MTSU College of Education research professor Wilburn “Wil” Clouse has been recognized for his decades of work promoting entrepreneurship as recipient of this year’s John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Advocacy from the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“For me, this is the highest award that I’ve ever received for my lifetime work in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship,” Clouse said.
Clouse, a 1968 MTSU alumnus, wants to sow the spirit of entrepreneurship within disciplines throughout the MTSU campus through his current position as a research professor in the College of Education’s Womack Educational Leadership Department.
“We are very pleased to have Wil Clouse at MTSU, and his expertise and enthusiasm have helped to infuse innovation, problem-based learning and entrepreneurship education across our campus,” said Dr. Lana Seivers, dean of the MTSU College of Education.
MTSU associate education professor Terry Goodin nominated Clouse for the Hughes Award, citing among other accomplishments:
• Clouse’s four-decade plus career at Vanderbilt University, where he developed the Center for Entrepreneurship Education at Vanderbilt.
• His tenure at Western Kentucky University, where he developed two centers of Excellence — the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Entrepreneurial Academy of Excellence — and served as the first executive director before leaving in 2013.
“He has an entrepreneurship spirit that permeates his life as a teacher, researcher, consultant and independent entrepreneur,” Goodin wrote in his award nomination letter. “In his work at four different universities over the past 54 years, Wil has had the opportunity to spread the entrepreneurship spirit to some 10,000 students.”
The Hughes Award is one of three awards given by the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which USASBE says provides its highest recognition to individuals “who have demonstrated clearly a significant leadership role in promoting entrepreneurship through their work and contributions to the field.”
The awards were presented Jan. 23 at USASBE’s annual meeting in Tampa, Florida.
Clouse has also held the Mattie Newman Ford Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship at WKU, serves as a professor emeritus at Vanderbilt, and founded and served as president for three entrepreneurial ventures: Clouse and Associates (1975), Matrix Systems Inc. (1981) and the Clouse–Elrod Foundation Inc. (2011).
He purchased his first IPO at age 14.
“I’ve always been an outside-of-the-box thinker,” Clouse said from his office on the third floor of the MTSU College of Education Building. “I’ve always been into creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, but never really recognized it in the early days of my life.”
Clouse grew up in Nashville and attended public schools there, showing a penchant for business at an early age. He said he bought that first IPO as a teenager for $100 — a hefty chunk of cash in the 1950s for a teen — as an investment in a new insurance company startup.
He recalled as a youngster a storm hitting his neighborhood, downing trees in the yards of some homes, so he went from door to door, asking homeowners if they’d like him to remove the fallen trees and limbs for a fee.
While some neighbors questioned whether a youngster of his size could handle such a job, he assured them he could before bringing on his dad as a subcontractor to do the work.
“When I came up, you had to hustle to live,” Clouse said. “When I’d see new opportunities in the neighborhood, I’d contract with people to do the jobs.”
Clouse’s first job out of college was as a research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry in the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. He later moved to a chemical engineering position with the DuPont Company and was a patent coordinator at one point.
To complement his technical expertise — he already had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry — with some business acumen, Clouse began taking night/weekend classes in economics at MTSU.
While there, Dr. Furman Cunningham, then dean of the MTSU College of Business, asked Clouse if he’d like to teach some economics courses. He was at first hesitant but gave it a shot and found his place in academia.
He would later go on to develop the first computer science technology program as one of the founding faculty at Columbia State Community College. He thereafter moved his work in technology to Vanderbilt, where he had earned his doctorate in educational administration.
Clouse had a number of creative assignments at Vanderbilt, including the last 20 years working in innovation and entrepreneurship education. While there, he developed a working relationship with Hughes Award namesake John Hughes, who agreed to fund Clouse’s entrepreneurship efforts at Vanderbilt through the Coleman Foundation grants.
Clouse would go on to create his own foundation, the Clouse-Elrod Foundation Inc., which has funded projects at MTSU in agribusiness and education.
He is currently working on a research paper about the challenges facing all educators in teaching the millennial generation and properly preparing to be productive in the marketplace. Clouse said he believes traditional methods of teaching must evolve to engage millennials more deeply and to be centered on authentic problem-based learning.
“Dr. Clouse brings years of valuable experience in higher education to our department and is helping us become a leader throughout the state in ‘problem-based learning,’” said Dr. Jim Huffman, chair of MTSU’s Womack Educational Leadership Department.
Clouse’s focus is on cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship and innovation. He is currently working with MTSU faculty members to help develop a culture of innovation and commercialization across all disciplines at the university. His partners in this new project include Dr. Andrienne Friedli, professor of chemistry and assistant vice president for research; Dr. Charles Perry, professor of engineering technology and holder of the Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellence; Dr. Bill McDowell, holder of the Pam Wright Chair of Entrepreneurship; and Dr. Warren Gill, director of the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience.
McDowell was in Tampa when Clouse received the award and said he looks forward to working with Clouse more closely on the MTSU campus.
“Dr. Clouse is an excellent mentor and friend, and he continues to pour himself into developing entrepreneurs,” McDowell said. “Currently, he is working with me on the Wright Chair of Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition by serving as a judge and a coach/mentor to some of the competition finalists. In addition, through the Clouse-Elrod foundation, he will be funding some individual level awards for the best plan in certain functional areas.”
Clouse has even more plans.
“I’d like to be able to infuse innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship across the entire MTSU campus,” he said, adding that he’s working to develop problem-based modules that encourage creative and innovative thinking by students, “so that when a student learns the academics of that class, he or she will see the opportunities to take that idea from that class into the marketplace.”
For more information about the MTSU College of Education’s Womack Educational Leadership Department, visit http://mtsu.edu/edu_leadership.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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