By Dr. Christopher Puto, President Emeritus and Director of the John J. Burke, Jr. Center for the Study and Advancement of Free Enterprise at Spring Hill College
One of the goals we espouse and value deeply in Jesuit education is the emphasis on acquiring knowledge not merely for the sake of knowing something, but rather to use that knowledge to make a positive difference in our world. As “contemplatives in action,” we must know well what it is we are doing and how to do it in order to achieve the well-being of humankind.
John Burke, a Spring Hill College alumnus from the class of 1963, drew from his knowledge and experience in Jesuit education to build an extensive real estate enterprise in his hometown of Milwaukee. He never forgot the source and foundation of that knowledge, or the economic system that enabled his commercial achievements.
In 2017, John approached his alma mater with the idea of creating opportunities for every student, regardless of their academic major, to better understand what it means to identify a meaningful need in society and then develop and implement a superior solution—all consistent with the Jesuit imperative to build a better world: “Ad majorem Dei gloriam inque hominem salute (For the Greater Glory of God and the Well-Being of Humankind).”
The result is the John J. Burke, Jr. Center for the Study and Advancement of Free Enterprise. This academic center (established at Spring Hill in 2018) offers a Certificate Program in Free Enterprise Studies: a four-course sequence open to undergraduate students from any academic major, who earn the certificate in conjunction with their diploma.
The course sequence begins with “Markets and Morality,” which gives students the philosophical background to morally evaluate competing worldviews and political and economic systems; to understand and be able to apply competing theories of social justice; to know what the Catholic philosophical tradition says about capitalism and socialism; and to apply moral principles to their own pursuit of innovation and enterprise creation.
The second course, “Foundations of Free Societies,” begins with the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century and tracks the most important ideas in political economy over the subsequent 250 years. Students explore the philosophical arguments for and against government regulation of markets, the evolution of key constitutional and legal institutions related to private property and contracts, and the social effects of trade, consumption and competition.
The third course, “Understanding, Defining, and Validating Market Needs,” presents an overview of the process by which enterprise opportunities are defined and measured; introduces students to the methods of collecting and analyzing various forms of market data relevant to identifying and measuring perceived market opportunities; and instructs students in the overall process of building an appropriate situation analysis for the basis of making informed and effective decisions regarding possible enterprise creation.
The final course, “Enterprise Development,” gives students an understanding of the process needed to bring an enterprise from a viable concept to an operating reality; to produce and explain a professional plan for creating and launching a new enterprise; and to utilize problem-solving methods for identifying decision impediments and reaching effective solutions.
The philosophy and political science courses fulfill undergraduate core curriculum requirements, and the two free enterprise courses are free electives allowed for any major. They also fulfill Spring Hill’s objectives for teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and manifesting Jesuit educational values to apply knowledge to make a meaningful difference for others. Our students are testament to the impact of the program; here are three of their stories.
Lucia Reyes (SHC 2021), a marketing and management major, has conceived and formulated a consultancy that would help small and mid-sized local businesses understand and utilize their younger employees’ desires for community engagement by connecting them with local non-profits that need volunteers to fulfill their missions. The businesses would benefit from the increased positive visibility that comes from serving their constituent communities, and by increasing the morale of their Millennial and Generation Z employees through opportunities for sponsored community service. The increased visibility from responsible community engagement has the potential to increase the businesses’ bottom lines, and the non-profits would be served through the ready availability of motivated volunteers to better fulfill their missions.
Isabella Albert (SHC 2021), an international studies major, has connected with Eye Heart World, a local non-profit focused on serving young women victimized by human trafficking, to create a pilot program with the potential to intervene and prevent them from falling victim to this scourge. By identifying the environmental characteristics and the behavioral and emotional tendencies affecting adolescent women in the community, Albert has worked with professionals to develop a multi-week program to instruct and provide these potential victims with the emotional defenses to withstand, and the insight to seek appropriate help to preclude, entrapment. Eye Heart World works with church groups, schools, and local government social work entities to identify potential victims and engage them in the preventive program.
For-profit enterprises are not excluded from the plans developed by our students. Robert Baricev (SHC 2021), a marketing and management major, has identified an unserved need in the pandemic: creating face masks for special occasions. With the very real possibility that mask-wearing may extend into the future, Baricev has formulated a plan to produce breathable and comfortable masks that can be readily and inexpensively customized for groups seeking individualized masks for special events, where the mask can also become a remembrance or souvenir. This is a for-profit venture that seeks to convert a perceived inconvenience into a potentially positive outcome.
What makes Spring Hill’s Certificate Program in Free Enterprise Studies unique is its ability to serve all interested students regardless of major, and its embodiment of every kind of enterprise: for-profit, non-profit, even social movements. It embraces the liberal arts skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, and articulate communication, and produces results that positively connect with and relate to the 450+ year model of Jesuit education: to use knowledge to improve the well-being of others. It embodies responsible capitalism and traditional Jesuit values to produce “Free Enterprise—Jesuit Style.”