Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

A Human Capital Model: Service-Learning in the Micro Business Incubator Program

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

A Human Capital Model: Service-Learning in the Micro Business Incubator Program

Article excerpt

This paper presents a service-learning approach to inner city revitalization that is grounded in a human capital model for economic development. The case study demonstrates how a private university became the catalyst for growth in an 'at risk' neighborhood of an urban inner city. Our ongoing service-learning project, called The Upper Albany Micro Business Incubator (MBI), brings together university faculty, students, and inner city entrepreneurs to create an environment of mutual learning, shared respect, understanding, and collaboration. Preliminary impacts of the program are described as well as future directions and recommendations for sustaining development in inner cities using such an approach.


"Give a man a fish he will eat for one day, teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime."

--Chinese proverb

Over the past decade, the practice of using service-learning as a teaching tool in the business and management sciences has burgeoned (Kenworthy-U'Ren & Peterson, 2005). The underlying reasons for this movement are unclear--it may be a response to questions about the societal efficacy of management education (Emiliani, 2004); it may be a form of acknowledgement that the private sector "maintain(s) the moral authority to set the social agenda" (Godfrey, 2000, p. 38); it may be a shift away from sector and disciplinary isolationism (DiPadova-Stocks, 2005); or it may simply be one of the most effective tools through which students can practice reflective learning while engaging in citizenship-oriented behaviors (Csikszentmihalyi, 2005). As Papamarcos (2005) aptly states, "there is a view ... too widespread to be ignored, that colleges and universities and their students are largely alienated from notions of the public good, focusing solely on achieving competitive advantage in a world of scarce resources. This sentiment may be particularly acute with regard to business schools and business students" (p. 325). Papamarcos goes on to suggest that as business educators, we have a mandate to prepare students for "lives of civic engagement ... involving students as voluntary agents of social change" (p. 326).

One thing is certain about this intersection between business school courses and service-learning: that it is making a positive difference for students, institutions, and communities. An example at the student level can be seen when Wittmer (2004) describes the results of a survey of students who had participated in service-learning at the University of Denver through an ethics-based MBA core course called 'Values-Based Leadership.' Forty-eight percent of the students reported an "increased recognition of the level and kinds of needs that exist" in the community, 46% reported an "increased awareness of how individuals and businesses are involved in professional service," and 35% of students reported a "realization of personal satisfaction for community service activity" (2004, p. 365). At the institutional level, service-learning projects provide a tangible and applied mechanism for organizational outreach into the community. For example, after leading a semester-long course project where business students worked with four different senior citizens centers in their local community, Vega and McHugh (2003) wrote "we believe that this project was worthwhile. It met our academic goals, it provided a valued service, it provided an experiential learning opportunity for students who might not other wise have been involved in one, and it cemented relationships between the institution and the community" (p. 114). Finally, at the community level, we continue to see examples of business school service-learning programs that result in increased community social and economic prosperity, sustainability, and integration (e.g., Michaelsen, Kenderdine, Hobbs, & Frueh, 2000; Papamarcos, 2005; Taylor, 2000).

This paper describes such a program--the University of Hartford's Micro Business Incubator (MBI). …

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