The idea hit while studying for finals last year. Samantha Ruiz, a chemical engineering major interested both in preserving resources for future generations and owning a business someday, decided to start building the foundations of a sustainability consulting firm.
Together with fellow seniors Howard Kanter (on right) and Jordan Parker, also chemical engineering majors, Ruiz is participating in the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) Program, which offers selected students a fifth, tuition-free year of college to help transform an idea into reality. The group’s mission is to provide sustainability assessments for local companies, focusing on energy usage, waste management, recycling, and alternative work practices.
Over the next year, Ruiz, president of the University chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; Kanter, a professional liaison of AIChE; and Parker, an active member of Sigma Nu, will create a solid business plan, develop an assessment, and go through trial runs of that assessment with the campus financial aid and admissions offices and at least one business unaffiliated with the University.
The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit in numerous ways. The annual Forbes Entrepreneurial Award established in 1989, for example, encourages undergraduate engineering students to consider the commercial potential of their design projects or research. Recent winners invented health-monitoring devices and an identity confirmation system.
SEAS faculty are accessible and inspiring, says Ruiz, who often has lunch with her advisor and appreciates that her professors are familiar with her strengths and weaknesses.
“There’s a very supportive environment whether you want to do something new or something that’s been done before,” she adds. “Since the school is so small, I can do a lot, and people will notice right away. It really is encouraging.”