MethodologyResearch Question: How can HCS improve members' accessibility to entrepreneurial and professional resources while still maintaining a tight-knit community within the society?
In order to answer the above research question, this project ventures outside of Harvard's campus and studies the methods of other universities' clubs and organizations so that we can compare and contrast HCS' attributes with another established club. Through this comparison, this project hopes to identify HCS' strengths and areas of improvement.
For my action research, I chose to study another club whose goals were as similar to those of HCS as possible but whose methods for completing these goals were different enough to compare as well. With these criteria in mind, I chose to examine MIT’s TechX and its approaches to entrepreneurship within the tech sector. HCS and TechX have previously collaborated in a Wagamama ramen joint community night in Harvard Square that I personally organized back when I was the External Relations Director in 2016. As a result, we have established friendly relationships with previous board and committee members. This has made communication for this particular project easier, since my relationship with TechX has already been coordinated.
Why MIT?I decided to conduct my action research at MIT for a variety of reasons. The first one being that MIT is geographically similar to Harvard. They are both located in Cambridge and are within walking distance of Boston, a large economic and cultural center of the Greater Boston area that houses many major tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. As a result, the two schools have access to the same external resources, and this similarity means that I can more accurately compare and contrast the entrepreneurial approaches that both the Harvard Computer Society and TechX employ when dealing with outside entities, such as companies, hackathons, and alumni. With neither school having a geographic advantage, it was easier to compare the two schools amongst other criteria, such as alumni, school culture, entrepreneurial offerings, and so forth.
Harvard and MIT are also fundamentally different with regards to their educational goals. Harvard is a liberal arts college dedicated to the humanities and MIT is a polytechnic institution that stresses applied sciences and engineering. I was able to study how this drastic difference affected the cultures on both of these schools' campuses, including the pros and cons that they offered.
TechX BackgroundOn April 5th, I had the opportunity to interview a current member of TechX’s XFair committee, and they were able to give me a background as to how TechX and its different sub-committees function. For anonymity and brevity purposes, the individual I interviewed shall be addressed as Ted. According to Ted, TechX is a student-run organization that focuses on empowering the MIT student body by developing new technologies, promoting fresh ideas, and inviting top tech-innovators on MIT’s grounds; thus, TechX and HCS share similar ideologies when it comes to their missions on campus.
With regards to the structure of the club, it is organized into six committees, with the Executive Team & Committee Directors governing over the other five subcommittees, and each of the subcommittees has a software developing, marketing, and finance team. The following are the names and descriptions of the six subcommittees, as well as a diagram from the organization’s website to illustrate how the club is structured:
- HackMIT: Organizes MIT's largest annual undergraduate hackathon. Over the span of a weekend, a thousand hackers from all over the world come together to experiment and innovate on software and hardware projects on MIT's campus.
- XFair: A career fair and technology expo. It is split into two committees. The Logistics committee handles all the behind-the-scenes planning during the months leading up to xFair as well as the day of xFair. The Corporate Relations team communicates with companies to bring their hottest new tech.
- MakeMIT: Organizes one of the world's largest hardware hackathons, bringing together hundreds of makers, designers, artists, and engineers to bring their crazy ideas to life.
- ProjX: Grants funding to MIT students who want to build their own projects. They also host showcase events, maintain an online gallery, and run occasional workshops.
- THINK: Aims to make STEM research and development accessible to high school students across the nation.
TechX and Entrepreneurship
"TechX has helped shape the professional careers of many students and individuals. We act as the catalyst for the innovative ideas that are already out there and make them reality."Hackathons
TechX has a variety of channels by which their members and the MIT community can engage in entrepreneurial ventures. For example, the club's various hackathons allow students from MIT and all over the world to come together to build their own projects. In the year 2014, HackMIT received over 1000 attendees! This is due to MIT's renowned reputation and the hackathon's repeated success. TechX provides the hardware and software necessary for the students' ambitions to bloom into fruition, as well as the food and resources to keep a 24-hour hackathon going. The projects that people build at these hackathons can lead to personal businesses and jobs, since many companies like Disney, Google, IBM, and MIcrosoft go to these hackathons to recruit talent. Furthermore, by collaborating with so many people in a closed space, innovative ideas are always being thrown around, which, as Ted said, promotes the inventive mindset needed for entrepreneurial exploits.
