Program helps students learn business skills

Shaun H. Ruff

With a view toward updating its entrepreneurship program, University of Texas Permian Basin is offering all students a chance to test their business acumen.

Recently, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced the expansion of its signature Blackstone LaunchPad student entrepreneurship programming from two to eight campuses in the University of Texas System, bringing the initiative’s network and resources to a more diverse set of students.

The $5 million expansion will give even more students access to resources, opportunities and mentorship at UT El Paso, UT Permian Basin, UT Rio Grande Valley, UT San Antonio, UT Medical Branch and UT Southwestern.

UT Austin and UT Dallas have been LaunchPad sites since 2016.

With four of the six campuses included in this expansion designated Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), LaunchPad doubles the number of HSIs in its network, demonstrating a commitment to increasing inclusion in student entrepreneurship, a news release said.

Ryan Peckham, assistant professor of management and Roden Fellow for entrepreneurship, said there are 26 students in the program.

“… We have so many initiatives going on,” Peckham said. “That includes the Blackstone deal which you heard about … which is a new initiative for us. Also, we’re looking at redoing some of the entrepreneurship minor and also offering an entrepreneurship certificate.”

Peckham said UTPB wanted to be able to give students who aren’t necessarily business majors a chance to take advantage of all of the entrepreneurship offerings.

“The Blackstone initiative allows us to do that because that is open to everybody on campus, not just business majors,” Peckham said.

He noted that Blackstone is providing funding, a network and resources that UTPB otherwise would not have access to “without their support.”

“… Without it, we just wouldn’t have access to the network of other business owners that they have, mentors that they have, funding that they have. They do a lot of virtual programming that students have been able to attend. It’s just trying to get students interested in owning their own, maybe operating their own business, because unfortunately this generation of students is less likely to open their own business than students in the past …,” Peckham said.

He was an adjunct professor teaching management and some finance courses.

“Personally, I like it because entrepreneurship is the only business major that uses all the other majors together so you have to use accounting; you have to use marketing; you have to use management; and you have to use finance. If you’re going to be a business owner, you’ve got to have a little bit of knowledge on all of them. I enjoy it because I get to use all the other disciplines, and for me, that makes it fun and keeps it challenging,” Peckham added.

He added that even if students don’t wind up owning their own business they will make better employees because they understand how businesses work and that there are other aspects to business.

Peckham grew up in Coahoma. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Texas A&M University, took an MBA at University of Texas at Dallas and taught night classes at Midland College while working for Security Bank as its vice president of business development.

“At the same time, I was starting my own business which is an investment practice, managing money for families … I did a doctorate with a concentration in behavioral finance from the University of Liverpool in England and I did that (online) from Midland. When I finished that, I went and taught one year at TCU in Fort Worth. I taught financial management and then I taught a semester at Syracuse University in New York. That was online. I was adjunct for UT Permian Basin and then I took the full-time position at UT Permian Basin.”

Peckham said he teaches because he loves it.

“I’m not looking for anything else but that. I started doing night teaching and I just enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would,” he added.

Peckham noted that a lot of West Texans go back to school to improve their lives.

Peckham is married and has two daughters.

“… I love to help people improve themselves. I’m kind of constantly working on that myself and so I enjoy that aspect of it and just really enjoy being able to help people. And for me, this is an area where I feel like I can help people out. I’ve always been a numbers person. I enjoy business. If I was trying to help out in some other capacity, I probably wouldn’t be as effective. … To me, it’s important to give back to the community that I feel like gave me so much,” Peckham said.

One of Peckham’s students, Soraye Lara, plans to graduate with a degree in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship in the fall of 2022.

“I honestly thought this was a great opportunity,” Lara said. “I feel like a lot of students are discouraged to start their own business because we have seen multiple crises in 2019 and the pandemic, so it is discouraging. But with this program, it really empowers us to pursue what we want to do. We were partnered up with mentors; my mentor was from New York and she gave me the advice and encouragement to do this …,” Lara said.

“It was a great networking opportunity as well because I got to meet other students from different universities throughout the country … It’s really powerful to be around people that are like-minded …”

When she was interviewed a couple of weeks ago, Lara hadn’t launched her business yet.

“The reason I did the program was for the funding to start my business. Here in the Permian Basin, human trafficking is very common. We all have the awareness, the resources to help these women, so I would want to bring awareness and end the cycle of human trafficking through handcrafted jewelry. I would partner up with Reflection Ministries (which helps survivors in the Permian Basin). It would essentially be a stepping stone for them, so while they’re in the program I would provide jewelry classes and they will have the opportunity to make some jewelry in it and essentially work part time at my company,” Lara said.

Lara said the objective would be to restore dignity, self-confidence and gain work experience, among other things.

She added that it would also help them learn how to operate their own business.

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