Entrepreneurial Culture: A Look Into the New General Course at ITMO

The past semester at ITMO University was marked by the introduction of a new set of core disciplines called Entrepreneurial Culture. As part of the initiative, 1,800 out of all 2,500 first-year Master’s students attended the course “Project Management” taught by 30+ staff members of ITMO’s Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations (FTMI) and the Institute of Entrepreneurship, professional trainers and entrepreneurs.

Project Management is a new course aimed at developing the students’ professional skills. The course itself is very practice-oriented, with students working on real cases under the supervision of business experts. Its main goal is to explore the various project types, their lifecycles, and specifics of development, and how to determine their readiness for operation in the real economy. The students also learned to assess risks and resources, organize teamwork and raise funding for their projects.

“In the case of this course, I drew from the fact that entrepreneurs rarely manage projects that they themselves didn’t develop. Because of that, I began the course by explaining that first, you need to design a project, find funding, and only then start implementing it,” says Igor Kuprienko, head of ITMO University’s Center for Project Development and Fundraising. “At universities, developers often exist within the paradigm of working on a single, specific task without thinking who they’re making it for. My goal, first and foremost, was to work with the students to understand the social value of every solution to a technical task.”

Igor Kuprienko
Igor Kuprienko

Igor Kuprienko explains that he based his approach to the course around the case of a Russia-EU cross-border cooperation program, where the social significance of a project is especially important. Three student teams have already defended their projects, and some of their ideas are ready to be implemented; that, says Kuprienko, is proof of the course’s benefit.

“Students worked in groups according to the Experiential Learning and Project-Based Learning methods, wherein theoretical classes are followed up by practical ones. To me, the most valuable part was when a student told me that I’d ‘flipped his brain upside-down’. That was after we’d spent two or three classes trying to figure out how to implement a technology so as to make deliver it to the end customer” he says.

Tatiana Tokareva, Vice Dean for International Relations and Admissions of the FTMI

This course helps students with basic technical education acquire a clear understanding of how they should manage their projects, which tools and methods they can use, and how to interact with colleagues and others. On the other hand, students with humanities degrees are able to hone their project development skills and more.

It’s important to note that many students chose the English-language version of the course; the group also included international students from Iran, China, and Ghana. These students, therefore, got to learn while using internationally accepted terminology.

Elena Gavrilova
Elena Gavrilova

Elena Gavrilova, head of the Entrepreneurship Center and a member of the State Duma workgroup on the involvement of students in entrepreneurship

My part of the course was practice-oriented to the maximum possible extent. The students were given project tasks related to the topic of each class; later, they presented their solutions and received feedback from their classmates and teacher. My goal was to form their basic project development skills, be it a research grant, social project or a startup. The topics we discussed are applicable to any kind of project: personnel, deadlines and scheduling, funding, profits and expenses, risks, objectives, etc.

The course also helped them learn about entrepreneurship, social projects, the innovation support infrastructure at ITMO University, and sources of funding for universities. I’m confident that this will help Master’s students succeed more often with their applications to scholarship and grant programs, as well as securing funding for their own projects. Students of technical programs had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the humanities aspects of the course, but their final presentations proved that they succeeded.

Marina Lebedeva
Marina Lebedeva

Marina Lebedeva, Vice Dean for Communications and Strategic Development of the FTMI

The entire curriculum was structured around the development of projects based on the students’ needs. Some of the key issues were related to navigation within the University’s various buildings, cafeteria food, paperwork and bureaucracy, healthy living and social activities. Teamwork, discussions both within groups and between them, and a focus on practical application of educational material and the actual implementation of students’ ideas: these were the defining features of the educational process for our Master’s students from the Institute of Design and Urban Studies. We involved representatives of consulting and IT businesses, as well as urban science experts and government officials, to participate in the classes and project defenses.

Natalia Aniskevich, FTMI lecturer

This was the first run of the Project Management course for Master’s students, so there have been a few hidden hazards and elements that we’ll improve in the next semester. I mostly dealt with Russian-speaking students studying food production, ecology, and science communication; I also had individual one-on-one classes with a Nigerian student who turned out to be the only applicant in his group. For our practical classes, we studied examples of successful projects, conducted teamwork training and practiced various skills such as cost, quality, team, risk, and communications management. It’s a very practical course, and in the next semester, I plan to work more closely together with companies involved in the students’ respective subject areas in order to give them better insight into the specifics of project work in their fields.

Members of the EcoSmart project
Members of the EcoSmart project

Igor Sokolov, Ksenia Oreshkina, and Sergey Maslennikov, members of the EcoSmart project and Master’s students at the Faculty of Photonics and Optical Information

This course presented us, as physicists, with new opportunities by showing us how to develop a project the right way and which tools to us. Our project is focused on a universal gas monitor system. There is a wide range of gas monitors and detectors in the market, but no universal measurement suit exists. An environmental company is developing the software for such a system, and our task was to pick the right sensors that could work together as one system. Thanks to Project Management, we were able to outline the project from both a technical and an environmental point of view.

It should be noted that the course was entirely in English, which was a real test of our ability to work in an international environment. Our lecturer, Tatiana Tokareva, was able to get students from the different fields of photonics involved in a whole new area of study by giving us an overview of all key modern project management models. In the future, we’d love to see more humanities-focused business courses such as this one.

Evgeniya Dorofeeva, a student at the Faculty of Applied Optics and a member of the project “Biodegradable film for the increase in human life expectancy”

At our classes, we first learned about the topic in depth and then formed into groups to work on relevant tasks. The material was presented in a proper, and most importantly, comprehensible, manner, which helped us not only complete those tasks but also become confident in that we’re able to create a grant-worthy project.

My project focused on the development of a biodegradable chitosan-based film. The main goal is to increase the human life expectancy. We plan to develop a film material suitable for a practical medical application. It’s a three-year project, and during that time we need to not only design the material and begin production but also to teach medical staff how to use it. Since the development of our project is directly tied to the requirements for the material, it will be considered completed when all the requirements are met. Right now, we plan to study various film material in lab conditions and then to design a material with improved mechanical properties.

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