Business Thinking Meets Social Innovation

Author: Chris Milazzo


Notre Dame students in a College of Arts and Letters course called Foundations of Business Thinking are the only class in the nation invited to participate in the inaugural gathering of ConvergeUS, a new nonprofit initiative dedicated to social innovation through technology.

Chaired by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and TechNet CEO Rey Ramsey, the organization connects leading entrepreneurs, scholars, nonprofits, corporations, and technology experts in an attempt to find innovative solutions to pressing social problems.

In a presentation to students in the class, ConvergeUS Executive Director Patrick Gusman ’84 outlined the organization’s plan to select up to three social issues each year and hold an annual summit where participants will develop a “Technology Innovation Blueprint” to tackle those challenges.

Proposing Solutions

Charles Crowell

The inaugural event, set for October 6 in Sausalito, Calif., will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, the literacy gap among 0-3 year olds, and health literacy.

The Notre Dame students in the Business Thinking course—part of the College’s Computer Applications Program (CAPP)—received the same background materials ConvergeUS fellows were given and will participate in this week’s summit via video conference, says CAPP Director Charles Crowell, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, who also will serve as a ConvergeUS fellow at the summit.

Jeff Sucec, who teaches the Business Thinking course, says the students will have the opportunity to take part in “ongoing, interactive discussions…not just initially, but throughout the year.

“They’re going to find out very quickly that they can have some substantive input.”

Gaining Experience

Business Thinking is designed to help Arts and Letters students develop a working knowledge of fundamental business disciplines while providing hands-on opportunities to apply their creative thinking, analysis, and problem-solving skills.

The course, Sucec says, is “perfectly aligned with how the business world is moving now. Linear, left-brain oriented thinking needs to be augmented with more expansive, adaptive, flexible thinking.”

In today’s rapidly-changing environment, students with a liberal arts background “are uniquely positioned” to be successful in business, he adds.

Sucec enhances the coursework each semester with a real-world business opportunity that allows students “to take it from the theoretical to the practical.” The new partnership with ConvergeUS is a chance to do just that, he says, while learning from and interacting with cutting-edge technology experts and successful entrepreneurs.

Developing a Partnership

Earlier this fall, Gusman and Karen Proctor ’85, a ConvergeUS adviser, met with the Business Thinking students to discuss trends in corporate responsibility, social innovation, and the ways in which they will be able to contribute to ConvergeUS.

“A lot of this is evolving,” Crowell says. “But the idea of our students having an ongoing role and being the only [student] representatives at this inaugural event, in my opinion, is a pretty big deal.”

The organization, he adds, has a particular appeal to Notre Dame students and alumni because “it is directed at solving some very important, pressing problems that confront the nation.

“My hope is that this University, among all other universities, is one of the main focal points for channeling power into ConvergeUS,” Crowell says. “I think that this is an important movement and something that Notre Dame should be involved in.”

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