Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Empowers Students to Learn Outside the Lines of the Classroom in Service to Community
Iona College’s Rasheda L. Weaver, Ph.D., dreams of establishing a social impact lab at the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, where students can “Learn Outside the Lines” of the classroom and help solve real-world challenges in the community. That dream is becoming a reality as Iona students partnered with two local organizations to help them navigate business challenges arising during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s all about service-learning. Yes, we teach students in the classroom, but we’re connecting them to a real community problem, and we’re expecting them to move the needle on the problem,” said Weaver, Ph.D., assistant professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation. “The first step is belief. You have to believe you can do something.”
Eleven students are currently enrolled in Weaver’s Social Entrepreneurship, Civic Engagement and Community Development class. Working in teams, the students have been tasked with helping two local organizations identify and solve challenges related to connecting with customers during COVID-19.
The two partner organizations are Impact100 Westchester, which has raised over $1.8 million for high-impact, nonprofit grants in the county; and Nurish, a social enterprise that aims to build community for parents with young children (ages 0-6) while helping them tackle parenting challenges through a mobile app. Students are currently conducting market research, surveying customers and working in close collaboration with both organizations to prepare key findings and strategic recommendations.
“Our goal is to blur the lines between classroom learning and real-world experiences to empower our students to positively impact our community through their actions,” said Christoph Winkler, Ph.D., endowed professor and founding program director at the Hynes Institute. “Dr. Weaver engages our students in powerful ways, adding another vital element to our growing interdisciplinary entrepreneurship program.”
Chyanne Blakey ’22, a double major in business marketing and entrepreneurship from Queens, N.Y., said that when she first came to Iona, “it was almost like I was doing a 360 because I had to discover what I was interested in on campus.” She always knew she wanted to be a business major, but when she took her first marketing class, she “just immediately fell in love because it is the most creative business class – in my opinion at least,” she said with a laugh.
Blakey’s first course in entrepreneurship – Introduction to Entrepreneurship – was with Weaver in 2019. Today, Blakey is not only taking Weaver’s Social Entrepreneurship class, but she’s also assisting with the professor’s first book, Social Entrepreneurship: A Practical Introduction to Social Enterprise. The book aims to be the go-to source for people seeking to combat societal issues such as poverty, racism, climate change, hunger and more, using entrepreneurial techniques. Blakey is composing case studies on different social enterprises across the globe to present at numerous scientific conferences, including Iona Scholars Day and the EMES International Research Network’s Social Enterprise Conference in Spain.
“I tell my students, ’You can be your own hero. You can be the change.’ And you can see the light bulb going off in
their heads. You can see them becoming more empowered,” Weaver said. “When I educate someone in my classroom, they take that education with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of education.”
That’s also the power of example.
“I’m at the point where she’s really a mentor for me. The goals I see her obtaining in her life are some of the goals I want in my life, and it’s amazing that I get to see that unfold. It’s like fate,” Blakey said. “The highlight of my day is going to my courses. It’s so transformative that even online, the engagement we get is just amazing.”