Illinois Faculty Explain Their Entrepreneurial Drive
Marked signs of a strong entrepreneurial
zeal at the U of I and surrounding Champaign-Urbana area emanated
from the first panel discussion hosted by the Academy for Entrepreneurial
Leadership. The December session united four successful faculty
members who have managed to cohesively merge their entrepreneurial
drives with their passions for teaching. The educators offered insights
on what it means to be an entrepreneur, discussed the university's
role in a global climate increasingly focused on entrepreneurship,
and explained the benefits that entrepreneurial educators can bring
Moderator Leigh Estabrook, a professor
of library and information science, facilitated the panel which
included Sara Hook, an associate professor of dance, Andrew Singer,
an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and
the Coordinated Science Lab, Robert McChesney, Institute for Communications
Research and professor of library and information science, and Lawrence
Schook, the Institute for Genomic Biology and professor of animal
sciences, nutritional sciences, and veterinary pathobiology.
A Tale of Two Worlds
dance, if you have made it to middle age and are still involved
in the performing art of dance, then you have to be a crafty person,"
explained Sara Hook, founder of her own dance company, Sara Hook
Dances. She and her fellow panelist are works in progress whose
stories unfold as testaments to the central element in the entrepreneur:
re-invention. For Hook, the only route toward a life in dance after
her leotard days ended came through re-invention. She cited her
entrepreneurial spirit as an integral part in facilitating her successful
dance career and avoiding the mindset of many aging dancers who,
like other athletes, feeling limited and inadequate, see the end
of the physical career as the death of opportunity. "Those
of us still in it [dance] have re-invented ourselves a number of
times." After a successful dance career-beginning as a soloist
with the Nikolai Dance Theater, touring globally, appearing on syndicated
television, and collaborating with such luminaries as Pearl Lang
and Stephen Koplowitz-Hook attained an MFA from New York University's
Tish School of the Arts and ultimately developed herself as a choreographer,
producer, and director. Eventually she went on to found her uniquely
styled dance company which, unlike the traditional companies, allows
dancers more self-autonomy by not being dependent on the director
for the bulk of their sustenance.
Singer's transition from the role of research scientist for Lockheed
Martin to assistant professor at the U of I facilitated a gradual
discovery of a nascent entrepreneurial vigor that would prove profitable
in and out of the classroom. His re-invention came through a bout
of nostalgia: "There were some aspects of industry I missed:
working to the last minute to finish a project, working on the next
contract, the awards." Singer's solution was an ideal synthesis
of private enterprise and academia that allowed him the opportunity
to research electronic chips that would advance the technologically
antiquated field of optical communications. Out of this research
and collaboration with faculty colleagues, a company, CADEX, was
Lawrence Schook cited his tenure at the
U of I as multi-dimensional, "It is a tale of two worlds, the
wonderful life we have at the U of I on the one hand and the world
we create as part of our entrepreneurial spirit on the other."
Robert McChesney echoed this plurality.
"When I first came here [U of I] I was just going to focus
on writing and teaching." McChesney subsequently became interested
in a forum that would bring together speakers from throughout the
world who are focused on improving media discourse. His initial
vision became the Illinois Initiative on Global Information and
'Look at the
tall one in the peach leotard.'
"Students migrate to the East and
West coasts because they see an entrepreneurial buzz that isn't
as visible here [Midwest]," explains Lawrence Schook, genomics
professor and founding scientist of Pyxis Genomics, a research company
devoted to the study of animal health and development across species.
His company, based in Chicago,
is also focused on bringing entrepreneurial life back to the Midwest,
and part of that goal involves re-defining the university's relationship
towards scientists like Schook. "The university views scientists
who want to develop and market ideas as money-driven." Schook
cites the contrary in what he and the other panelists see as a win-win
for the university. "My experience in private enterprise has
made me a better learner and a more focused researcher, qualities
that both the university and I can benefit from."
Andrew Singer sees a gradual change in
academia's view of entrepreneurial faculty, a change he believes
is spearheaded by Illinois' progressive attitude towards aiding
the business aspirations of its educators. "At the time of
my initial interest in starting a company, the University was still
in the mode of not really encouraging faculty to start businesses.
I think now more than ever, that is all changing. The University
of Illinois sees, like no other school, the win-win of the entrepreneurial-modeled
Hook also chimed in on the benefits of
incorporating the craftiness of entrepreneurship into curricula.
She teaches her students the importance of networking and not being
bound inside the box of performance, "Networking is important;
I rose through the ranks at Nikolai due to friends elbowing the
director saying, 'look at the tall one in the peach leotard.' Having
an artistic home does not equate to stability." Hook further
articulated her number one teaching goal, "I want to de-construct
the myth that claims that all dancers must do is dance." Springer's
CADEX illustrates another benefit of merging business with education.
Since its inception, the company has hired Illinois graduates and
has even utilized Champaign-Urbana's up and coming venture capital
"I've learned incredible amounts
about what value means from a social, market-driven perspective,"
states Schook, who believes that his experience in private enterprise
has brought him a greater understanding of his career and of his
students. "Students today really want to do something that
has a lot of value-that has a real impact in the communities in
which they live-not to make more money."
Each panelist expressed a fuel greater
than money in his/her entrepreneurial engines. Sara Hook said she
is driven by a compelling heart that led her to create the Pink
Ribbon Society, a charitable organization that fights breast cancer
through dance, in memory of her deceased sister who was taken by
Although they are in vastly different
disciplines, the four Illinois faculty have two things in common:
A love of teaching and a passion for creating enterprises.
for Entrepreneurial Leadership offer entrepreneurial programs,
services, and resources to faculty and graduate students on the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.