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Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Alumni of color return to teach students about cultural entrepreneurship through mini-course

%28Left+to+right%29+Diane+Gayeski+%2C+Rita+Bunatal%2C+Via+Carpenter%2C+Eden+Strachan.+The+Cultural+Entrepreneurship+course+will+be+led+by+Gayeski+and+will+feature++five+guest+speakers%2C+all+of+whom+are+alumni+of+color+who+attended+the+college.%0A%0A
Sam Burns, Amanda Den Hartog, Kevin Yu, Courtesy of Black Girls Don’t Get Love
(Left to right) Diane Gayeski , Rita Bunatal, Via Carpenter, Eden Strachan. The Cultural Entrepreneurship course will be led by Gayeski and will feature five guest speakers, all of whom are alumni of color who attended the college.

Ithaca College is offering Cultural Entrepreneurship, a one-credit mini-course from Feb. 16 to 18 to teach students about the resources and tools available to help begin their entrepreneurial journey while still in college. The course will feature five guest speakers, all of whom are alumni of color who attended the college.

Along with hearing from guest speakers, students will get the opportunity to work on an idea for a business or brand. The course then allows students to pitch these ideas to other students in the class and gain feedback.

The course will be led by Diane Gayeski, professor in the Department of Strategic Communications and former dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications. Gayeski said the course will focus on helping students come up with ideas for possible businesses and how they can use resources available at the college to make these ideas a reality.

“I think sometimes students don’t recognize all the services and help and knowledge that’s available to them for free,” Gayeski said. “There are a lot of resources, whether it’s knowing what courses to take or what professors to talk to or what kind of opportunities to seek in clubs.”

Gayeski said that although the course is open to all students, she believes it is important that it focuses on how students from underrepresented backgrounds can connect their ideas to their own identities and create new spaces for themselves.

“In my time as dean, one of the big initiatives of Park was to infuse our curriculum and [the] whole experience with more diversity,” Gayeski said. “And I recognize that students of color especially need to see more role models and examples.”

Gayeski said the main event of the course will be the guest speakers who have been invited to talk with students about how they have pursued their entrepreneurial dreams since graduating from the college.

“[The speakers] are all people who have started their own businesses or media franchises while they were in school,” Gayeski said. “All the guest speakers happen to be people of color as well, so many of their businesses are related to something about their cultural identity or personal identity. They’re going to be telling their own case studies.”

Senior Hazel Bali, a student at the college who is enrolled to take the course, said she signed up to hear from the guest speakers and gain insight into developing her own business ideas as a person of color.

“One aspect of the course that I think I’m really going to enjoy is making connections and understanding how [the speakers] got to where they are and how that is part of their identity because that’s something we have in common,” Bali said. “I really want to understand how to build a business proposal for myself while keeping my own identity in focus.”

Anna DeShawn07 is one of the guest speakers and the founder and CEO of E3 Radio and The Qube, a podcast production company that focuses on discovering and sharing podcasts and music from BIPOC, queer and trans people of color. DeShawn said the idea for a radio show came about during her time at the college.

“In undergrad, it became clear to me that there were a lot of folks that I just didn’t know existed who have done really great work —  Black women in particular — and I wanted to tell their stories,” DeShawn said. “By the time I got out of school, I just decided to start my own show where I could play my own commercials, and that was how it all got started. … From there, I started bringing on other shows and producing other shows.”

DeShawn said the knowledge she gained from her time and classes at the college served as a bridge between traditional journalism and a new, broader idea of what journalism can be.

“I think when we talk about media, there have only been traditional ways for such a long time, but we’re in this creator renaissance moment,” DeShawn said. “I think you can take what you’re learning at IC and apply it in so many different ways based upon whatever your end vision or your end goal is.”

DeShawn said she can see E3 Radio and The Qube platforms continuing to grow as they amplify more and more underrepresented voices.

“When I can get more capital, I see E3 Radio being a beautiful radio station with live hosts who continue to amplify queer music and queer news,” DeShawn said. “For The Qube, I only see it going to the moon and back, maybe just staying on the moon somewhere in some other universe. To be honest, I think the sky’s the limit for the platform.”

Olivia Carpenter ’22 is a guest speaker and founder and owner of Via’s Cookies. Carpenter said she began making cookies out of her home to casually sell them in a nearby coffee shop. Carpenter said she officially began her business in 2021 after presenting her idea at the college’s 2021 Startup Demo Day and winning $5,800 in prize money to get her business off the ground.

Carpenter said that between the prize money from the competition and the connections she’s made at the college, the college played a big part in helping her launch her business.

“Money is literally what you need to start a business most of the time, so they helped me get off the ground with that,” Carpenter said. “And then it was more so the people and the connections that I have from the business school that kept me going.”

One of the people who helped Carpenter get started was Brad Treat, an instructor in the Department of Management at the college. Treat taught many entrepreneurial courses that Carpenter was enrolled in during her time at the college, such as Entrepreneurial Innovation, and now serves on her business’s advisory board. Treat said Carpenter’s success can be traced back to her entrepreneurial instincts.

“She sells cookies to bakeries, which seems insane, but it shows just how smart she is and how much good work she did by going out and talking to customers and understanding their needs,” Treat said. “There are thousands of people who make delicious cookies. Olivia figured out there was a market for delicious cookies that were … gluten-free or vegan.”

Via’s Cookies also donates 5% of its profits to struggling BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, a decision Carpenter said she attributes to her own identity.

“I started with the intention of giving back a percentage of my profits to struggling BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students because that was me,” Carpenter said. “I was struggling as a student who came out of an impoverished household and I saw the disparities in pursuing a fair education for someone who comes from a background of not having money or being black or being a woman.”

Carpenter said the future of her business doesn’t rely on the traditional idea of a five-year plan, but rather on how she feels about her business as time goes on.

“Just stay tuned,” Carpenter said. “As long as you keep following me, you’ll know what I’m doing in five years, and hopefully whatever that is, it’s for the betterment of the planet on a large scale.”

In regard to what she hopes students taking the course will learn from her, Carpenter said she wants them to know that they can use their ideas to make a real difference in the world.

“I really want people to understand that you can do anything at any time to actually make a difference,” Carpenter said. “Life is really tough, and even when you feel as though everything is crumbling around you, there will always be people out there who will help you and want you to succeed.”

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