Category Archives: Education

Entrepreneurs at ASU: Reforging the Road to Success

There’s a new trend for the brightest young business minds of today. Skip the traditional method of working your way up the business ladder, found an exciting new business instead and you’re already on top.

For entrepreneur Mark Sholin, this is a reality.

Sholin graduated with his Chemical Engineering B.S. in 2010 from the University of Arizona and entered a Ph.D. program at ASU. While working as a research associate in the BioDesign Institute a certain technology called ARBCell captured his interest and this lead to the founding of ARBSource in August 2011.

The ARBCell is a treatment method for water that is cost and energy efficient. Organic waste in water from a high production facility, such as a potato chip factory, is degraded and eliminated using organisms and a unique reactor design. In the end the water is clean and the process produces hydrogen gas which can be sold or used by the company.

“What I like to say is that ARBSource transforms wastewater treatment from a costly liability into a valuable resource,” Sholin said.

ARBSource, though still pre-revenue, has already been noticed. It is being supported by the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative with a $10,000 investment and it is a finalist in the CleanTech Open, a worldwide competition for cleantech startup businesses.

The CleanTech finals will be held in San Jose, Calif. November 15 and 16. To win the $250,000 prize, ARBSource must beat out 20 other companies.

Sholin credits his company’s success to the young and enthusiastic team behind ARBSource as well as their older, more experienced advisors.

“At CleanTech we were the youngest by far,” Sholin said. “But we show that we’re knowledgeable and credible.”

Being young, in fact, is a benefit, Sholin said. As long as the team stays “leveraged by experienced advisors” youth will make the business more memorable.

Josh Hottenstein, the Arizona director for the CleanTech Open, has worked directly with Sholin and praises the start up. He worked to pair ARBSource with mentors who would be able to foster the newly formed business’ growth.

“CleanTech works to find, fund and foster clean technology entrepreneurs,” Hottenstein said. “Even though it is a competition, we work with every contestant to be their advocate and connect them with mentors in the field.”

Hottenstein said that ARBSource has what a start up needs: a sellable product, unique hook and a solid team.

“There are a lot of ideas in Arizona,” Hottenstein said. “I try to connect them with resources to turn them into a company.”

Will Curran, a senior at ASU and colleague of Sholin’s, said the two of them often brainstorm together about how to build their businesses.

Curran founded and runs Arizona Pro DJs, a business that delivers high quality entertainers and music to events such as birthday parties and High School dances.

“We bring concert and club elements to events,” Curran said.

Curran is a two time ASU Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative award recipient and couldn’t be more thankful for the help it gave.

“Edson was huge,” Curran said. “We were able to use that money toward expensive equipment we needed.”

Both Sholin and Curran agree that ASU and the resources it provides was a huge boon to their businesses.

“The learning curve for me and ARBSource was accelerated by ASU’s resources,” Sholin said

“It’s important to utilize all resources, and ASU has tons of them,” Curran said.

ASU’s effort spent on creating an atmosphere that encourages and supports student entrepreneurship has definitely paid off in the cases of Sholin and Curran. Now it’s time to see who will succeed next.

Be a Better Intern

I was recently informed that I am a good intern.

No, I didn’t hear this from someone related to me who is slightly obligated to encourage me – I heard it from my boss.

Looking back on my Sports 620 KTAR internship as it winds down, here are some actions and attitudes that helped me be successful.

-Show up on time (and if you’re running late let someone know)
My internship required me to arrive at work at 4:30 a.m. This was mind boggling to a night owl like myself, but I set my three alarms, arranged a wake-up call, and dealt with it. If running late, for whatever reason (whether valid or not), let your boss know. It isn’t a fun conversation, but it’s a lot better than the one you would have if you don’t make the call.

-Take notes and listen well
The first weeks of my internship I had about 9,000,000 details thrown at me, and thankfully I had brought a notebook and pen or I would have been completely overwhelmed. Even if you have a great memory, taking notes makes you appear to be a thoughtful intern and your boss will appreciate only having to tell you something once.

-Ask questions
Despite taking notes and listening to the best of my ability, I still ran into situations where I wasn’t sure what to do. I found someone who looked helpful and asked questions. It’s more important to humble yourself and ask a question to maintain high quality work than keep doubts to yourself and just hope you’re doing things correctly.

-Volunteer
If there is anything extra you can do, speak up and say you’ll do it. Even if you really just want to go home. Either your boss will be impressed with your initiative and let you do the task, or your boss will be impressed with your initiative but say you don’t have to do it. That, my friends, is a win-win situation.

-Dress correctly
Be an adult and dress respectfully. This is a subjective principle because it depends on where you intern. For my situation, jeans were OK, but I wouldn’t wear shorts and flip flops. Ask your boss for guidance about dress code, and when in doubt dress more formally. You don’t want to be the intern remembered for wardrobe misjudgment.

