center’s operational costs this fiscal year — much less than the $4 million promised under Scarborough.
The center was relying on outside funding sources from local foundations and donors to run some of its projects. Then last week, resource director Ian Schwarber said he was resigning effective Oct. 21.
This week, Wilson named two co-directors to run the program — associate professor of anthropology Carolyn Behrman, who already on loan to the project as the faculty director of collaboration at the center and Annal Vyas, a visiting assistant professor of clinical law at UA’s law school.
Behrman, whose primary research is in poverty and power in urban communities, said the center will continue with its unclasses and EXL-supported classes looking for internships and other opportunities for students.
“We will continue to do the faculty-driven initiatives that were launched on campus, one being the unclasses offered this fall,” she said. “We are assisting and helping faculty develop innovative curriculum and work with faculty already engaged in experiential learning now and we are going to encourage others who aren’t involved yet to get involved.”
Vyas, a native of Northeast Ohio, has worked at UA four years. He has been involved with numerous community initiatives. He is the founder and co-organizer of PechaKucha Akron, a series of events that feature “rapid fire” community-focused PowerPoint presentations, as well as NEXTOhio, an annual startup conference.
Each will receive a $10,000 stipend for their work at the center in addition to their regular pay.
Former director Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com, worked closely with the community on many projects, including holding monthly events at Blu Jazz+ in downtown Akron where he had local entrepreneurs talk about their strengths and mistakes in creating their own businesses.
Behrman said UA will no longer sponsor the Blu Jazz+ events.
“We are in the process of evaluating everything,” she said. “We are looking at what will work, what people feel are good choices to pursue that will bear fruit now … it’s more planning than cutting.”
She said the faculty and community are very awake to the idea of hands-on experience and solving community problems, she said, “so it’s a good opportunity to develop UA’s profile as an “engaged experiential learning oriented campus.”
Vyas said the program will identify where the community needs support and provide opportunities for students to work on community initiatives that could both benefit the community and then provide meaningful skills for our students so they are more employable upon graduation.
“There are a lot of issues happening in our community right now, there’s heroin, infant mortality, we need to get students working on these big picture issues. There’s a start up community in Akron that is absolutely flourishing. How do we get our students more in tune to that,” he asked.
He called EXL the “fiber of connectivity between the university and the community.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.