Forward with NACCE

Revolutionizing Education with Augmented Reality

September 13, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Revolutionizing Education with Augmented Reality
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Corbin is featuring the inspiring stories of two remarkable individuals, Minden Fox and Dirk Soma, who are spearheading innovative projects at their respective community colleges.

Minden Fox, Marketing and Entrepreneurship Instructor at Laramie County Community College, shares her journey from a family of entrepreneurs to pioneering augmented reality solutions for manufacturing and healthcare education. Discover how her passion for entrepreneurship and innovation has led to a 200% increase in enrollment in her program.

Dirk Soma, Business Program Coordinator at Hawaii Community College, takes us on a journey to explore sustainable housing solutions for students and faculty in Hawaii. Learn about the power of community collaboration and how Dirk's resilience in the Pitch for the Trades competition paved the way for groundbreaking projects.

Tune in to explore the future of education, entrepreneurship, and innovation, and how these visionary educators are shaping the landscape of community colleges. 

Ready to move forward with NACCE? Learn more about the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship.

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Minden - 00:00:10:

So we've already seen this expand from the, I believe, five, six computers that we purchased with software through NACCE and Ratcliffe Foundation and pitch for the trades to another four through a state grant and then another two for our Health Sciences Department. So now we're not just looking at manufacturing equipment, we're looking at diesel engines, we're even looking at hearts.

Announcer - 00:00:30:

Welcome to Forward with NACCE: Inspiring Entrepreneurial Action, a podcast that shares the stories of everyday entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders, and the communities that support us. We hope that this diverse collection of stories brings you inspiration, inspires you to take action, and ignites entrepreneurship in your community as we make our way forward together.

Becky - 00:00:54:

Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. We're very excited. We have a couple of very special guests in our studio today. I'm Rebecca Corbin, President and CEO of NACCE and your host for today. And as we think about getting back to school and kicking off for the fall, we think about really excellence and how do we put ourselves out there and really strive to do better. So I'm going to start with our first guest. Her name is Minden Fox, and she's going to introduce a little bit about her background and what she's doing today out in the great West. So Minden, why don't you begin our conversation today?

Minden - 00:01:35:

Sure, thank you. So my name is Minden Fox, and I am the Marketing and Entrepreneurship Instructor out at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Actually grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. Both of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs and had their own business. One of them had a food truck way back in the 80s. Not as new of a concept as people think it is. So grew up around this amazing life of entrepreneurs. Every single one of my aunts and uncles, even my parents, either have a side hustle or their own business. So it was no surprise, I don't think for my family or even for me that I started consulting fairly quickly out of college and some of those things. And that eventually led to pursuing a master's degree in marketing because I loved it so much, which then led me to the college after many years in the e-commerce world. So been with Laramie County Community College for a little over six years now, and have seen drastic growth in our entrepreneurship program. Enrollment up about 200% since I came on board and did a revamp of this bunch of community partners and just amazing things going on here in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Becky - 00:02:44:

That is, that's fantastic. And we're going to get into some of the. Amazing work that you're doing as an entrepreneurial college of the future and some of the things you're doing on the state level. But let's turn for a moment to Dirk Soma. Dirk's been a lifelong champion really of everything entrepreneurship and just such a fantastic leader coming to us from the state of Hawaii. So Dirk, you've got a lot, just a fascinating background. So why don't you share with everybody a little bit about who you are?

Dirk - 00:03:14:

Okay, well, aloha mai kakou, I'm Dirk Soma. I'm the business program coordinator at Hawaii Community College. Before I dive into anything about myself, I just wanted to thank all of the NACCE community for their outpouring of support for the people on Hawaii. It has been a tragic episode, but like the rest of the community in Hawaii, we're very resilient and the folks are, are going to be coming out of this even better than ever. So thank you for that. Again, I created the business program back in 2014 and we realized that entrepreneurship was an integral part of this. Like Minden, we've seen explosion of this across our state. There is a demand for this. It's funny, Minden, you talk about going back to the good old 80s, way back in the 80s. You know, I can relate to that. And unlike you, I'm a serial entrepreneur. I've been doing entrepreneurial endeavors all my life. It's in my family tree as well. And I'm really happy to be able to facilitate the learning for our aspiring entrepreneurs, whether they be taking our credit courses or whether it be in the community and working with our Kaua’i community and across the state.

