Introducing Interdisciplinary Collaboration In Entrepreneurship
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
Kinesiology Professor and AEL Faculty Fellow Weimo Zhu is as unconventional as they come; his proficiencies in basketball, manual labor, kinesiology and management are just a few of the resources from which Zhu draws his passion for teaching and his love of learning.
“Just in my personal background, I think I really promote interdisciplinary study,” he said. “From my start playing basketball to my career as an academic…I think I can teach people a lot about not using conventional methods of thinking in their daily lives.”
Zhu believes that it is important to work with other disciplines in an effort to continue one’s intellectual growth.
“It is a two-parter…one part of it is that there are so many things we can learn and we have to link them together; when you work with another discipline or school of knowledge, you see the links and you can make connections,” he said. “It is surprising and exciting to learn all of those new things. The more you learn cross-disciplinarily, the more opportunities you can see.”
Zhu sited an old Chinese proverb, saying that he feels like the more he learns, the more he feels like he knows less.
Zhu’s AEL-supported course, Persuasive Technology for Physical Activity Promotion, was built with multiple levels of learning in mind.
“I think one main goal of the course is to introduce an overall concept – how to use technology to change people’s behaviors and lifestyles; that is the knowledge aspect.” Zhu said. “The other aspect is to introduce entrepreneurship and to give students some successful business experience.”
But the course is not just for kinesiology majors; Zhu hopes that an interdisciplinary student population will prove to be mutually beneficial in his course.
“I’m open to students from any other field of study taking this course; I think any area can benefit from it,” Zhu said. “I want my students to work together and to help one another…hopefully these students will start thinking differently and will start to try new things, which will then create more opportunities.”
Zhu is excited to approach his course from a new, more modern instructional angle; he wants to move away from traditional teaching models that stress knowledge accumulation.
“Because of the internet, the world has changed; knowledge is now so easy to come by,” he said. “I think that now, the person who is successful doesn’t necessarily know something more or better than anyone else– that isn’t what makes him or her successful. Rather, it is his or her problem solving skills, creativity and the ability to put a plan into action. That made me feel like we should change the way we train students.”
Zhu’s course focuses on building communicative skills (i.e. how to send e-mails, how to shake someone’s hand) in an effort to better prepare students for their professional endeavors. Once an entrepreneur has an idea, Zhu said, it is a matter of having the skills to make it meaningful.
“To simply have a program or idea that works is not enough,” he said.”The product has to be self-supporting or self-sustainable. Somebody has to want to use it in the real world or the mass market.”
Oftentimes, Zhu explained, the major advances in the kinesiology field are not made by kinesiology experts. Rather, they are made by business savvy people who see an opportunity in the field and then seize it.
“Most of the higher ups in pedometer production companies, for example, are not ‘kinesiology people’,” Zhu said, “they are business people.”
Zhu finds that often when he works with people in the business world, he is pleasantly surprised by the amount that they are concerned about the community and about making a positive impact through their work.
“It is possible to build some really great working relationships via interdisciplinary professional collaborations,” he said. “I think those kinds of things will be able to last.”
For the Illinois campus, Zhu has similar hopes.
“I really appreciate that the University environment encourages interdisciplinary study and entrepreneurship, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “I hope that this influx of entrepreneurship-related curriculum will change me, my students and the university culture, so we can have a bigger influence on and make a larger contribution to society and the economy.”
Zhu said that his work with the AEL has added an extra dimension in terms of his work and his teaching, and in the way he trains his students. He feels that he is covering a much broader playing field with his students and colleagues and that the ways in which he and his student interact with professors from other departments has becoming very exciting and disciplined.
“Becoming involved with the AEL is worth it,” Zhu said. “Entrepreneurship is an exciting idea and area, and the AEL presents a great opportunity for us (professors) to make a bigger impact on society and on our students…We are training a new generation to be a better workforce, and they need to have a different way of thinking about how to solve problems to succeed.”
And Zhu will be there every step of the way, helping his students make it happen.
Entrepreneurial course taught by Professor Zhu
Persuasive Technology for Physical Activity Promotion
Participation in regular physical activity (PA) is critical to sustaining good health. Yet population-based surveys found that one-quarter to one-third of US adults did not meet the PA recommendation. Finding an effective way to promote PA on a large scale is a national health priority. Persuasive technology (PT) appears to have great potential for PA promotion. PT is based on persuasion, one of the most effective approaches to help change/influence others’ attitudes or behaviors. With advances in computers and other developing technologies, persuasion based technology is getting smarter, which has lead to the creation of a new area of study called “Captology.” While PT is known in the field of PA research and promotion, most existing efforts and products were not developed and evaluated under the captology framework. Some critical questions such as “What are the critical characteristics of PAPT (physical activity persuasive technology)?” and “Which PAPT strategy is most effective for PA promotion?” have yet to be addressed. Furthermore, PAPT is often presented by a commercial product. To fully take the advantages of PAPT in PA promotion, a better understanding of its entrepreneurial aspect is needed. Yet, no “business” training is included in the current Kinesiology curriculum and few Kinesiology professionals have entrepreneurial knowledge or skills. This project will develop a 400-level Kinesiology course in which both PAPT and its entrepreneurship will be taught. Students will have a chance to learn the entrepreneurial process of innovation and hands-on business skills, such as developing and writing a compelling business plan.
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About Professor Zhu
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