-Forget that you’re not being paid
If you’re one of the lucky few who snagged a paid internship, I don’t know if we can be friends because I’m jealous. If you’re like me, the internship is all about the experience, and maybe a letter of recommendation down the road. Focusing on not being paid is silly, because you knew about it up front and it will only cause irritation. Internships are about serving and realizing that you are definitely at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s OK. Learn to love the bottom of the totem pole – it will make you work that much harder to get to the top.

So there are my top insights gleaned from being an intern. I know internships vary widely, but these principles are general enough to be applied anywhere.

As I near the end of my internship, I’m realizing that I honestly don’t want to leave. It was at a great company filled with helpful, respectful people so I really lucked out. I learned an astonishing amount over a short period of time and enjoyed the process. I came into it with zero experience and learned that I’m capable of working well in a fast paced, real world environment. The lessons learned, both technical and emotional, are invaluable and have already begun to serve me well.

Let’s Discuss

I’d like to show you two different scenes. At first glance, both would appear to be a discussion, but if inspected closely it becomes apparent that the two scenes couldn’t be more different.

Scene 1
Setting: A classroom filled with one professor and about 50 students at one of the largest universities in the USA.

Action: The professor finishes up reading her extensive notes off the projector, and announces that now the class will discuss the book Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Beals. Some students scramble to finish taking down the notes, some rest their head on the table, and some pull out the book, opening it to a highlighted section. The professor begins asking questions about the 100 page reading assignment. “What were some of the experiences that shaped Melba’s childhood?” “How did Melba show non-violent resistance to those verbally and physically attacking her?” “Can you draw any similarities between this reading and the Mary Prince reading from earlier in the semester?” As is customary with this particular class, there are a handful of students who will regularly answer questions, a smaller number who will answer questions when forced, and an even larger number who very rarely, if ever, speak. Previously, that had been enough participation for the professor, but today it isn’t. Ten minutes into the discussion, she sets the book down on her table and says, “As I can see you are not prepared for discussion today I am ending class early. I know I say all the readings are important, but I had really hoped you all would have paid particular attention to this reading since it is by a girl close to your age…also it is due to her and others that some of you are even allowed to be in this classroom today.” And with that the class files out the door, 30 minutes into the hour and fifteen minute class.

Scene 2
Setting: After a community event organized by a small community college.

Action: It is dark and chilly, a girl and her boyfriend mix cups of hot chocolate as they prepare to help clean up after the event. The boyfriend’s philosophy professor comes over to grab some hot chocolate as well and introduces himself to the girl. Quickly and for no particular reason, the two start talking about the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. They talk about the scene from “The Last Battle” where the dwarves refuse to see the truth of Aslan:

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. THey thought they were eating and drinking ony the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Their conversation leaps from Narnia and its symbolism, to C.S. Lewis’ spirituality, to modern Christianity, to the fallacies that dissuade people from being faithful. They tackle questions such as “Is man born good or evil?” “How is man saved?” “Is faith a matter of grace and works?” They attack these deep questions that have bothered humanity for ages with gusto and enjoyment…and humility. The girl, a young apologist, feels a little like a fool the whole time, but doesn’t care. She wants to test the limits of her knowledge and reason. An hour and a half later, the three, for the girl’s boyfriend has joined the conversation, begin to slow down. It is late and they begin to say their goodbyes. Hands are shaken all around, and the genuine respect and enjoyment of each other’s contributions to the discussion are grossly apparent.

As I said before, both situations fit the definition of discussion: “An extended communication (often interactive) dealing with some particular topic.” But oh how they differ in spirit. In the first example, the discussion was forced and the vast majority of students had no inclination to participate. This lead the professor to grow irritated and feel stymied. Her agitation is understandable, but perhaps there are steps she could have taken to foster a mutual desire of discussion. In the second example, two strangers found a starting point of commonality and slipped easily into a deep discussion. It was not planned or mediated. It wasn’t always linear and the participants went away from it with a slightly dizzy feeling.

Discussion is a powerful means of learning, because when it’s done right it leaves the participants with a deeper, personal knowledge of the subjects covered. Each involved in the discussion will come away with a different take on the material, but each will remember and own whatever it is they do remember. The first example of discussion gives real discussion a bad name – real, fruitful discussion isn’t forced or stagnant. The first example of discussion will be a part of the world as long as there are students who don’t like the reading assigned by a professor or who oversleep the morning of class thus running out of time to read. My hope is that this ugly stepsister of real discussion won’t make students slow to acknowledge the merits of true discussion. As Thomas Huxley says, “Freedom and order are not incompatible… truth is strength… free discussion is the very life of truth.”

Let this be a lesson to you

A friend of mine posted as his Facebook status:

“I ended a sentence in my paper with “it” and my teacher commented: Try not to end your sentences with a preposition.”

By the way, have you seen the previews for the movie Waiting for Superman?

No connection to the Facebook status, of course.