An idea discussed between two Spring Hill College alumni will fully blossom in May when the first three graduates of the John J. Burke Jr. Center for the Study and Advancement of Free Enterprise are awarded their certificates.
Dr. Chris Puto, president emeritus at SHC and the director of the Burke Center, said the certificate program was launched in the fall of 2019. It began when John Burke Jr., a classmate of Puto’s at SHC in the 1960s, and Puto were serving together on the college’s Board of Trustees. Burke and Puto discussed a certificate program that would bring a Jesuit perspective to entrepreneurship -- that is, business serving the purpose of recognizing a meaningful problem, developing a strategy to address it, and then being rewarded for it with profits (or societal benefits).
It was an idea Puto had expressed in a 2004 article he wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper: “Note that this is a simple transposition of words from profit being the immediate goal to profit being a well-earned reward for achieving a higher-order goal. Yet it completely alters the outlook of everyone in the organization,” Puto wrote.
As a result of this conversation between the two Board of Trustee members, Burke and his wife, Kathryn Burke, committed to a $2 million endowment to SHC to fund the center and create a certificate program in free enterprise. It strives to help students and the community understand the foundations and the merits of the free enterprise system, but with a twist. “If they (students) identify a problem, and if they see it as meaningful in the market, they will know how to design an organization that satisfies that need,” Puto explained. “Importantly, this applies to any identifiable problem, be it a business, a nonprofit need, or a social movement,” he added. “All are ‘enterprises’ suitable to this program.”
This certificate program consists of four courses and is open to all undergraduate majors with a junior academic standing or above. The courses include: PHL 355 Markets and Morality; POL 389 Foundations of Free Markets and Free Societies; CFE 450 Understanding, Defining and Validating Market Needs; and CFE 455 Enterprise Development. Puto teaches the latter two of the classes, while the others are taught by fellow faculty members Tom Metcalf (philosophy) and Tom Hoffman (political science).
These first three soon-to-be graduates of the program include international studies major Isabella Albert, management/marketing major Lucia Reyes, and business administration major Robert Baricev. Three other students are set to be Class of 2022 graduates, Puto said.
Albert said last week that she has been able to immediately apply concepts from the class Enterprise Development to her work with the non-profit organization, “Eye Heart World,” which strives to address the problem of human trafficking. She called this class the one that has most directly linked to the outside world. “I think it’s been interesting to talk to Dr. Puto because he has this knowledge … that helped me change the way I saw the world and apply things I could use while I was working,” she said.
Reyes has been working on a project to form a consultancy that links local businesses with local non-profits with the purpose of businessmen and businesswomen becoming more socially responsible. “Dr. Puto showed us how to recognize needs and provide a real service rather than just sell something,” she said, adding that the class has helped her decide to make social responsibility a deeper area of study in the future.
Baricev, on the other hand, has seen the very real possibility that mask-wearing may become a staple in society, and he’s formulated a business plan that meets the demand for breathable masks to meet underserved needs. “Right now, as I go through interviews and job searches, I can already see how this program has given me a leg up on my competition because I have an understanding of market functions,” he said.
Speaking of the three students’ work, Puto said, “What we have here is what this program is all about: a real business, a social responsibility consulting group, and an organization that saves lives. This is very much what the Jesuits have in mind when they describe education as providing students with the knowledge and skills that they can then use to make our world a better place for all.”
Puto points out that students could become part of this program even late in their college careers, as all four of the classes will be offered in the 2021-2022 school year. Two of the classes count toward the core curriculum, while two others are electives. The certificate does not replace a major, but rather it’s intended to complement any major by helping students understand how to translate perceived problems into successful solutions.
In the future, Puto hopes to see this program have a steady group of incoming students from all academic disciplines at SHC.
“What I see is that it will never dominate the college; that’s not the point,” he said. “My goal was to have between 15 and 30 students per year going through. The idea is to give each student a competitive advantage in a very competitive marketplace where they live.”
For more information about the Burke Center, visit shc.edu/academics/freshmen-transfer/center-free-enterprise/.