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Student entrepreneurship program offers experiential learning in National Capital Region

February 29, 2016

Students at an event in Washington, DC
Students who participated in the Washington Entrepreneurship Summer Semester (now called iScholars) visited the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. From left to right: Pingyuan Wang, Andrew Newman, Charlotte Olmsted, Anita Woodyard Dodson (program coordinator), and Hunter Owen.

A hands-on, minds-on experience in innovation and entrepreneurship in the National Capital Region is accepting applications from Virginia Tech undergraduates.

The iScholars program runs from May 23 to Aug. 6. The program provides paid internships with companies including start-ups, new ventures, and established companies seeking innovators and entrepreneurs. Participants will enroll in courses focused on innovation and entrepreneurship that complement their internships, earning six credits towards their general education curriculum.

Students in all majors are encouraged to apply. “The National Capital Region is uniquely situated to offer our undergraduates the opportunity to learn innovation and entrepreneurship through practice under the mentorship of Virginia Tech’s generous partner organizations,” said Jill Sible, assistant provost for undergraduate education. “We have built an academic program to support and enrich our students as they engage in the real world of entrepreneurship.”

Andrew Newman of Ashburn, Virginia, a junior majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering, participated in the program last year, when it was called the Washington Entrepreneurship Summer Semester. “I am passionate about entrepreneurship, so I figured it would be a great experience.”

Newman interned with 3e Services, a technology consultant and implementation services company. He was able take what he learned in class and at the internship to work on his own start-up. “I learned that it's okay to take risks that might lead to failure, and that those risks are necessary. For about 85 percent of the program, the personal startup I was creating was based on space communications,” Newman said. “With a couple of weeks left in the program, I completely changed my project to something I'm calling a social relationship manager. I also made the decision to switch to computer science around this time. The willingness to ‘fail’ at something definitely helped me personally accept the switch.”

Charlotte Olmsted of Onancock, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, also participated last year. “I was really intrigued by the concept of multi-discipline collaboration and the community of living around other Virginia Tech students in Alexandria was really attractive.”

Olmsted interned with an information technology consulting company called Nantuit. “The coolest thing about the experience was reporting directly to the CEO of the company, Rashed Hasan. Because it was a small start up with few employees I felt like I was really able to form a relationship with my boss. He's an incredibly inspirational man with a track record of starting multiple successful businesses and founding a Hospital in Bangladesh.”

The experience helped expand the way Olmstead looks at her projects and forms relationships. “As engineering students, we are often taught to think and act in a very linear fashion. Being exposed to the entrepreneurial viewpoint allowed me to approach problems in a different way,” Olmstead said. “Over the course of the summer, I worked on testing the potential application of advanced x-ray imaging technology that had been developed at the Naval Dahlgren facility into medical practice. This involved a lot of cold calls, emails, and interviews which forced me to get really comfortable with relating to people and really efficient at extracting useful insights. The networking throughout the program was incredible. I was able to form connections with a lot of influential contacts through the university, DC representative entrepreneurial groups, and the medical field.”

Program participants will have the opportunity to live and work in the National Capital Region while also taking field trips to visit with entrepreneurs, companies, and government agencies.

“As Virginia Tech expands its role in the vibrant innovation economy of the National Capital Region, there is really no better place for bright entrepreneurial-focused students to learn, discover, and work,” said Steven McKnight, vice president for the region. “We share President Sands’ commitment to promoting collaborative experiential learning opportunities for all Virginia Tech students. We are proud to welcome the iScholars to the National Capital Region where they will be applying lessons from formal innovation curriculum in targeted internships with regional companies.”

The program application deadline is March 11, 2016. Read more about the program and apply through the iScholars program website.

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