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Endowment helps students become “King of the Hill”iard

The newly-established $3 million Debbie and Mike Hilliard ’73 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment will give Liberal Arts students the tools needed to impact the world.

by Heather Rodriguez ’04

Inside every College of Liberal Arts student resides the mind of a visionary, the heart of a philanthropist, and the spirit of an entrepreneur. Thanks to the $3 million Debbie and Mike Hilliard ’73 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment, Liberal Arts students will learn how to use all three to impact the world.

The endowment will also fund scholarships and faculty support for the creation of an innovation and entrepreneurship minor and certificate program within the college—a natural fit as Liberal Arts is known for critical thinking, transformational learning, and interdisciplinary collaboration. These funds allow the college to continue to draw the highest-caliber faculty and students and create the business leaders of tomorrow.

“We live in a different world from when I wanted to start my business, when you could still go to a bank and have a chance to receive funding,” Mike Hilliard said. “It’s our hope that future A&M students can have the same chances my generation had.”

Pamela Matthews, dean of Liberal Arts, said, “These days, our graduates must leave Texas A&M University with more than the traditional knowledge and skills a foundational Liberal Arts education provides them. They also must have the ability to apply their knowledge to practical purposes as they enter the workforce. The generosity of Debbie and Mike Hilliard ‘73 will give us the resources to develop programming and provide scholarships to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in our students.”

Interest in entrepreneurship studies has been on the rise in recent years, particularly since the 2008 recession. Studies show that the younger generation, particularly liberal arts students, crave more authority over their careers and want to use their creativity to spark real change in the world.

“Liberal Arts plays a crucial role in entrepreneurship, as the students are trained to identify economic and social issues and come up with creative solutions,” said Pat Thornton, professor in the Department of Sociology and key faculty leader in the initiative for entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship and innovation don’t just provide Liberal Arts students and graduates with career autonomy and a creative outlet; it eliminates dependence on obsolete technologies and jumpstarts the economy, benefitting everyone. And it’s not a moment too soon.

“For the first time in history, more businesses are being killed than are being born in the United States,” Thornton said. “We have to turn that around. The renewal of the economy and society happens through the starting of new businesses; it’s the heart of what builds a community.”

Ultimately, the root of entrepreneurship and College of Liberal Arts students is one of the university’s core values: selfless service.

“I’ve taught entrepreneurship studies for 20 years, and I’ve never heard them say ‘I’m doing this for the money.’ I’ve heard, ‘I’m doing this to make a difference,’” Thornton said. “And that’s part of the Aggie spirit. In fact, it’s a short step from the Aggie spirit to the entrepreneurial spirit.”

For more information on how you can impact entrepreneurship and innovation in the College of Liberal Arts, please contact Larry Walker.