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Where Innovative Change Makers Confront Humanity's Urgent Challengers

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges.
This is the University of San Diego’s vision statement. It isn’t a catchy tagline or a lofty goal. It’s our true north and it informs the decisions we make and the paths that we take.

It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

We are Changemakers. We are innovators. We are confronting urgent challenges that face all of humanity.

At USD, this means sparking the entrepreneurial spirit and helping it grow and flourish.

The USD School of Business’ inaugural Fowler Business Concept Challenge, which awarded $45,000 in prize money, showcased many ideas that can make a difference in the world — and opened the doors for future Changemaker entrepreneurs.

The University of San Diego is at the edge of it all — on the edge of the Pacific, on the edge of an international border, and always on the edge of innovation and discovery. No matter what stage they’re in, student entrepreneurs who are wondering how best to pursue their vision, hone their concept, create their product, secure their funding, or launch their business — will find everything they need at USD.

The School of Law offers an entrepreneurship clinic helping business startups and emerging growth companies structure business entities, finance regulations, draft investment and employment agreements and protect intellectual property.

The College of Arts and Sciences offers a minor in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship, which prepares students to launch their own businesses or pursue careers in theatre or in the music industry. The School of Business offers a minor in entrepreneurship, designed to provide students with the foundational leadership and venture-vetting skills of highly successful entrepreneurs — whether their goal is to start a new business, advance in their career or join a fast-paced startup. Each fall, the School of Business also holds the USD Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference which, since 2011, has brought together students, alumni, investors and entrepreneurs for an interactive evening of coaching, collaborating and sharing the journey of the entrepreneurs.

The School of Leadership and Education Sciences is home to the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education, a nonprofit research and development institute focused on pioneering research, developing innovative curricula and technologies, supporting professional learning, and powering innovation in the classroom — for students in kindergarten to those pursuing doctoral degrees.

USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, ranked 13th in the nation, offers a three-tiered approach to entrepreneurship through the eTrack Initiative. It starts with an entrepreneurship track for senior design, continues with an Entrepreneurship

The USD School of Business fuels innovation through its Innovation Center, where startups boom, social enterprises flourish, jobs are created, wealth is built and global problems are confronted.

Scholars Program and culminates with participation in entrepreneurship awards and competitions. The eTrack Initiative develops an entrepreneurial mindset where student teams are creating successful ventures and bringing products to market.

Rise to the Challenge

To put those skills into practice, the University of San Diego created the Changemaker Challenge, an idea competition that in recent years has included the participation of approximately 25 percent of its first-year students. The Changemaker Challenge has focused on some of humanity’s most urgent challenges — including homelessness, migration and displacement.

The university also launched the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, a social venture pitch competition, which inspires student entrepreneurs around the world to connect and create sustainable business solutions to global issues. In 2019, 42 student teams from 12 countries on six continents shared their world-changing ideas, competing for $50,000 in seed funding. In addition to the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, the USD School of Business is also home to the Fowler Business Concept Challenge, both of which are named in honor of former USD Board of Trustees Chair Ron Fowler and his wife, Alexis.

The Fowler Business Concept Challenge is run by the USD School of Business Innovation Center. In 2019, Montreal’s Bria d’Amours and Haiti’s Carl Dumesle, two new international students in USD’s full-time MBA program, received the top prize of $15,000 in scholarship money for their idea called, Housing for Undergraduates and Graduate Students (HUGS) to make finding housing for international and out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students easier.

There are many resources, training and mentoring opportunities through various competitions at the University of San Diego, starting with the Fowler Business Concept Challenge and the Changemaker Challenge, moving to the Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition, Torero Ventures Lab and The Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, where students receive seed funding as prizes, and finally the San Diego Angel Conference, where San Diego companies vie for angel investment.

Through USD’s Master of Arts in Social Innovation from the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and participation in the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, Momo Bertrand, of Cameroon helped local refugees build life skills through basketball, accelerated the growth of a startup teaching English and digital literacy to refugees in Greece and prepared to train digital marketing students to share African success stories with the world.

