Blog: Thomas Zurbuchen

In his spare time, Thomas Zurbuchen launches new instruments for spacecraft. His day job is as a U-M professor of space science and aerospace engineering. He is also the founding director of the engineering school's Center for Entrepreneurship. Thomas will be writing about how Michigan's universities are fostering student entrepreneurship.

Thomas Zurbuchen - Post 2: "The University of Michigan, Entrepreneurship, and its Students"

Students from the state of Michigan know the score. These are times of fierce economic challenges – perhaps more so in Michigan than in any other state of the union. Teachers also know that they have to change the way they do business – they’re well aware of what lies ahead for their students, especially those pursuing engineering and science degrees. Education has had to change with the times.

Today’s world is flat and changes rapidly! Competition is fierce – each engineer we educate in the U.S. has to compete with 50 engineers on the global stage. So education had better be good. And it had better be relevant.

Unfortunately, to a certain extent our education has lost value – a diploma used to be a passport to a great career; now it’s merely a single-entry visa. It’ll get a student his first job. After that, however, it takes a lot more than a piece of sheepskin and good performance on the job to maintain a career. It takes a mindset that one must become a life-long learner – coasting on yesterday’s knowledge and achievements doesn’t cut it anymore. Students’ success will come from a never-ending process of learning and incorporating that learning into their lives. It will also come from developing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Entrepreneurs are a different breed. In the words of two who would know – Hoa Ma, a professor of management at Peking University, China, and at the University of Illinois – Springfield; and renowned entrepreneur Justin Tan – entrepreneurs are people with a mindset that gives them “the desire to achieve, the passion to create, and the yearning for freedom, the drive for independence, and the embodiment of entrepreneurial visions and dreams through tireless hard work, calculated risk-taking, continuous innovation, and undying perseverance.” Entrepreneurs aren’t just two guys in a garage; they are people Michigan needs to fill its companies, small and big, if the state is to strive again!

We want to produce entrepreneurial engineers at the University of Michigan. But we can’t do that only by preaching in classrooms which we’re doing very persistently, by the way. We also have to give our students the encouragement, the resources, the challenge, and the empowering feeling that we want them to go out there and try.

Michigan's universities are addressing this challenge. We're not there yet, but we're surely on the way. I'm optimistic about the future of Michigan because I can see our young students' potential waiting to be unleashed.