What If Williams? – Josemaria Silvestrini

What if Williams had funding for and spaces designed to allow students to pursue unique ideas and creative projects each semester, ideas and projects that would motivate them to develop the skills, resourcefulness, and experience needed to make a positive impact in our world? What if Williams leveraged our tremendous alumni network and human capital to forge not just a deeper community on campus, but a William’s family united in the crusade towards a better world, a world in which innovation and entrepreneurship contribute to solving the many problems our world faces? What if Williams, through accentuating a greater focus on social entrepreneurship, became the world’s first real incubator of social change in higher education?

In This Changes everything, Naomi Klein emphasizes the urgent need to do more about climate change. She encourages her audience to move the economy in a direction that will allow us to address climate change in substantive ways, while simultaneously tackling some of our most pressing issues of inequality. I believe that it is fully in the spirit of a Williams, liberal arts, education to press not just our energy and our thoughts, but our very being towards this goal.

Is this a monumental task? Yes, but it is a challenge worthy of our skills and efforts. Is it unreasonable for us to believe we can do this? Perhaps, but it is, more unreasonable for us to believe we shouldn’t try. If we don’t believe that we have the will to meet the challenge, then who does? If we do not believe that we have the intelligence, the integrity, the imagination, the courage, and the conviction, then who does? Williams is the most prestigious liberal arts college in the United States. Every student is here for a reason, and it is certainly not because we have limited potential.

At Williams we have a diversity of opinions, a variety of talents, and myriad passions. I have friends who dream of building smart cities around the world that thrive on renewable energy, innovative technology, and an equitable educational platform. I have friends who want to build bio-exoskeletons to give our veterans and our disabled the opportunity to walk and lead happier, more carefree lives.

I have the audacity to believe that at the top-rated liberal arts college in the country, more can be done on the part of the administration and faculty to enable and ennoble students to transform their visions into reality. I see no reason why we cannot have a sensible discretionary fund for social entrepreneurship at Williams. If students at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Middlebury and other top tier institutions have these kinds of resources and opportunities available to them, we should have them here at Williams.

Promoting and advancing business and entrepreneurship is a way of and to, the future. Williams student should be well-suited to shape and contribute to the creation and utilization of new technologies, goods, and services that can enhance our way of life.

Of course there will be those who say that promoting entrepreneurship and investing in the creation of new technology is antithetical to the very principles upon which a liberal arts education should be founded. I, however, could not be more convinced that such a view is mistaken, and I could not be more confident that making innovation and social entrepreneurship on this campus a priority not only coincides with, but congeals the academic and civic virtues that Williams commits itself to nurturing.

In our mission statement, we state that it is the goal of this institution to encourage students to explore widely and deeply, to think critically, to reason empirically, to express clearly, and to connect ideas creatively. Our mission statement posits that a Williams education aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to engage in the public realm and community life outside of the Purple Valley. We say that it is our mission to provide students with the most versatile, the most durable, and in an ultimate sense the most practical knowledge and intellectual resources that can be offered.

I believe that everyone here believes in the power and importance of innovation, openness, creativity, flexibility, and critical thinking. I too believe that each of these things is vital to social change in our society. To enhance the quality of our education, to enrich our interactions, and to prepare us to affect positive change in the world, it is incumbent on all of us to attend to the ways in which we can assist each other in making possible a Williams College that refuses to settle for being anything less than what we know to be our best.

That is why I am asking every student and member of our community to come together to think and push for ways in which we as an institution can make ourselves into a haven for innovation and progress.

3 thoughts on “What If Williams? – Josemaria Silvestrini

  1. In my experience, most academics seriously underestimate how difficult it is to start a business. They do not get the fact that you need to create something that other people want, are willing to pay for, and that you can produce on time and still make a profit. This is infinitely more challenging that writing a book, or — the even easier task — of copying or expounding on things already written in other people’s books. This was the case, by the way, of feminist professor Rosemarie Tong. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1987/10/17/williams-professor-plagiarized-pa-popular-teacher/ Thinking through the issue, it might be wise to leave the the entrepreneurship lessons to those with higher ethical standards and a little more real world experience.

    • Williams is an institution that prides itself on its ethics and moral standing. To say that the mistakes of one professor almost thirty years prior are demonstrative of an institution’s poor ethics is ludicrous. In a college of our age and prestige there will always be moments for critics to point, even if they must scour through decades past. In referencing Professor Tong, however, you entirely miss the point of the piece.

      We all recognize that the world is changing at an unprecedented pace and for our students to stay ahead of that change they must have a skill set that allows them to identify and systematically solve problems. To not endow our college and its members with these skills is to resign them to years of catch up with students at other institutions, and to deny our country and the world of great thinkers at a time when we need them most. If you were on this campus and saw the passion with which our students spoke of the problems they aim to solve you would never say that they lack an understanding of what people need and want. Their entire mindset stems from the customer forward. Our students want to learn how to make an impact and the only way they’re going to garner that “real world experience” is by taking a shot and trying. I believe that even if they should fail, our students have the fortitude and resilience to pick themselves up and try again. Our undergraduate years are the ideal time to learn these entrepreneurial lessons in an environment like Williams where the downsides are nonexistent and the upsides compound with each new student and each new iteration. So no Dr. Drew, I do not think we should leave these lessons on the table for others to retrieve. I know that we as an institution must take up this mantle so we may give each student the ability to control their own destiny, while at the same time improving all our fortunes.

  2. I can save you a lot of time and trouble. If you are serious about learning about business then check out the following books.

    Tim Ferris, The Four Hour Work Week http://fourhourworkweek.com/
    and this book by my friend Michael Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited, at http://www.amazon.com/The-E-Myth-Revisited-Small-Businesses/dp/0887307280

    It was difficult for me to transfer from being a nationally recognized scholar to becoming a successful businessman. I which I had these two book when I first left the academic world.

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