University of Vermont

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Liang's Teaching Launches Real Businesses

Students learn business skills and raise charity money. From left, Thomas Renner and Melanie Katz sell "Hemp for Humanity;" Isaiah Macias offers "Pumpin Pumpkin."

Using the same approach that rattles the traditional New England dairy industry toward change and inspires small- and mid-sized farms to create new products with existing resources (see adjacent story), Chyi-Lyi (Kathleen) Liang motivates students to understand the entrepreneurial business cycle in a mere semester, launch businesses on a shoestring and get real world experience.

She has created and taught seven different courses in UVM’s community development and applied economics department, most involving business entrepreneurship and community activism.

But it’s her Dollar Enterprise course that creates the most buzz.

This course, averaging 120 students per class, equips young entrepreneurs with a dollar each in seed money and a 12-step process to create and operate small ventures on campus. For three weeks they hawk their wares and tally profits, which are donated to charities. Knit goods, jewelry, art from repurposed products, food, tee shirts….

Thomas Renner, a senior majoring in public communications, combined his dollars with friends to launch the Hemp for Humanity bracelet business that raised $350 in three weeks toward a class total of over $2,000. “Kathleen is extraordinarily vibrant and passionate about what she teaches. She truly believes that her class will make a difference in our lives, and she encourages us to seek her help in the future,” says Renner.

Liang admits that while the products aren’t novel, the lessons learned are. It’s a quick intensive that equips students for real jobs and real business launches.

Liang’s work benefits UVM and the community too.

“This course has been instrumental in doubling the number of CDAE majors in five years,” says CALS Associate Dean Josie Davis, “and Dollar Enterprise donations have totaled nearly $20,000.”

The Dollar Enterprise concept generated a few bucks for Liang too. Her book by the same name published in 2009 is in its third edition. The book and journal articles on the topic have earned her media attention and many national professional awards. UVM’s graduating class has voted her Best Teacher of the Year Who Has the Most Positive Impact on Students – for 11 years running. In 2011, UVM gave her its highest teaching accolade: Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award.

"This Kroepsch-Maurice Award reflects the real impact Kathleen has had on thousands of CALS alumni who are now highly employed or highly successful entrepreneurs in Vermont and worldwide," says Jane Kolodinsky, CDAE chair. "We anticipate her inspiring many more entrepreneurial students in the future."

After all, this is a woman whose curriculum vitae is already almost as many pages long as her young age – 47 last December.


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