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Students flocking to entrepreneurial classes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a newfound entrepreneurial mindset takes hold in Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico and high school educators are working to guide enthusiastic students into creative, business-oriented pathways.

This fall, UNM’s Anderson School of Management is launching its first “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course for undergraduate freshman and sophomores. At the same time, the university’s Innovation Academy, which opened last fall, is bracing for a surge in enrollment, from about 280 this past year to 500 by December.

And, this August, Siembra Leadership High School — the first new charter approved by Albuquerque Public Schools in seven years  — will initiate classes Downtown, offering students hands-on entrepreneurial skills, knowhow and experience as they prepare for college and careers.

“There’s so much buzz going on, and students want to know what it’s all about,” said Stacy Sacco, lecturer and director of UNM’s Small Business Institute. “We want to open the door to provide them an initial gateway to entrepreneurship.”

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Sacco and distinguished Anderson professor Sul Kassicieh will teach the new introductory course, which they created because of surging student interest. A “New Venture Strategies” class for juniors and seniors, for example, saw enrollment more than double from less than 20 in recent years to nearly 40 today.

“There’s clearly much more awareness about entrepreneurship, and that’s key to New Mexico’s future,” Kassicieh said. “As educators, it’s incumbent on us to help guide students forward.”

Overall, enrollment at Anderson increased to 1,819 students this past year, up 3.7 percent from the previous academic year, said Dean Craig White. But while general interest in the business school is up, growth is especially noticeable in entrepreneurship courses.

“We’re seeing some classes expand by double digits,” White said. “It’s a hot area that students are interested in.”

That’s particularly evident at the Innovation Academy, which offers students direct experience and real-world skills in entrepreneurship through internships and projects. The Academy is part of the new Innovate ABQ initiative to develop a bustling center for startup businesses in Downtown Albuquerque.

“We’re seeing more young people who say they want to be self-employed and have control over their own careers and future,” said Academy director Robert DelCampo. “We want to teach them the skills and knowledge they need to do it.”

Anderson’s new introductory course will teach the very basics of what launching a business is all about, to encourage students while also showing them the challenges involved.

“It’s a reality check,” Sacco said. “We want students be realistic, because it’s not just ‘build it and they will come.'”

Siembra Leadership High School, meanwhile, will target students at even younger ages. The school, located in the Anasazi building, is deliberately located near the Innovate ABQ site at central and Broadway to immerse students in Albuquerque’s emerging Innovation District. All students will be required to form their own business, nonprofit or social enterprise as a capstone project for graduation, said Siembra director of community engagement Jessica Aranda.

“We want them to learn the underlying mindset of entrepreneurship,” Aranda said. “That includes taking risks and maybe failing, but in a nurturing atmosphere where they can benefit from the learning opportunities connected to those failures. All that is part of the entrepreneurial concepts that are gaining real momentum in Albuquerque right now.”

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