When College Is Not Just A Degree, But An Incubator for Entrepreneurs

The current debate over the value of a college education has an oversimplified and often unbalanced equation at its heart.

Today's calculation has been reduced to degree + lucrative employment offer at graduation = good investment. A plus B equals C, and any other variables will adversely affect the result.

And while that certainly can be part of the story, what's missing are the life changes that an education produces, the opening of new possibilities for achievement, and the revelations of amazing new potential - all benefits that a high-school student filling out college applications with his or her parents cannot yet quantify.

If all goes well, I will graduate next spring from Flagler College in St. Augustine, becoming the first of my immediate family to earn a degree. But that document will represent more than just attending classes, writing papers and passing tests. Through my college experience, I have discovered a new direction for myself - I feel that I am entrepreneurial, empowered and on the road to success.

I wasn't expecting such an epiphany when I joined the campus Enactus (entrepreneurs in action) chapter, which establishes and works with social enterprises. It was a little bit out of my comfort zone, in fact. There I was, an art history major with a triple minor in anthropology, public history and plain old history, and I was joining a business club.

I found out quickly that Enactus is more than just an extracurricular, look-good-on-the-resume activity. When I first got involved I was a part of a lot of projects, but my passion really centered on a foster home for kids who were physically and mentally abused. Through St. Augustine Youth Services, we worked with them and counseled them, but the reality was and is that when they turn 18, they're on their own.

We decided to build a business with the boys. It's an all-natural, biodegradable soap that they manufacture and market themselves. We wanted to establish this business so it will be sustainable when I and others graduate. The "Soapy Tales" company has already made a profit of $4,200 selling its products in 19 stores around St. Augustine.

This start-up business helped the Flagler College Enactus team win, for the third time, the U.S. Enactus National Championship in a competition with 150 other colleges around the country, including Brigham Young - Hawaii, Arizona State, the University of Alabama, the University of Virginia, Oregon State and the University of North Carolina - Charlotte.

I received an individual Emerging Leader award for demonstrating proven leadership abilities with the Flagler Enactus team. The award came with a $5,000 scholarship - again, the first in my family - and an internship in Washington, D.C. with the Grocery Manufacturers Association. I was ecstatic.

Sponsors of the competition included Microsoft, Walmart, Kraft, Conagra and Coca-Cola. After I won the award, a lot of them wanted to talk to me about full-time jobs when I graduate because I now know how to start and run a business.

I come from a family of six siblings. My father didn't finish high school. My mother went to a vo-tech school, but did not graduate. My mother and my stepfather are my two greatest supporters today.

I started at a community college near my home in Orlando. After two years, I knew I wanted to continue. I came by and toured the campus, and I fell in love with Flagler College and St. Augustine. It was an adviser here who recommended Enactus to me as a worthwhile extracurricular activity. Flagler is a big supporter of Enactus.

But Enactus does so much more than act as a social organization and collect money through fundraisers. By being entrepreneurial and empowering, it changes people's lives - both students in the club and those we work with in the community.

I was able to learn how a business starts up, and that has definitely opened a lot of opportunities for me that I never had before. Those opportunities, and the confidence I now have to take them on, are parts of the college equation that cannot be discounted.