Becky - 00:04:32:

That's wonderful. And I know as we were talking a little bit about our work collectively together and how important leadership is, you know, people that may be listening might be thinking, I don't really think about community colleges. Entrepreneurship going together. But as you can see the pivotal roles that you both play, it really can actually accelerate student success. Minden, as you spoke about, your enrollments are surging. And some of the things, Dirk, that you spoke about of overcoming a tragedy, you know, and turning just very difficult situations into trying to think about how you can make lives better. So. I want to begin with you, Minden, and you, your president, Schaffer, is just a fantastic leader and I know has opened up some doors. So why don't you speak a little bit about how he as a president really helps the work that you do kind of shepherd you through and gives you sort of that freedom to do some of the impactful things that you do.

Miden - 00:05:33:

So yeah, our president, Dr. Joe Schaffer, has been just a huge support in this and just having our back and everything that we want to do, the partnerships that we're forming, the opportunities that are coming up. He's been great and saying, yes, let's go ahead and explore this or hey, I've got this other opportunity, let's set up a call and talk to them and see what can come of that. So just to have that support is huge to help this program grow, to be open to opportunities. And I know he gets a little frustrated with me at times when I say entrepreneurship can be very unstructured. And that's not really something you hear when you say let's develop curriculum, let's develop a program and just kind of reminding ourselves we can still have structure here and there, but we need to have freedom in some of these things because every entrepreneur, every single path for entrepreneurship is going to look a little bit different. So again, just having that support, not just from him, but from our community, from some of our community partners and our state partners has been huge in getting us to this point.

Becky - 00:06:36:

Yeah, I remember speaking with him as I was recruiting colleges for the entrepreneurial college of the future program. And it was really an experiment as many really good programs begin. And I was so impressed, you know, him thinking about, well, I don't know exactly what this is, but it sounds like it might be really good for the faculty. It might be good for our institution. And so turning to you, Dirk, I know you're quite a leader in Hawaii, and I am so grateful to you. My colleague, Andrew Gold, and I had a chance to spend a couple of world-win days going out to Kaua’i and seeing the amazing thing that you created through your Ratcliffe winning prize, which we're going to get into a little bit. But you've forged relationships and tried to bring together leaders, faculty from all of not only the community colleges, but for universities. So it was really your vision to bring everybody together for a day. And I think you really got the support of Steve Auerbach and doing that. So can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to think about trying to get the entire community of all the schools together and maybe some of the outcomes of that?

Dirk - 00:07:47:

Thanks, Becky. Just a little bit of background. The University of Hawaii system is made up of 10 campuses throughout six islands. There are four four year degree and higher institutes and six community colleges. So, you know, as you can tell, if you're on your own island, it's easy to get siloed. And working within your own community and, you know, we're really happy to have an opportunity to start looking as a system to be able to leverage all the resources that we have throughout from all the six community colleges. And as we transfer students to the four-year institutes, it's really important that we look as working as a system to leverage our resources and provide that great learning opportunity for the students as they start with us and then matriculate on for their bachelor's and master's degrees and doctorates. So it was an opportunity to think holistically about entrepreneurship education and the opportunities that we can provide our learning community that inspired me to reach out and start collaborating with folks across the community colleges, my colleagues there, as well as the relationships that we have with the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Hawaii, within the Schidler College of Business on there. And then Steve Auerbach, who you mentioned with the Office of Commercialization and Innovation, who'd taken another step forward with patents and copyrights and those kinds of opportunities and then leveraged that kind of capital that our startups needed to expand and get their business concepts going. So it was a collaboration of everybody. I think everybody kind of had that mindset across the system. It was just that impetus to say, hey, let's start working together, guys.

