At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on the second floor of Townsend Hall, 130 undergraduate residents have forged a community that’s far from the usual dormitory experience.
The Innovation Living-Learning Community (LLC), a collaboration between the university’s Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) and university housing, is intended for students in any academic discipline who are interested in entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.
The LLC was created in 2010 to give students a grounding in entrepreneurial exploration and access to the community’s resources from the beginning of their college careers.
“In the past, students weren’t coming to TEC’s programs until their junior or senior year, or until they were graduate students,” said Jennifer Bechtel, Innovation LLC’s program specialist. “We wanted to find a way to engage students and give them an understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset earlier, even before they knew what they wanted to do.”
Communities like Innovation LLC can provide increased opportunities for social interaction, facilitate collaboration and improve the overall undergraduate experience, which could lead to an increase in academic success and retention.
Innovation LLC brings its residents together in many ways. Students can take part in workshops with faculty and local business leaders, and utilize resources offered by on-site staff.
They can work out their creative energy in The Garage, a 24-hour workshop space open only to residents, which offers computers, tools, whiteboards, crafts, a 3-D printer and other supplies to help the students take their ideas to the next level. The creative environment is also a dedicated relaxation space for the students.
“The most interesting ideas frequently come while students are just sitting together chatting and working on homework,” Bechtel said.
The goals of entrepreneurship-themed communities like Innovation LLC are not only to provide opportunities for students to start a business, but to enhance the creative-thinking and problem-solving skills that will be necessary for them to prosper in any industry.
Living-learning communities — especially those with themes such as entrepreneurship — have been growing in popularity in universities across the country. The first living-learning entrepreneurship program in the U.S., Hinman CEOs, was founded in 2000 at the University of Maryland. In 2010, the University of Maryland also founded a living-learning entrepreneurship and innovation program for the school’s honors college freshmen and sophomores, which has been reviewed in an analysis available at http://nciia.org/sites/default/files/features/conference/2012/papers/Green-Smith-Warner-umd.pdf
A July roundtable hosted by Innovation LLC at University of Illinois included a dozen universities either developing or enhancing their entrepreneurship communities. Bechtel said the roundtable was created to establish a network for collaboration and idea-sharing with similar programs.
Schools in attendance were the University of Maryland, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Iowa State University, University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Michigan, Syracuse University, University of Denver, Hiram College, University of Iowa, and Northwestern University.
The next roundtable will be held at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Summer 2013 in Chicago.
Bechtel hopes that Innovation LLC establishes a cycle of learning at the university. “I would love to see our students create start-ups and inventions that really make a difference in the world,” she said. “Then I would like for them to come back and mentor the next generation at the LLC.”
Read the "Building an Entrepreneurial Living-Learning Community" manual, created by Bechtel: go.illinois.edu/innovationmanual (PDF).
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