Encouraging students to be entrepreneurs

University Park, Pa. -- Encouraging entrepreneurship is one of the strategic priorities for Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, and it has taken a significant step to expedite the effort by selecting a point person.

Mark Gagnon, visiting assistant professor of sustainable entrepreneurship, recently was named entrepreneurship coordinator by dean Bruce McPheron.

"Employers of our students tell us they value an entrepreneurial spirit -- not only do some entrepreneurs begin their own business ventures, but others change existing businesses from within through their creative approach to opportunities," McPheron said.

"Mark Gagnon will help us achieve our goal of providing our students with a baseline of an entrepreneurial approach to their careers."

Gagnon will teach several entrepreneurship classes along with course modules on entrepreneurial thinking and facilitate student engagement in entrepreneurship-related activities in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

His duties include coordinating the Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Forums, mentoring students and clubs on entrepreneurial initiatives and representing the college for university-wide entrepreneurship programs.

"The bottom line is we want to encourage entrepreneurship among our students," he said. "Our students should know that starting a business is an option -- not for all obviously, but for those with the right inclination, skills and passion to transform their ideas into a viable business."

"We want to expose them to the things that people face -- both good and bad -- as they go about trying to create their own companies. 'Is entrepreneurship for me?' It is important for students to be able to answer that question."

Gagnon brings unique perspectives to the job. He has done research in strategy and organizational behavior related to entrepreneurship, and he has participated in several start-up businesses -- one involving innovative, "green" building products. His industry expertise is in forest and building products.

"Not only have I been trained to teach and research entrepreneurship, but I have lived it," he said. "To me, this is about experiential learning. For those with the right skills, outlook and intellectual makeup, being an entrepreneur is a tremendous way to realize one's potential and to make a living."

Gagnon earned his doctorate in Forest Resources, with a minor in Business Administration, and his master's degree from Penn State.

In the year ahead, the college plans to invite successful entrepreneurs to visit and talk to classes, and this fall it will hold a student business-plan competition, utilizing the Harbaugh Endowment to award a $5,000 cash prize to the winning team.

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Last Updated August 25, 2011