Becky - 00:09:36:

Yeah, and I think, you know, just being there and seeing everyone in action and thinking about sort of this diversification, because why it's such a beautiful beautiful state so many islands so many people want to visit there and learn about that, but at the same time, you know, diversifying the base of opportunities for people. So it was a really impactful thing. One of the things that you both know because you're winners of part of the Ratcliffe Pitch for the Trade, so you're part of that alumni group, which is pretty distinguished. So just for listeners that may not be aware of this, the Ratcliffe Foundation has generously sponsored a Pitch competition for many years, offering $150,000 for innovative ideas where entrepreneurship and innovation can be infused in a broad array of Pitch for the skilled trades. And it goes as far as it goes from welding to cyber security to cosmetology. Think of just anything that you might create. And I'm going to start with you, Mindy, because I was really touched by the last competition because, you know, everybody's coming out of post pandemic. It's difficult, you know, the timing. And you were really kind of the champion kind of working as the point person at your school to make sure that your project crossed the finish line. Not only did you cross the finish line, but you won. And that was really impactful. So share with people what was your project idea? And what was that experience like to get up on the stage and pitch for a prize, cash prize that you could take home?

Minden - 00:11:15:

Absolutely, thanks. So our project was a augmented reality system that we were incorporating into our new manufacturing center. The equipment is called zSpace and basically allows our manufacturing students to look at a piece of equipment or a part on a piece of equipment and literally take it apart. It's like wearing 3D glasses, but with no 3D glasses, it literally projects the part out to you, lets you take it all apart, lets you rotate it. There's even a feature that allows them to see as like fluids or oil or whatever is flowing through that piece of equipment, this is what it should look like. So instead of having to go in and literally take entire pieces of equipment apart or to say cut an engine in half, this allows you to do that without destroying or having to worry about putting something back together. And what we found is that there's so many more applications with the software that zSpace allows. So we've already seen this expand from the, I believe five, six computers that we purchased with software through NACCE and Ratcliffe Foundation and Pitch for the Trades to another four through a state grant and then another two for our health sciences department. So now we're not just looking at manufacturing equipment, we're looking at diesel engines, we're even looking at hearts with zSpace. So it's grown significantly just from that award and being able to bring it to our campus and show others in the community that this is what we can do with this. And I think I would add to it that we looked at the Pitch for the Trades winners the year prior and said, wow, we're doing so much of those same things on our campus, there's no reason that we can't compete and do well here. So we really kind of looked at what is one of the most innovative things we're trying to do here on campus or trying to bring to campus. And the judges kind of resonated with that and said, this is one of the most innovative things we've seen and we were really impressed by that. So we did something right there. As far as the overall experience, just to get to connect with some of the other winners, some of them I already knew from the Entrepreneurial Campus of the Future project, just a fun experience to get to connect with each other that way to sit there together and kind of calm everybody down before it's your turn and then congratulate each other at the end. And “hey, you did it, good job.” Even some of the people that come up to you afterwards, they're like, “oh, we're totally rooting for you. We think you're going to win before the judges had even announced anything.” But also had one that was just like, “I don't think you got it. I think someone else has it.” And then to be like, “but we did, we did get it.”

Becky - 00:13:54:

You certainly did. You certainly did. And I think part of it as, somebody who observed all of it, I think your marketing background really kicked in because I think having a name and sort of a brand that people could relate to. And I think almost a little bit of the performance aspect of it is important. You know, we all, some of us watch Shark Tank. I think it's a guilty pleasure that I have. I don't watch it all the time, but it, you can learn things from it. So, Dirk, let's go to you and talk a little bit about, you've been involved in a couple of different pitches. And I know when I talked to Carleen Cassidy, she just loves the fact that you just never give up. Like you are always coming back. You're like... You know, in it, to win it, no matter what. And even if you don't win, you learn from it. So share a little bit about your experience and how that's kind of charged up some of the things that you have going on at your school.

Dirk - 00:14:50:

So we are very fortunate enough to be awarded some of the prize money in the very first year of the Pitch for the Trades competition. And a major problem on Kaua’i and throughout the state is affordable housing. And especially housing for our students and our incoming faculty. So we work with our building construction trades technology program. To envision a sustainable community and how would we develop that for faculty and student housing on our campus? We do have some land there. So we were able to work with those students in creating dorm rooms that would be sustainable and looking at ways that we could integrate waste treatment. How could we develop a garden on campus? How could we make it a closed and sustainable community? So that was the project. And we were very fortunate to be able to share this with our donors. When we got back in December, we had been awarded in October, in December, we pitched it. We shared it with our donors and we had a donor step up and say, oh my gosh, I love this, what do you need? And she more than matched the Ratcliffe Award. So that gave us the funding that we needed to actually develop a prototype of the dorm rooms. And that's what you and Andy got to see, Becky.

