Dr. Elisabeth Cawthon, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CoLA) opened the Second Annual Festival of Ideas (FOI) by “addressing the elephant in the room”. She quipped, “Why are we talking about entrepreneurship in the College of Liberal Arts?” She thought that most of the audience, which consisted of over 350 high school students, local entrepreneurs, and UTA students and professors, was probably thinking that the College of Business should have hosted the forum instead. “I have been fortunate to have been in the College of Liberal Arts for over 30 years and I can bear witness that it does not take a business degree to become a successful business owner,” Cawthon said. “Conversely, everyone who has earned a degree in business will not necessarily have all of the tools required to maintain a successful business.”
It was because of the breadth and depth of the 12 departments within the college coupled with Cawthon’s assertion that liberal arts graduates have such a broad base of training for turning an idea into a successful plan of action, that made this year’s title, “the Entrepreneurial Spark in Liberal Arts, “ seem so appropriate. Cawthon said, “There is a global link to entrepreneurship. Exploring entrepreneurship says to the world that ‘I have a solution to a problem’. Maybe that spark of an idea will be elevated locally, within the community, with bottom-up experimentation.” She wants to encourage this generation of creative scholars to explore entrepreneurship without fear of some perceived limitation.
The format for this year’s forum consisted of brief, yet dynamic remarks by five guest speakers on varying topics related to entrepreneurship. Between the featured speakers, forum attendees could visit interactive displays related to the topics. CoLA faculty also gave mini-presentations on their current research in innovation and entrepreneurship as the most recent winners of the CoLA research initiative: Liberal Arts + Smart Revolution, or iLASR. Cawthon told the audience, “We hope to both inform and inspire you today as future entrepreneurs through our wide array of entrepreneur experts and grant presenters.”
The forum’s first featured speaker, Ryan Musselman, is the President of OpTic Gaming and an early pioneer in the convergence of digital media and esports. OpTic Gaming is a giant in the field of esports and has teams playing some of the most popular video game franchises to include Call of Duty, Halo and League of Legends. The award winning UTA Esports team also set-up an interactive display during the forum, which was one of the most popular displays of the day among the younger attendees.
Mussleman connected with the many esports fans in the audience. He recounted that growing up, he had always dreamt of being a professional esports player. He said he had a lot of drive and passion for the sport. Eventually he joined a team and was mildly successful as they competed in many gaming events. By the time he graduated from the College of Liberal Arts at Arizona State, he realized that he was not as good as other players on the team. Musselman said, “I decided that it may be best if I put my passion for the game in my pocket.” Musselman realized that just because being a gamer was what he wanted to do, it didn’t mean that he should ignore the opportunities that were presented to him down the road to grow the business of esports gaming instead . “Remember that passion will get you started and opportunity will get you there,” said Musselman.
As an alternate perspective, Chris Christian, co-owner of the Dallas Wings WNBA team based in Arlington Texas said that he was only successful when he pursued endeavors that motivated him. Christian also spent over 30 years in the music industry and was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, with four wins. A prolific songwriter, Christian was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame and the West Texas Music Hall of Fame. He has written over 3000 songs recorded by mega-stars like Elvis, Olivia Newton-John, Natalie Cole, Amy Grant, BJ Thomas, Pointer Sisters, Al Jarreau and many more. Christian said it was his passion for piano playing that turned his God given talent into a successful business. Following his passion and entrepreneurial spirit, he has also written jingles for Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, GMC, Frito-Lay, Chick Fil-A, and McDonald’s. Christian said he values the “how” over the “what” when it comes to translating passion into success. He described that when someone approaches him with what they call a great idea he always thinks, “now what?” Christian urged the audience, “Figure out how to execute all of those really great ideas and I will be really impressed.”
These experts in their fields were brought together for the benefit of young, future entrepreneurs through the generosity of CoLA’s Festival of Ideas Global Institute. Created in 2005 with an endowment from UTA alumnus Mustaque Ahmed (’81) to the College of Liberal Arts, festival events are conducted at least annually. Ahmed’s intent was to create an outlet for students and the community to explore cultural and academic ideas together. His overall goal was to “highlight the amazing initiatives within UTA, and the College of Liberal Arts specifically, while engaging the community towards the betterment of the world.”
In accordance with UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020 Bold Solutions l Global Impact, the university focuses on transformational research in the areas of health and the human condition, sustainable urban communities, global environmental impact and data-driven discovery.
Keeping within Ahmed’s original intent and UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020, FOI attendees not only took away words of wisdom from the featured speakers, they also received a glimpse into the iLASR grant research through CoLA faculty presentations. This research includes several entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives like “UT Arlington records,” a new record label housed in the Department of Music; “MusicDetour,” an archive of music performed and created in the DFW metroplex ; “cART,” a mobile way to display and sell faculty and student art; and “Wild Pony Editions,” a student and faculty managed print operation housed in the Department of Art and Art History.
The program ended with rousing remarks from student entrepreneur and UTA graduating senior Micka Alves. Alves, who became a single mother at a young age, started a successful non-profit organization to benefit disadvantaged young women who aspire to go to college, in partnership with Girls Inc. Dallas. She also co-founded a local custom design start-up, which has grown to nearly 30 locations in Texas. A phenomenal student, Alves is currently holding a 4.0 G.P.A. in each of her double majors of Legal History and Communication.
Alves deviated from her prepared speech in the interest of time and spoke from the heart. With a few audible breaks of emotion in her voice, Alves described how extremely hard she has worked for her many successes. The young audience was captivated. She said she wanted to impress upon the students that they are able to do anything, despite adversity or hardships, as long as they are willing to put in the work. “You are entitled to nothing. Everything that you want in this life you have to earn.” Alves was the only speaker of the day to receive a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks.
The next CoLA Festival of Ideas Forum is tentatively planned for the fall of 2018. While CoLA typically only schedules one large FOI per year, Cawthon said she received feedback that people want a follow-up to the February 2017 Festival of Ideas Forum which had an immigration theme. Cawthon said, “Because of its popularity, we are thinking about doing another immigration forum, or two, within the year.” Cawthon said that as long as the students continue to be engaged and interested, she would consider an increase in the frequency of FOI events. “We welcome feedback on topics and format for any future Festival of Ideas. We are proud that, through these events, we are inspiring future generations of liberal artists to think deeply about varying topics that affect their communities, and beyond.”
To find out more about CoLA’s Festival of Ideas Global Institute or the College of Liberal Arts, please visit the webpages. View the 2018 FOI event photos on the CoLA Flickr page. Full videos of the speaker and grant presentations are to be published on the 2018 Festival of Ideas event webpage.