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Applying the Entrepreneurial Model of Experiential Learning in Political Science Courses to Encourage Civic Engagement

12 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2012  

Nathan Conroy

Marquette University

Date Written: February 10, 2012


Despite clear evidence of continued declining civic engagement, especially among young people, most civic engagement projects focus on public service, advocacy, or work in the not-for-profit sector. This emphasis exists despite the fact that these careers are generally held in low-esteem (e.g., lobbyist) or feature below average wages (e.g. non-profit). We suggest that students may be more engaged by the prospect of a career in business that combines a social or political function. Broadly, this can be called social entrepreneurship. Building on the combined scholarship of political scientists such as Richard L. Fox and David A. Kolb, as well as economics and business education research, we propose an entrepreneurial model of experiential learning for the political science classroom. In business and economics curricula, direct interactions with “real-world” community members and internships are central learning opportunities, but are wholly distinct from the kind of knowledge gained though entrepreneurial experiences. In the latter, students analyze market failures and identify opportunities to exploit the current market environment. Their task then is to design and implement new ventures that better fulfill this unmet market need. Regardless of whether the idea fails or spins-off to become a successful company, tremendous learning is gained from working through the authentic start-up process. By contrast, experiential learning literature in political science has focused on traditional internships, community service activities, or consulting projects. While valuable, such experiences only engage an issue through the actors and institutions already existing to address the issue rather than have students develop innovative paths to solve the underlying problem. Our paper describes a new model of experiential learning based on experience with such an effort at Marquette University. In close collaboration with the national social entrepreneurship movement, as well as regional private and public organizations, the entrepreneurial experiential learning model was piloted in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. In the Spring of 2011, an undergraduate Environmental Policy course was taught following the entrepreneurial experiential learning model. The class was centered on students having to identify a current environmental problem, study the existing interested actors, then create and implement new ventures that looked beyond established advocacy or legislative paths. The result was an award winning innovative platform for water conservation that students continued to champion beyond the end of the semester. Lessons from the pilot class, including its effects on long-term levels of student civic engagement, as well as suggestions for improvements, further research, and implementation will be discussed.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Experiential Learning, Civic Engagement, Social Ventures

Suggested Citation

Conroy, Nathan, Applying the Entrepreneurial Model of Experiential Learning in Political Science Courses to Encourage Civic Engagement (February 10, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Nathan Conroy (Contact Author)

Marquette University ( email )

United States

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