3 Lessons from an Entrepreneurial Week

The first cohort of the Teach For America Graduate Fellowship at Delta State University has launched with an immersive week of training. Here are key lessons the fellows gleaned.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016

This summer, the first cohort of Teach For America Graduate Fellows program at Delta State University completed its inaugural week-long immersion experience.

Teach For America and Delta State University are piloting the new innovative two-year fellowship program to teach 10 Teach For America alumni how to launch and run a social venture in the communities they serve while also completing a graduate degree program of their interest.

During the immersion week, the cohort refined their leadership skills while also being introduced to entrepreneurial perspectives when tackling social problems.

Teach For America Graduate Fellows

A few of the fellows shared their key lessons from the week:

Less can be more.

One of the fellows’ first activities was to develop a life purpose statement that helped them understand why they do they work they do. In a session led by Dr. Samuel Jones, an author and speaker focused on helping others build their leadership, fellows considered what they found important in life. Which, of course, is not always a short list!

At first, fellow Boyce Upholt (South Dakota '06) said, there were so many different components in his life purpose statement that it felt unwieldy. Eventually, though, Upholt, who is working on building a storytelling agency to support local nonprofits, realized there are two key elements to his work: connecting others, and documenting the world. The insight helped develop a clear, succinct statement for his work: “building connections by documenting the world.”

“And boiling it down to that statement made me realize how focus is important,” Upholt explained. “Both in what we say and what we do.”

Build on what exists.

Kandace and James at work.

On the final day of the immersion week, the fellows traveled to Helena, Arkansas, to learn from existing social entrepreneurship ventures. This included a visit to KIPP-Delta, which runs some of the highest performing schools in Arkansas.

“They have created and piloted some incredible resources,” said fellow James Forte (Mississippi '14), who is planning to open a youth center in Belzoni, Mississippi. “I loved the college workbook they use with students,” he continued. “It’s a concrete system that I can plug right into my own program.”

Balance planning with execution.

Different fellows were in different positions—some already leading recently launched ventures, others still honing their initial plans. Jena Howie (Mississippi '13) is planning to create an incentive-based system that encourages students to increase their cultural curiosity. “Throughout our discussions during the immersion week, I realized that I could spend all my timing honing that idea. But eventually you have to just get started.” By the end of the week, Jena was at work creating the first product for her program—a cultural “passport” that students can use to track their explorations.

To complete the fellowship, each participant will focus on social entrepreneurship, while simultaneously completing a graduate degree at Delta State. The cohort will regularly convene to share experiences in a collaborative environment, allowing participants to develop goals.

The project is funded through a grant from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation. The principal goal of the foundation is to contribute to the overall economic advancement of the state of Mississippi by making funds available to four-year colleges and universities and graduate professional schools located in the state.

This year's fellows are Matty Bengloff (MS '07), Jon Delperdang (MS '13), James Forte (MS '14), Sarah Hawley (MS '09), MacKenzie Stroh Hines (MS '07), Jena Howie (MS '13), Kandace Lewis (MS '14), Javier Peraza (MS '14), Jeremiah Smith (MS '12)., and Boyce Upholt (SD '06).

Applications for the 2017 cohort will open Jan. 1, 2017. For more information on the program, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/graduate-and-continuing-studies/tfa-graduate-fellows-program or call 662-846-4700.