Lehigh’s Baker Institute is in the process of launching Rightful Inclusive Student Entrepreneurship, also known as R.I.S.E, to promote diversity and inclusion in the institute’s entrepreneurial programs.
Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute, said the R.I.S.E initiative seeks to provide tools, resources and networking opportunities to help the entrepreneurial endeavors of students in underrepresented groups on campus during their time at Lehigh and beyond.
Getzler is working on the project alongside Princess Scott, ‘22, who is studying technical entrepreneurship.
“Our director, Lisa Getzler, understood that there were disparities as far as gender within Baker Institute programming and within entrepreneurship itself,” Scott said. “So she did research and data to prove that she wanted to have more representation of women.”
Scott said within that focus, Getzler had also seen disparities racially, economically and in sexuality. Getzler expanded R.I.S.E to meet those target demographics.
“In general, when you think of entrepreneurship, it’s usual cisgender white men within either business or engineering that pursue businesses and entrepreneurial hubs,” Scott said. “When it comes to Baker programming, some of our sessions – whether that’s Hatchery or Lehigh Silicon Valley – typically cost a pretty penny. Even though Baker does offer financial aid, it wasn’t apparent to students.”
Scott said financial barriers weren’t the only thing that has played a role in which students choose to apply to the Baker Institute programs, but also representation in the institute’s chosen speakers, who talk about entrepreneurial topics.
Scott said she leads the qualitative research and conducts interviews with underrepresented groups of students to understand how to target the demographics R.I.S.E is looking to support. Scott said she reached out to leaders of the Circle of Sisters, Men of Color Alliance, Spectrum and other organizations to gauge their views on the Baker Institute.
“I want to make Lehigh more inclusive whether that’s ideas, people’s cultural backgrounds, etc.,” Scott said.
While the R.I.S.E initiative is still in the early development stage, Scott said there is an active survey to gain more quantitative data that supports or brings about new ideas on how the Baker Institute can be transformative in their foundational programming.
“I can’t barge this enough that R.I.S.E is like that door opener that says ‘hey you can do this,’” Steven Escobar-Mendez, ‘22, said. “It’s not only for one specific group, it’s not only for one specific major.”
Escobar-Mendez said since R.I.S.E is so new, it can be difficult for students to learn about it. He said he first discovered the Baker Institute when he walked around every building to thank staff members for his acceptance to Lehigh during his first semester.
Getzler said she hopes that R.I.S.E will help entrepreneurship projects at Lehigh be viewed through a more equitable lense.
“R.I.S.E is not a temporary solution to a long-term issue,” Getzler said. “That R.I.S.E initiative is meant to provide the Baker Institute — and by extension our colleagues across campus — with insight into the kind of foundational change that is going to be required of us to diversify student participation in innovation and entrepreneurship programming.”