The San Diego Angel Conference is the culmination of several events that help entrepreneurs become more investment-worthy, and sessions for accredited angel investors to “learn-by-doing.” In 2019, growth-oriented companies received $535,000 in angel investment, but the committed and ambitious investors are interested in nearly doubling the fund for the 2020 conference.

The Torero Ventures Lab is a class co-taught by faculty from USD’s business and engineering schools. Students, who are paired with faculty and entrepreneurship mentors with venture-specific expertise, build prototypes to test their business ideas and explore the customer experience before going to market

In 2019, graduate students in the School of Business — Robert Lawrence ’20, Noah Oliver ’20 and Sungho Ryu ’20 — launched a craft sparkling water company, SouthSwell, and sold their first 500 bottles by the end of the course.

“Our water is all-natural and purified through a 13-phase reverse osmosis purification system. We want the people who support us to feel good about their purchasing decisions — by receiving a product they love, and by knowing their dollars spent are helping to make a positive impact in the local community,” Oliver says. “In addition to using zero single-use plastics SouthSwell gives back a portion of all profits toward the fight against ocean pollution and conserving our coastlines.”

That extra attention to sustainability, social justice and changing lives, truly is the Torero way.

Supporting Innovation in the Community

While the University of San Diego offers a variety of resources to student entrepreneurs, it also support entrepreneurs in the community.

The University of San Diego established The Brink Small Business Development Center to focus on innovation-based companies. Now, through an additional partnership with the County of San Diego, it created the InnovateUp program focused on creating quality jobs and supporting economic growth in the local communities where it’s most needed — including Chollas, City Heights, Encanto, Linda Vista, Rolando Park and Redwood Village. The Brink also supports many women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

Since January 2018, The Brink has worked with more than 650 companies, has supported more than 4,000 jobs and raised $45 million in capital. Recently, it was named the No. 1 business incubator by the San Diego Business Journal.

USD became the only university in the nation with two alumni in NASA’s current astronaut program, which includes Jonathan Kim ’12 (third from left) and Matthew Dominick ‘05 (fifth from left).

Living and Learning

The university’s dedication to innovation isn’t just infused in what students learn, but also in how they live. The university’s five Living Learning Communities (LLC) give first-year students the opportunity to live and learn together. The largest of the LLCs is dedicated to innovation.

Students living here practice social entrepreneurship that leads to positive change in the community and let their compassion drive their curiosity.

They take a range of courses together, including introduction to the fundamentals of architecture, introduction to cinema, to sculpture, to media studies, to engineering, bioenergetics and systems, to genomes and evolution, to general chemistry, to acting, and to world religions, among others.

These are just some of the USD courses that promote entrepreneurship, innovation and Changemaking.

Why? Because the World Needs Changemakers

No matter where they’re living or what they’re learning, USD’s entrepreneurs and innovators look at everything through the lens of a Changemaker.

The University of San Diego was the first on the West Coast — and remains one of only 50 universities in the world — to be designated as a Changemaker Campus. Here, classroom learning is connected to social justice and social change. More than 500 courses include a service component. More than 8,000 students participate in service-learning projects annually. And, each year, the faculty, staff and students contribute more than 400,000 public service hours globally. Just as there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue innovation, there are also countless ways the University of San Diego helps prepare students to change the world.

Julia McNeely ’20 (second from right) is the first student at USD to graduate with a minor in Changemaking.

Much of the activity on this front is led by USD’s Changemaker Hub. The Hub hosts events, encourages students to be part of larger global communities, including Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows, and offers campus endeavors such as the Changemaker Faculty Fellows program. Faculty members learn to incorporate social innovation in the classroom, in their research and in their work in the community.

The Changemaker Hub also recently hosted the Urgent Challenges Collective, a strategic funding initiative focused on innovative ways to address the issues of homelessness and food insecurity.
In Fall 2017, the College of Arts and Sciences launched a minor in Changemaking, which features courses social entrepreneurship, leadership, social justice, law and theology and teaches students to achieve transformative and systematic social change.

Julia McNeely ’20, who majored in sociology with an emphasis in law, crime and justice, was the first student to graduate from USD with a minor in Changemaking.