Becky - 00:16:15:

Yeah, it was cool. It was really, really cool. What's exciting about it is when I hear you all leaders across the country come up with these ideas and then we get a chance to see it. Like your sample that you had right there on your campus is something that wouldn't exist. And not only that, but I think something that's very important to Carleen Cassidy, the CEO of the foundation is that it spurs on local support because obviously on a national level, we don't want to own everything. We want to start the flame, ignite the spark, and then you all continue to build on that. And I just, I think that's fantastic. So I know our time is running a little bit short, but I do want to ask you both, I'd love to hear if people want to learn more about your college, about the programs, if even they want to connect with you. Let us know how they can do that. We'll start with you, Minden, and also maybe just end with a word of what are you excited about for the future? What do you feel hopeful about as we all do this work together? And then we'll go to Dirk and you can do the same.

Minden - 00:17:26:

So I guess to connect with us, LCCC is all over social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, we're on LinkedIn. I'm the same, reach out to me on LinkedIn, look at our entrepreneurship page, send me a message there. As I kind of think about the future and what's going on, we've just seen an absolute burst of entrepreneurship in Wyoming and in our corner of the state. So now we're being tasked with projects like a strategic plan to envision what does entrepreneurship look like at LCCC by 2030. We're looking at a partnership with the governor and our seven community colleges in one state university and saying, “how do we expand innovation across the state and what can we help fund tied to innovation? And that's broken up into a couple different areas with entrepreneurship being one.” And even from within that, they're saying, “with areas that are seeing success saying, LCCC, how can you become a hub of entrepreneurship? What can we do to help you?” And so those are some of the big projects going on that we're super excited about and looking at like ecosystem development, building mentorship networks and kind of building on what we're already doing.

Becky - 00:18:42:

So. That's fantastic. Dirk? 

Dirk - 00:18:48:

I was saying that one of my professors told me when I was going through my graduate degree program. He said, it's hard to be a prophet in your own land.

Becky - 00:18:57:

True, true.

Dirk - 00:18:59:

For most of us, we preach entrepreneurship and we see the opportunities that are there. And it's really difficult to get that momentum going. But I'm so happy to see that throughout the years with NACCE support, we've been able to get that momentum rolling and to show what entrepreneurship can do and the impacts that it can have with students on campus, as well as in the community. So I'm really thankful for that opportunity. And going forward. I'm just grateful to see these new minds and new perspectives. As we look at our economy. You know, many times we talk about diversifying our economy, diversifying our economy. Yet in Hawaii, we only have so much land and we have some comparative advantages that we really have to look at, maybe not so much diversifying our economy by bringing in new industries. But looking at the ways of how do we change the operating systems of the current industries which are driving our economy and which will be the drivers going forward. So it's just taking that mindset shift, and these young entrepreneurs are taking that to heart as we go forward. So that's what gives me a lot of hope and optimism going forward. And with NACCE’s support, we're looking for to do that across the state.

Becky - 00:20:14:

Yeah, I appreciate you so much, both of you. And for those who may not know, NACCE's mission is to advance entrepreneurial mindset. And innovative action among our members, our growing member of 370 community colleges and universities. And we do it by engaging in projects like the Pitch for the Trades and many, many other things, because it's not just talking about it and thinking about it, it's stepping up on the stage and doing it. So I congratulate both of you on behalf of our board and all of our members. I look forward to seeing you in Nashville and I hope that you have a wonderful day and the people that are listening to this episode will take entrepreneurial action in their communities.

Announcer/Outro - 00:20:59:

Thank you for joining us today. We hope that you will continue to explore the many ways to define entrepreneurship with NACCE as we celebrate opportunity, failing forward, and success, learning from one another along the way. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite platform, follow at NACCE on social media, and learn more about us at>/podcast. Stay tuned for a new episode each week. We look forward to making our way forward together with you.