One other means by which TechX helps the student body procure entrepreneurial experience is by conducting their own careers fair in the form of XFair, which Ted is a member of. Ted was able to convey to me what sets XFair apart from many other career fairs on campus and beyond. Not only does the event attract hi-profile companies like Apple, Nvidia, and Oracle, the event also has technology showcases, during which company representatives display new, interactive technologies. These demonstrations give students an idea as to what they would be working on if they decided to join the respective company. For example, a company called Kittyhawk Corporation, an aviation company, displayed its virtual flight simulator to anyone who was passing by. Ted explains that the funding for coordinating such a large event comes mainly from sponsorship deals, company entrance fees, and seed funding from the school.
TechX and Internal Community
"TechX is a vibrant community of cool people who want to build cool stuff. We really pride ourselves in promoting innovation not just on MIT's campus, but beyond as well."By splitting up the club into its different segments, the club is able to provide the required amount of attention to its individual projects, such as MakeMIT and THINK. As Ted explained, each of these subcommittees holds their own meetings, and the overarching executive branch exists to make sure that everything is running smoothly. The club as a whole has many community nights, but for the most part, people socialize and work with the individuals in their respective subcommittee. This system, while efficient, has to an extent polarized the club, since people in the XFair committee tend to group with the other students in the same committee. HCS has experienced this as well with the Datamatch committee, which is under the supervision of the board, but otherwise it can operate as it wishes so long as it adheres to HCS values. In order to combat this, the club's approximately forty members engage in bonding activities such as retreats to lake houses (with one taking place in Bridgton, Maine in 2016) and community nights, similar to the ones that HCS organizes. All of this is funded through sponsorships.
Literature ReviewAs stated in the introduction of this project, the Harvard Computer Society focuses on preparing members for successful careers in tech fields, while providing a community in which members from all walks of life can support each other academically, socially, and professionally. HCS, thus, directs its attention to how student leadership can use entrepreneurship to promote these three core areas.
Various scholars have studied the relationship between community and entrepreneurship within student organizations and scholastic settings. For this investigation, I have chosen two papers from the following authors by which to analyze my role as president and HCS’ success in fulfilling the needs of our members: What makes student entrepreneurs? by Bergmann and Sternberg, and Engagement through partnership by Healey and Harrington.
The concepts that I will focus on in Bergmann’s and Sternberg’s paper are those on the contexts and circumstances that promote academic entrepreneurship. As stated in the paper, one of the factors that determine a student’s entrepreneurial tendencies is the “regional context” and the resources that it offers (57). For example, being so close to a large city such as Boston has positively contributed to HCS’ professional and social ventures. Many of HCS’ sponsor companies, such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, have offices there, so communication and events between the club and our sponsors has been a lot easier to coordinate as a result. In contrast, a school that is not within the vicinity of a large city might find it harder to promote entrepreneurship, since the companies and resources outside of campus might not exist.
Furthermore, the paper argues that “organizational-level factors like the availability of entrepreneurship education and industry ties increase entrepreneurial intentions… whereas research orientation of the department has a negative effect” (55). Harvard University is one of the top research universities in the world and, just as the paper claims, does not focus on entrepreneurial endeavors as much as other schools, such as Stanford or MIT. HCS has served to fill this void by providing members access to the tools that the university cannot provide. Whether or not Harvard decides to provide more professionally oriented resources on its campus depends on how much it deviates from its university identity. Harvard prides itself on being one of the leading research institutions and it is what helps it stand out amongst other higher education institutions. This consistent pattern of success encourages the school to continue doing what it knows best: research.
With regards to faculty collaboration, Healey’s and Harrington’s study talks about mutual collaboration between faculty and students in order to promote student leadership. In particular, they talk about how students and staff should work cohesively as equal “partners” if they want to promote change on campus. During my tenure as president, I was involved with the SEAS faculty to help improve student life; however, the club in general tended to stay independent of faculty during its time of growth, because the structural developments we made, such as the establishment of a bootcamp series and our membership system, were mostly internal and did not require the aid of the administration. HCS could consider improving in this regard since collaboration with faculty could open more doors for our members in the areas of research and academia.
By analyzing HCS through the lenses of the scholars that we have discussed, we are able to society’s strengths and weaknesses lie. HCS fills a hole left by Harvard’s focus on research by providing the resources students need to make their professional desires a reality; nevertheless, it could also focus more on what Harvard does best—research. This could open new avenues for members and diversify the means by which we interact with the community at large and perhaps with external companies as well.
SourcesBergmann, H., Hundt, C. & Sternberg, R. (2016) What makes student entrepreneurs? On the relevance (and irrelevance) of the university and the regional context for student start-ups. Small Bus Econ (2016) 47: 53.
Healey, M, A. Flint and K. Harrington (2014) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy, London, UK.