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President's Blog: From the Heart

A Canvas for Creativity

By Eric F. Spina

“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer,” Katie Hill told University of Dayton students in her New Venture Creation class.

Sitting in a classroom overlooking Main Street in the revitalized Dayton Arcade, I thought about the power of her words in this space. This fall, nearly 250 students are taking 22 classes — and learning by doing as they rub shoulders with entrepreneurs and artists in the heart of the city.

It’s all happening in The Hub Powered by PNC Bank, one of the largest university-anchored innovation hubs in the country, which features shared and private office spaces, meeting rooms, conference areas, pop-up retail opportunities, learning labs, classrooms, artist studios — and a “shark tank” for business plan competitions. 

The vibe here is unmistakable: This is a place where ideas are taking flight.

And who better to impart lessons about innovation and imagination to students than Professor Hill, who founded CommuterAds, a digital transit media company with a national reach, and serves as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Entrepreneurs’ Center in The Hub? She’s preparing them to do what she did in 2010 — win UD’s Business Plan Competition. All of her students will develop business concepts to pitch before a panel of judges in the Flyer Pitch competition.

There’s no textbook in this class, only a whiteboard waiting to be filled with ideas. On the day I visited, students quickly scrawled traits of successful entrepreneurs: resilient, creative, passionate, confident, driven. “You can’t be afraid to fail. You have to be willing to hear 10 no’s before the 11th person says yes,” one student said of his group’s list. Another wrote this definition of an entrepreneur: A company/person with passion who isn’t afraid to take risks or work harder to drive innovation and change the world.”

I love that philosophy, and I saw it in action when I stopped by a painting class taught by Jeffrey Cortland Jones. In the center of the studio sat a table with a haphazard placement of oranges and lemons, the inspiration for the day’s still life oil painting. The assignment looked deceptively simple, but I noticed how the colors shifted depending on how you viewed the fruit. Plus the teacher wanted the students to experiment.

“I want you to try your darndest to fail, and I mean that in the most loving sense,” said Professor Jones, whose own paintings have been exhibited in galleries nationally and written up in The Wall Street Journal. “This is jumping into the deep end and seeing if you can find a way to float. I want you to think about your composition. It’s not all center court. It’s not all 50-yard line. Play, have fun, get messy, fail — and may the Force be with you.”

As the students snapped photos of the fruit with their phones to test different compositions, carefully mixed colors, and started to sketch out their paintings, I saw more than art being made. With each paint stroke, I saw the transformative power of hands-on learning.

For UD students, the Dayton Arcade is a canvas for creativity.

(Photo by Kevin Lush)

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