In Term 8, Blake Nelson '15 studied entrepreneurship with Professor David Burgess in ECB251 Introduction to Entrepreneurship. He “absolutely loved” the fully-enrolled class. “We need more of these,” he said, and added that he had “never had a class that was so engaging.” The learning was active. The focus was on projects. He and his classmates gained experience standing up, pitching their ideas, and working together on teams. By the end of the term, they had developed plans for their own enterprises.
During the term, Jennifer Ott, a representative of the University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, visited Cornell College to talk about the center's Student Accelerator. This is a ten week long summer program to develop entrepreneurial talents. Participants earn academic credit. The program provides each student with scholarships that cover the cost of tuition. The program also provides each student with a $2000 stipend.
Professor Burgess and his students met with Jennifer Ott. Students learned about the very special opportunity at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. Professor Burgess encouraged his students to apply for admission into the program. He helped Blake and others put together their applications.
The program enrolls teams of three. Blake sought partners. He sent e-mail to classmates and interviewed candidates. Talitha Bennett '14 and Trevor Gretten '15 joined his team.
They called their winning proposal “Canine Partner Advocates.” The Student Accelerator accepted only ten teams. These ten teams include two teams from Cornell College. (The members of the other Cornell team are Grace Callahan '14, TJ Robison '17, and Peter Tran '15.)
Talitha was graduated in May. She studied English and creative writing. She has interests in editing (she edited Open Field, Cornell College's literary magazine) and marketing communications. She has a background in graphic design.
Talitha and Blake grew up in New Jersey and studied at a community college near home before coming to Cornell College.
Trevor grew up in Mount Vernon. He is a manager at Gary's supermarket in Mount Vernon. He has been working at the store for four and a half years. In the course of community service undertaken with a local Boy Scout troop, he learned how to solicit donations of labor and donations in kind. He organized and directed volunteers. An early interest in entrepreneurship led him to create a Web site for a community center while he was still a student in high school.
Blake is studying religion and philosophy. Blake and Trevor share an interest in philosophy and have taken several courses together.
Blake and Talitha are dog lovers who have seen first hand how dogs can provide emotional support to people with special needs. Their aim is to provide psychiatric service dogs to people who are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and similar disabilities. People have been training and using dogs for psychiatric service for about twenty-five years. Their use with disabled veterans is well-known. Blake, Talitha, and Trevor see unmet needs among other populations. The kind of support that psychiatric service dogs can provide is not yet so widely available in the Midwest as it is in some other parts of the country.
The cost of training a psychiatric service dog is high. Prices in the current market for a trained dog start at $30,000. Most of the cost is in the cost of labor. The high cost follows from the need of a trainer to work with an animal for a year or more. The trainer works directly with the owner and dog in the final phase. Owners and the organizations that train the dogs cooperate in fund-raising that defrays the cost for owners.
The three students have outlined a plan for reducing costs.
The three teammates have acquainted themselves with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act that regulate the use of service animals. They have learned how the law distinguishes among several kinds of service animals. The law defines the rights of disabled persons who make use of service animals. For example, it allows them to take their animals into public accommodations. They have begun to learn how insurance covers these services.
Trainers can teach a dog to remind an owner to take medicine. They can teach a dog to recognize an owner's anxious state and calm the owner by, for example, leaning against the person, turning on lights, or stepping between the owner and other people who might be making the owner feel anxious. The three students speak of service dogs providing “continuous bio-feedback.”
Professor Burgess will continue to advise Blake, Talitha, and Trevor. They will be working with Cornell's Civic Engagement Office. They have found a woman in Dubuque who has experience in the field that they are entering. She has also agreed to advise them. Through the Student Accelerator, they will meet and learn from other mentors and peers.
Their enterprise is a not for profit organization. Their mission includes education and advocacy, training, and support.