In the latest edition of Saints Spotlight, we sit down with faculty member Jeni Al Bahrani. Listen along as she discusses her journey from student to director of the Dr. Anthony & Geraldine Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Jeni also looks back at her experience of the Thomas More Women Conference and important takeaways from what she has learned over the years.
David Klenk: Thank you again for joining us for another edition of Saints Spotlight, today we’re joined by Professor Jeni Al Bahrani. Thank you very much for joining us today, could you tell the viewers at home a little bit about yourself.
Jeni Al Bahrani: Hi David, thanks for having me, I’m so excited to be a guest on your podcast. My name is Jeni Al Bahrani, my students call me Mrs. A. and I am the new director of the Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. It’s a new program here on campus, which I’m sure we’re going to get into. I also teach entrepreneurship; I’ll be teaching it in the fall and spring. I am also an alum of Thomas More University. I earned my business degree here and I also earned my master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation from Trinity College, Dublin (Ireland). I’m excited to be back here on campus in this role.
DK: We’re very happy to have you. So, starting off, can you tell us a little bit about your role as director and about the Zembrodt Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and what are some of the goals for that center?
JB: It’s really exciting. Like I said, it’s a new initiative here on campus, the first of its kind and we are really trying to build a vision of entrepreneurial thinkers. Of course, that also involves starting and growing in business, but we want to develop this sense of entrepreneurship on campus where if you don’t want to start a business, you’re going to work in a business who we want them thinking more entrepreneurially.
DK: How does this role fit into the College of Business overall?
JB: When we think about entrepreneurship here at Thomas More University, what’s really cool is the Center serves every student of every major. We are housed in the College of Business, but we serve every student of every major. What’s really great about the College of Business and how it fits in with that mission, is we are teaching students to be entrepreneurial in all aspects of life, whether they want to start a business or if they want to create solutions to the most pressing issues in the world. The College of Business is really on a purpose of creating sustainability in business. Next spring, we’re going to have a Social Innovation Challenge where students can come and learn how to create solutions around sustainability issues within business as well. It’s a really nice complement to the College of Business but also the whole institution as well.
DK: Certainly, and speaking of innovation, you spoke at the Thomas More Women’s Conference on the topic of innovation. Could you speak to the reason of why that topic is important today and how you innovate?
JB: The Women’s Conference was amazing. I want to thank the alumni development department for organizing such a beautiful day for the women to come together. What’s really important about that and what I really tried to focus on is how can we see innovation and entrepreneurship in our everyday lives? So, I highlighted women who, yes, have started businesses, but also use that to take a pivot or persevere through something that they were going through in their lives and how that allowed them to shake up and innovate their own lives. I think about that when I innovate as well, the first step that I take towards innovation is being curious, asking questions, leaning into the problem and falling in love with what the problem is, rather than saying I just have a quick solution for something; really falling in love with what’s going on, what you’re passionate about and then using that entrepreneurship and innovation strategy to get to the solution.
DK: Certainly. What was your Thomas More experience like? Do you have a favorite memory?
JB: I have a lot of favorite memories here, but I think the biggest impact that Thomas More made for me is they took a risk on someone that didn’t make it in a big state school, and they said, “We see value in you and we want you here.” So I went through the program, graduated with my undergrad degree and once I got here, because of the faculty and the staff and the community, I thrived and I really fell in love with higher education.
DK: Do you have any mentors that helped you fall in love with higher education along the way here?
JB: Yeah, and actually that’s a good story and a good segue as Dr. Moyer, who is still here, was my mentor and he taught my analytical methods and statistics classes, I had three of them. I would have a night class and he would stay after the class or he would come early, to help me get through the content. Fourteen years later when I wanted to go back to higher ed and earn my master’s degree, I needed an academic reference. I wrote to Dr. Moyer and I told him what I was doing and what I remember about Thomas More, and he wrote a reference letter for me 14 years after I took his class and I was able to go on and earn my master’s degree.
DK: That is a very great story in the sense of also just having, like you said, people who take a risk on you and see how those risks pay off. Since graduating, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
JB: That’s a good question. I think I’m going to keep running with earning my master’s degree. It was 14 years later, and I decided, since I grew up in the area, I had never lived anywhere else, that I wanted to take a risk and get very uncomfortable. I needed to feel scared, but I knew I needed something to push me along the way. So, the master’s degree was perfect; and I sold my house, I sold my car, and moved across the world to Ireland. I talked a little bit about this at the Women’s Conference but (I) moved to Ireland, lived in a brand-new country, a brand-new culture, and it changed my life and I really hope that a lot of our students get that opportunity too.
DK: Do you have advice to share with current Thomas More students?
JB: I do. So first and foremost, entrepreneurship is more than just a business; it’s a mindset. My advice to students is to embrace this entrepreneurial mindset. Using this mindset will allow you to build something great, it’ll push you to push your limits, to achieve big things and that big thing is YOU: students. What I love about this, it’s this way of thinking to empower you to overcome challenges, adversity, make decisions, and take responsibility for your own actions and decisions. Since the Center is a new initiative here on campus, there are so many ways to get involved. One, as I said before, it’s new so we’re in the startup mode. I’m looking for students that want to get involved; increase this entrepreneurial community on campus. I’m setting up work studies, looking for a summer intern to help with that. Next week, I’ll be transitioning to the advisor for the business society, which will be called the Business Innovation Society. This is going to be for students who are really looking to elevate the entrepreneurship and the business community here on campus. My office door is always open for one-to-one mentorships whether you want to start a business or if you’re curious about entrepreneurship. On March 21, we’re going off campus to see a Thomas More University alumnus who owns Urbana Cafe. We’re going to have coffee and have a treat and learn about his startup story. On April 17, Blue North is coming to campus, the Executive Director Dave Knox will be visiting and talking about what entrepreneurship is in the Northern Kentucky area. Then on May 3, this is an exciting day and is open to all students, faculty and staff, and also our community, it is the Roebling Capital Saints Shark Challenge. Students have been working all semester long in the entrepreneurship class on their own idea, putting together a business plan and they’re going to pitch that business that night. So, it’s really high stakes, it is high energy, starts at 6 p.m. We really want folks to come and support the students.
DK: Thank you very much for sharing that and sharing those very engaging upcoming events. I’m sure if I were a student, I would love to be to every single one of those and I hope that they are too. Thank you very much, again, for being our Saints Spotlight and coming on the show. Thank you all at home, for tuning in to another edition of Saints Spotlights. Have a good one.