An Entrepreneurial Approach to Educational Innovation

David Gracyalny, Vice Provost, MICA Open Studies

The capacity and willingness to act upon opportunities, to embrace the uncertain, to take a calculated risk, to dream big, to persevere and to follow ones passion are the essential characteristics of entrepreneurs and artists, designers and creative professionals.

As MICA’s operational venture space engaged in an entrepreneurial approach to educational innovation, Open Studies functions as an adaptable lab where new ideas can be easily introduced, assessed and synthesized into novel programs and delivery models.  Four graduate degrees have emerged from this work: the MBA/MA in Design Leadership, a dual degree in partnership with Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School and the Master of Professional Studies (M.P.A.) programs in the Business of Art and Design, Information Visualization and User Experience Design.

These programs emphasize specialized professional, career or entrepreneurial themes.  Truly transdisciplinary in nature, their curricula integrates approaches to innovation inherent within art and design education with science, technology, information/data analysis, government, medicine and more, creating programming leading to relationships with industry, governmental and entrepreneurial partners. 

Partners like the professional services company, KPMG.  

Our Design Leadership program works closely with KPMG on projects that allow students to test their entrepreneurial skills by confronting multi-faceted challenges related to real work.  Students dive deep into user research, question assumptions, fearlessly iterate and persevere to develop transformational solutions to these challenges. This partnership has also established a pipeline for internships and full-time employment (KPMG regularly takes on interns from the MBA/MA program and currently employs three of our alumni: Kyle Bodt ’15, Brandon Ball ’16, and Donna Cichani ’16).  

Open Studies students also seek to start, grow and sustain their own companies.  Artists and designers are naturally entrepreneurial—yet there are limited business curricula specifically focused on their unique needs. Research indicates less than 44% of businesses survive more than four years after launch, but that 87% of those whose founders receive formal business training succeed beyond the first critical four years.  MICA’s M.P.S. in the Business of Art and Design offers graduate-level study in small business administration – and students receive instruction in critical areas like finance and accounting, intellectual property, marketing, and contracts while defining their business goals and developing a business plan. 

Jennifer Fairman ’17 (Business of Art and Design M.P.A.) is an entrepreneur and 2018 UP/Start Venture Competition winner. Founder of Fairman Studios, which specializes in medical and biological illustration and interactive design, she exemplifies the value of MICA’s entrepreneurial curriculum.

Many more alumni representing the breadth of the Open Studies degree programming are now working as transformational leaders within organizations like Marriott, Gensler, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google, the Smithsonian, and the FBI.  Still, more have focused their passion toward their own nonprofits and business ventures focused on everything from digital medical records to urban youth culture, data venture funding to business intelligence.  All have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to act upon opportunities, to embrace the uncertain, to take a calculated risk, to dream big, to persevere, and to follow their passion.

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