She worked in USD’s Center for Student Success and was a member of Alpha Kappa Delta, an international honor society dedicated to the advancement of sociology. McNeely was also director of community service for Rotaract, an international youth program tied to Rotary, was part of the First Generation Student Association, and served as president of Linda Vista Dollars for Scholars, which raises money for graduating high school seniors who will be the first in their family to attend college.

The 2019 Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference was hosted by USD School of Business’ new Innovation Center — led by (from left) Strategic Initiatives Manager Karolina Rzadkowlska, Founding Director Priya Kannan-Narasimhan, USD School of Business Professor and Adviser Amit Kakkad, and Entrepreneurship Manager Regina Bernal.

McNeely has been admitted into the 2020 Teach for America Corps in San Diego and plans to dedicate her career to reforming the educational system so it’s attainable by all.

“While I graduate with a minor in Changemaking, that’s not what makes me a Changemaker,” McNeely says. “Rather, it’s what I do with this degree that makes me a Changemaker.”

Aside from pursuing a minor in Changemaking, students can also earn a Master of Arts in Social Innovation from USD’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. They tackle real, relevant social challenges around the world — by curbing ongoing violence in Mexico, promoting socioeconomic growth in Rwanda and pondering solutions that are workable and scalable.

One of the program’s standout graduates is Momo Bertrand from Cameroon, who earned his master’s in social innovation in 2019.

“Every time I traveled out of Africa, people would talk about safaris or Ebola or poachers chasing elephants,” Bertrand says. “But what I saw were entrepreneurs chasing their dreams. I felt a need to transform the way people look at the continent.” His lofty goal is to rebrand Africa — and now the Kroc School’s master’s in social innovation will help him do just that.

The Kroc School is also home to an event known as Peace Innovators, which brings together change leaders from different disciplines to share stories about the impact they’re witnessing, the insights they’re gaining and the ideas they’re putting into action to bring about the solutions the world so desperately needs.

Changemaking is just as intrinsic to the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, where students are known as Changemaker engineers. Some of those Changemaker engineers have implemented water filtration systems and more efficient stoves in the Dominican Republic. Others have learned how to remove contaminants from the water supply in Uganda, where water quality is extremely poor and where intestinal diseases is the sixth-leading cause of death.

The Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community Awareness and Social Action, also established the Engineering Exchange for Social Justice. Through this exchange, the University of San Diego is turning community-defined “problem briefs” into actionable student assignments, design projects, research theses or extracurricular pro bono engineering projects — all supported by faculty and local engineering professionals.

Elizabeth Kresock ’20, a double major in computer science and mathematics, is working with San Diego Youth Services to design a document showing the location of food banks and shelters throughout San Diego.

Simaran Chauhan ’20 — who lived in seven different countries by the time she was 21 and has been a member of Engineers Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity for nearly a decade — wrote draft policy on nuclear energy as an assignment from an ambassador with the United Nations. Since then, she’s been speaking about sustainability at conferences in New York, Seoul, Korea, and Geneva, Switzerland.

Industrial and Systems Engineering student Daniel Ley ’20 says industrial engineering is all about removing waste and decreasing variability to ensure that processes and organizations can be sustainable on the business side and from an environmental perspective. To that end, he became a certified Six Sigma Green Belt and now facilitates a workshop for nonprofit executives through a San Diego organization called Urban Corps.

Soon he will take on another venture, creating edible bowls and cups out of super foods. The project will apply engineering design concepts, industrial engineering process improvement concepts, and design of experiments.

“With growing concerns of climate change and the continual use of single-use plastic items, we must start to rethink how we package our food and consumer goods,” says Ley. “If we don’t, our local and global communities will begin to suffer as resources become contaminated and scarce.”

In addition to these and other standout students, USD’s alumni also are innovators, entrepreneurs and Changemakers. They are not only making a difference around the world but beyond.

Matthew Dominick ’05 graduated with a degree in electrical engineering with minors in math and physics, while Jonathan Kim ’12 graduated summa cum laude with a degree in math. Today, they are NASA astronauts who are eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars.

Their stories began at the University of San Diego, where a values-based education and an ecosystem for innovation prepares students to be innovative Changemakers who confront the urgent challenges of this world.

At USD, not even the sky’s the limit!

University San Diego

(619) 260-4600
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

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