HBS Introduces New Gen Ed for Undergrads

When Harvard Kennedy School professor Calestous Juma concluded his guest lecture on African entrepreneurial development for United States in the World 36: “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: American Experience in Comparative Perspective” last Thursday, hands shot into the air.

For the next 30 minutes, the undergraduates—who had trekked across the Charles River to the Harvard Business School for the lecture—queried Juma about the roles of corruption and foreign investment in building Africa’s infrastructure.

Led by Business School professors Joseph B. Lassiter and Mihir A. Desai, the new General Education course is the first to be offered exclusively to undergraduates at the Business School.

According to Lassiter and Desai, the course is founded on three complementary pedagogical methods: case studies teaching the tenets of entrepreneurship, guest lectures by professors from across Harvard about different manifestations of innovation, and the implementation of a final project in which the students utilize what they have learned in class to solve real world problems.

For the projects, which include initiatives with the cities of Boston and Washington, D.C., students will have the opportunity to work with organizations in both the private and public sectors,

The launch of the course this fall coincides with the opening of the Harvard Innovation Lab, a space where all University affiliates and local businesses can develop their entrepreneurial ideas through collaboration and instruction. The I-Lab will officially open on Nov. 18.

Although Lassiter said the decision to offer the course was not based on the unveiling of the I-Lab, he said that the two initiatives were related.

“We wanted to manifest the idea of one University and also have a flow of undergraduates that would come and help get the Innovation Lab off to a successful start,” Desai added.

Lassiter said they were originally unsure about the course’s ability to attract students.

“We had no idea whether anybody would walk across the river,” he said.

But the teaching staff was pleasantly surprised when more than 200 students shopped the course. After soliciting and reading more than 150 applications from prospective students, they admitted 95 enrollees.

Both professors lauded the undergraduates for their enthusiasm and engagement in class.

Although Lassiter and Desai said that the course has been in development for a long time, it was formally approved by the Standing Committee on General Education over the summer.

According to Stephanie H. Kenen, director of the Program in General Education, the class does not fall within the traditional bounds of the United States in the World Gen Ed category.

“It pushes the category a bit, but we thought it was worth trying,” she said.