PPCC launches new social innovation program

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Business Department Chair Dr. Dennis Natali teaches a class at Pikes Peak Community College.

An initial cohort of 14 business students at Pikes Peak Community College will spend the next two years learning how to make profits while making a difference in the community.

The students will take a core curriculum of 30 credit hours plus three electives chosen from recommended courses in complementary fields. Then they will complete a series of capstone courses through the Better Business Bureau’s Colorado Institute for Social Impact to gain real-world experience.

Graduating students will be ready to work at or start a social enterprise business, or can transfer to Regis University or Colorado State University’s Global Campus to continue their studies toward a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.

“With this degree, students should be able to bring business skills to a nonprofit and nonprofit skills to a business,” said PPCC Business Department Chair Dr. Dennis Natali, who teaches courses in the legal environment of business and business statistics that are part of the core curriculum. “The whole package is designed for students to go out in the world and make an impact now.”

PPCC President Lance Bolton said the program fits in with the Quad Partnership, a joint initiative of PPCC, Colorado College, UCCS and the U.S. Air Force Academy, in helping define the direction of the college.

“It’s about partnerships. It’s about our students getting real-world experience. And it’s about making a difference in our community,” he said.

Businesses like Blue Star Recyclers, Kids on Bikes and Common Cause Catering are leading the way in Colorado Springs’ growing social enterprise sector. Blue Star, for example, recycles electronics and creates jobs for people with autism and other disabilities.

“The Colorado Springs community has absolutely embraced this new sector of the economy,” said Jonathan Liebert, CEO of the Colorado Institute for Social Impact, or CI4SI.

Liebert said he expects the new degree program will help attract other social enterprise businesses to this region.

“It positions us nicely from a national perspective to be known for this,” Liebert said.

The social innovation curriculum at PPCC draws from courses the school already offers, including business ethics, strategic management, principles of marketing and sociology of diversity.

Students can choose from 46 elective courses, from anthropology to women’s studies.

“There are all kinds of courses they can take to bolster their knowledge of working in the world,” Natali said. “If your social impact project is to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, you could take carpentry basics. If you’re working with an organization like TESSA, you might take child development or social psychiatry.”

During the capstone phase, students will take 10 to 12 classes through CI4SI that cover multiple aspects of social enterprises, including legal entities for social impact businesses, triple bottom line bookkeeping and metrics to measure social ROI, and steps in creating a social impact business plan, as well as marketing, financing and building relationships to enhance a social impact business.

They will meet with social entrepreneurs and subject matter experts to prepare them for a capstone project of their own, and then work in small groups to create a business plan and statement of purpose for a social impact project.

“They will have to demonstrate how they will positively impact the community as well as make a profit,” Liebert said.

Students who complete all of the requirements, including general education and business basics, the social innovation and elective courses, and the capstone courses at CI4SI can earn a business foundations certificate and Associate of Applied Science degree, plus a social impact specialist certificate from the institute.

Students also can take just the emphasis-area classes and receive a one-year certificate.

The social innovation program was created in response to suggestions from the business community, several school districts and other community organizations.

“President Bolton is the original driver for this program,” Natali said. “He really pulled all the right people together.”

Natali also credits the business department’s advisory board, which includes representatives from the Small Business Development Center, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the Institute for Social Impact, with “keeping our finger on the pulse of the business community and helping to drive our curriculum to keep it relevant and impactful.”

The program also addresses the convictions of the current student generation.

“Millennials are very focused on spending their money at a company that’s making a social impact,” Natali said. “Many Millennials are working at lower pay because they believe in the purpose of a company. This is the new workforce we’re dealing with today.”

Natali said he sees a lot of interest in the new program whenever he brings it up in class.

“These students really want to do something different than just business, but they also want to make money,” he said. “I see this growing to 200 people by the fall of 2019.”

Liebert added that the institute plans on offering a similar certificate program for working professionals early next year.

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