Thursday, January 4, 2024

Najim Center and innovation office merge to expand UTSA’s experiential offerings for students

Najim Center and innovation office merge to expand UTSA’s experiential offerings for students

SEPTEMBER 1, 2023 — The UTSA Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement joined forces with the Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SIE) office this fall to expand the university’s robust experiential learning opportunities for Roadrunners. The merger means students will be able to access the experiential learning programs of both units through the Najim Center.

Erica Clark, UTSA director of student innovation, has been leading the charge to bring the university’s many experiential learning and entrepreneurship offerings under one roof. With SIE now under its umbrella, the Najim Center will house over a dozen hands-on projects, competitions, and personal and professional development programs for students throughout the year.

This will include the first annual Start Up Academy, a 10-week paid opportunity where students hone their entrepreneurship skills and meet with various San Antonio organizations, and EntreprenUTSA, a networking event where students can connect with local startup leaders, learn how to refine their personal brand and receive complimentary professional headshots. The center will also support the restoration of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) at UTSA, a student-run organization that fosters future business leaders.

“Our goal is to demystify entrepreneurship and make it palatable for all students, regardless of their experience level.”

Additionally, the center’s growth will include the introduction of innovation labs and an expansion of the Big Rowdy Idea, designed to increase student participation. The events create a space where students can gain real-world experience with entrepreneurship fundamentals—like creating a viable business model and developing a pitch for a cutting-edge business concept. In both programs, participants also receive valuable feedback and mentorship from local industry leaders.

The Najim Center’s extensive programming is a key part of the UTSA Classroom to Career initiative, a university-wide framework that promotes practical, career-focused learning experiences that provide an advantage for students’ future success. The merger with SIE is part of the center’s university-wide collaborative efforts to create a one-stop shop where students of all levels can build their entrepreneurial mindset and discover resources to help bring their inventive ideas to life.

“Our goal is to demystify entrepreneurship and make it palatable for all students, regardless of their experience level,” Clark said.

The Najim Center’s expanded offerings are made possible in part by funding from the Blackstone LaunchPad, a charitable program run by alternative asset manager Blackstone that seeks to close the opportunity gap by equipping college and university students with the entrepreneurial skills they need to build lasting careers.

“Our partnership with Blackstone has been a mutually beneficial experience. Its funding is helping us provide impactful programming for students, but we are also sharing with them our knowledge on the benefits of project-based experiential learning models,” said Clark, who also serves as campus director for Blackstone LaunchPad. “Blackstone fell in love with our innovation sprints like the strategist program and the Civil and Social Experience (C.A.S.E.) competition, and they even plan to visit campus later this fall to learn more about those and about our best practices across the Najim Center.”

Discover more career-engaged learning programs available at UTSA.

Clark looks to further advance the Najim Center’s hands-on learning programs by representing UTSA at the Student Success US conference in Los Angeles in November. She will showcase the center’s unique experiential learning opportunities and how these programs teach valuable, transferable skills that benefit students’ personal and professional success.

The Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement creates a place where all students can access resources for career exploration and preparation and discover experiential learning opportunities. It offers project-based learning, competitions, personal development programs, scholarships and a summer study abroad experience. Participating students receive credit on their Experience Transcript and, depending on the program, may receive a stipend.

Chloe Johnson

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