By: Geneva Nodland
Within the Paseka School of Business, the monthly First Thursdays program is the only meeting of its kind. The program promises to “enlighten and energize students and guests with entrepreneurial ambitions.”
“We’re big on experiential learning,” said Kennan Meyer, the founder of the program and the Director for Entrepreneurial Studies. “This a really good opportunity for students in the entrepreneur program, and across campus, to get some experiential learning by listening to people who are actually out in the field.”
Meyer has been working at MSUM for four years as a professor. He also has experience in adjunct work for six different universities and spent 28 years as an entrepreneur.
The first event of the series was actually the second Thursday of the month on Sept. 14, and speaker Paul Jensen lectured students on “Doing Business in Saudi Arabia.” The original date had to be rescheduled after the presenter had a death in the family. The rest of the year’s schedule will continue as planned.
Meyer also mentioned that they “have not had one in-house speaker for First Thursday—it’s always been somebody from the outside.” Each session has a different theme and unique guest speaker. The program has not repeated a theme or speaker in the two years it has been running.
“We want to make it different and exciting and appeal to everybody,” Meyer explained. “If you go to these things regularly, you’re going to pick something (new) up.”
He sets up “coffees” with the speakers beforehand so he knows what questions to ask. Meyer even coaches the speaker to prepare them, if needed, to speak in front of students. The basic setup is a 45-minute question-and-answer between the guest speaker and Meyer. The remaining 15 minutes is for student questions. Over the past years, the program attendance has grown; usually, 40-80 students show up. The program has very positive feedback.
“We’ve actually done surveys with students. … We received a 4.85 out of 5 satisfaction on this,” Meyer said, laughing. “It actually would be higher if it wasn’t for the food.” He explained that the students especially appreciated the speakers’ real-world experiences, though the cuisine is sometimes less than satisfactory.
“They bring in a whole different perspective than what you get out of a textbook,” Meyer said.
Meyer created the program by himself three years ago. He said the motivation for the program was a TV series called “Inside the Actors Studio.” On the show, they interview actors with an audience of students, with a 45-15 minute layout like the First Thursday series.
“The support around here is fantastic,” Meyer said. About 95% of reserved seats fill, but they have a lot of walk-ins in the crowd as well.
Justine Rittgers is an MSUM senior majoring in business administration with an emphasis in marketing, a minor in human resources and a certificate in consumer relations management. She has been attending the First Thursday event since it began. Rittgers said she really enjoys being able to ask questions to the speaker at the end of the program.
“It has opened my eyes to how many different organizations there are out there,” Rittgers said. She spoke passionately about different guest speakers who had an impact on her.
“(The program) makes me able to network with a bunch of people and learn about new people that are coming into the community and hoping to expand and get college students,” Rittger said.
Meyer is very passionate about the trade of entrepreneurial studies and getting young entrepreneurs the real life experience they need to be successful and knowledgeable in the field.
“I think (the program) gives them a perspective on what is going on in the industry right now,” Meyer said. “When you write a textbook, by the time you get it into a student’s hand, it’s a year or two old. And they basically write principals in those books. We go beyond the principals—we go into reality.”