Calhoun’s Vision for Campus Innovation

Written by Evan Myers, News Editor

In 2011, freshman AJ Calhoun ‘15  felt that Furman was “having a crucial moment in its history,” and he wanted to make his mark. At the time, Calhoun and his fellow first-year friends, Jeff Dye ‘15 and Will Besley ‘15, were running the Paladin Network (Furman’s student TV station) and WPLS Radio (Furman’s radio network).  Together, they envisioned uniting Furman’s student media organizations under one roof. “There was not enough interest to run all of these things separately,” recounted Calhoun, “but we thought they could be run well together.” With the hope of improving public discourse and making Furman “a more engaging place to go to school,” they put their plan into action. 

Things did not work out as they hoped. To unite the student media organizations, Calhoun, Dye, and Besley needed unanimous approval from all parties involved. The Paladin Network, WPLS Radio, The Paladin, and The Bonhomie (Furman’s yearbook), were all on board, but The Echo was not. Disheartened but not done yet, Calhoun—who believes “most good things come from a pivot”—and his friends funneled their passion into starting a non-structured, student-led organization that would channel funds to student projects, incite innovation in Furman’s student body, and empower Furman students to make the University a more connected, creative, and fun place to go to school by giving them the space and resources to make their ideas come to life. 

This effort  culminated in 2013 with the formation of the Furman Creative Collaborative (FCC). Katherine Boda ‘16, who helped Calhoun bring TEDx to campus in 2014 and now works in Furman’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that “FCC is a group that inspires creativity and innovation and the role of these things in a liberal arts education.” In practice, FCC “bridges a gap between the intellectual life of campus and the student experience… [it] puts the kind of stuff you might encounter in class in more innovative formats like provocative public talks and podcasts, post-it boards, and weird events that get students talking,” said faculty sponsor Brandon Inabinet, Ph.D. Known now for hosting TEDx and Innovation Hour, Inabinet said that FCC also needs to “keep feeding the quirky Primal Screams, Post-It spaces in the library… that will help keep the vision of the founders around even as we continue to steal headlines for innovation.” 

It seems that in starting FCC, Calhoun and his colleagues made an impact and left a legacy. Today, their work lives on not only in the organization they started, but also in Furman’s administration’s emphasis on campus innovation. Started in the fall of 2018, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship led by Executive Director Anthony Herrera spearheads Furman’s efforts. Their programs, including the Summer Business & Entrepreneurship Boot Camp and the new pitch competition (coming this spring), are designed to “develop talent, create and grow the Furman Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, as well as partner and contribute to the Regional Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” said Herrera. The immediate success of this program was reflected in Furman’s ranking as the fifth most innovative National Liberal Arts Colleges in the country. 

The landscape of campus innovation at Furman has changed significantly since Calhoun noticed that there was “nothing besides FUSAB to foster creativity and provide a space for students to do their own thing, especially for students who are independent [not affiliated with Greek life].” Now, FCC—Calhoun’s own brainchild—and Herrera’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship have begun to fill the void. However, one aspect of Calhoun’s original vision remains remarkably unfulfilled. Furman’s student media is still not united. As in 2011, the Paladin Network, WPLS Radio, The Paladin, The Bonhomie, and The Echo operate on their own, if at all. Calhoun continues to hope this will change, saying “if we can’t foster a robust public discourse in our student body, it doesn’t matter how shiny the admissions brochures are.”

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