Author: VIEWS Digital

Dr. Michael Casson of DSU and The Garage

An Ongoing Series Highlighting Delaware Innovators

Dr. Michael Casson knows what it takes to be an innovator. As the dean of Delaware State University’s College of Business, he’s focused on fostering innovative spirit and business savvy among DSU students.

He celebrated his 20th anniversary at DSU in 2022 and currently serves as chair of the expanding Global Institute for Equity Inclusion and Civil Rights; director of the Economic Development and Leadership Institute (EDLI); and director of the University Center for Economic Development and International Trade (UCEDIT) while also continuing to teach economics.

Casson’s research interests include economic development, political economy models and economics of education. He also is a member of the International Economic Development Council, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the University Economic Development Association. In addition, he has been president of his own Casson Analytics consulting firm for nearly 17 years.

Casson earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics from Florida A&M University, his master’s degree in mathematical economics and econometrics from the University of Wisconsin and his doctorate in agricultural and resource economics from the University of Connecticut. With such a pedigree, it’s not surprising that he’s an author. That it’s a children’s book he wrote in 2015 might be surprising. But Enwan the Entrepreneur: Enwan’s First Savings Account does, indeed, continue Casson’s career focus on innovation and a shrewd approach to finances.

Casson talked to Delaware Prosperity Partnership about The Garage, a fully integrated entrepreneurship ecosystem and product ideation laboratory for DSU students, faculty and local community members. The space is equipped to bring new creative ideas and product development from vision to prototypes, offers programs around entrepreneurship and provides resources to grow and sustain new business ideas.

Why is Delaware a great state to be an innovator?

Perhaps there was a time when the definition of an entrepreneur as a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so, made sense. However, if we are truly committed to the growth and prosperity of all our communities, we must recognize and acknowledge that the success of those that aspire to choose this path requires a community with its own set of cultural values, political frameworks, educational institutions and economic structures that provide an impetus for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Delaware, the “neighbor state,” a place where grassroots-up and top-down movements are essentially one and the same as their starting points are more often than not, next door to each other, inherently embodies the tenets necessary for successful public-private partnerships (PPP). Thus, as Delaware embraces the PPP strategy, we also redefine the word entrepreneurship to reflect the true coordination and collaboration of stakeholders necessary for the success of those that undertake risk for the benefit and development of all our communities. There is no better example of this than The Garage at Delaware State University.

The Garage is DSU’s entrepreneurial, innovation and maker space, and while the name “Garage” is not unique to makerspaces, the meaning for why we named it is. We have all heard the stories of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs getting their starts in “The Garage.” However, as I look at our population of students at Delaware State University, the majority are first-generation college students and, much like myself, never grew up with a garage.

Thus, the psychological side of this may suggest to the youth of our most distressed communities that they could never be the famed entrepreneur that they read about because they don’t have their own garage. But now they have their Garage with a motto that we are “Students of Problems, Not Disciplines.” That implies that your respective discipline is necessary but not sufficient to solve the world’s most challenging problems – therefore you must collaborate across disciplines, across communities. To this end, The Garage is powered by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals introduce a new initial phase of the product development cycle introduced by the Garage – awareness. As we believe that ideation cannot occur absent the understanding of the most pressing challenges facing today’s society.

In your view, what qualities should a successful innovator have?

Innovation begins with awareness. This is why the Garage exposes our community of innovators to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Innovators must allow themselves to be divergent thinkers. Innovators must have the ability to see beyond the limits of a traditionally standardized society. Innovators must not begin with the end in mind, as the old cliché states, as opportunities for innovation are boundless. Rather, begin with future generations in mind by creating a fertile environment for continuous change by future innovators.

What advice would you give innovators just starting?

Find your Garage! Find your community of innovators and divergent thinkers and begin to explore solutions to the world’s challenges.

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Dual Language Immersion Initiative Enters Next Phase

Dual Language Immersion Initiative Enters Next Phase

Delawareans with longish memories can think back a decade and remember the launch of the Dual Language Immersion Program. Close to 100 of those original kindergarteners are arriving this fall at Indian River High School, Caesar Rodney High School, and AI Du Pont High School, where they will start the next phase.

Those students who are ready will take AP Spanish or AP Chinese as freshmen and will then be eligible if they score well on the AP test to take classes at the University of Delaware or Delaware State University where they could be close to already earning a minor in the language by the time they graduate from high school.

The goal of the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) initiative, created by former Gov. Jack Markell, was to ensure the state produces “generations of Delawareans with advanced level language skills to keep Delaware economically competitive and to build stronger, more connected communities across the state,” said Gregory Fulkerson, Education Associate for World Languages and Dual Language Immersion.

Participation has grown over the past decade to more than 8,000 students enrolled at the end of the last school year, with estimates for the 2021-22 school year of 9,800 immersion students across 57 schools, including new kindergarten cohorts in nearly 30 schools.

“We know that immersion education is good for any learner, period, regardless of what their first language is, regardless of whether they already speak a language other than English at home, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of their ability,” said Lynn Fulton, Education Specialist for Dual Language Immersion. “Schools and districts across the state are really paying attention to making sure that their immersion classrooms are no less diverse than the overall diversity of their schools and of their communities.” From a demographic standpoint, Fulton says that DLI student enrollment is diverse — 23% are African-American; 27% are Hispanic or Latino; 22% of from are from low-income households; and 20% speak a language other than English at home as their primary language. In addition, every district’s DLI population includes special education students.

Delaware elementary Dual Language Immersion programs split the day equally into blocks of English-language instruction and instruction in the immersion partner language. While Spanish DLI programs are located across all three counties, the Chinese DLI programs are located in New Castle and Kent counties, Fulton said.

Fulkerson and Fulton said they’re proud of three major accomplishments from the past decade of dual language immersion learning:
1. Student-language proficiency among eighth graders – even with the challenges of the pandemic – hit the expectation that the state set at the beginning of the program for both non-native and native English speakers. Immersion partner language proficiency assessment takes place every year, starting in third grade.
2. Placing a focus on administrator professional learning and in-school support is building internal capacity of participating schools and districts. The state has done that by embedding dual language immersion coaches in districts across the state and building flexible structures that would allow expansion based on demand.
3. Learning in two languages is beginning to be more accepted and Delawareans are beginning to understand the value of learning in two languages. “This is a way to help [students] really get that sense of identity in their first language, their heritage language,” Fulkerson said.

Fulton says that students can be successful if they start a DLI program in either kindergarten or first grade. However, it is too difficult for the student to begin in second grade or beyond because so much foundational language has been developed in the first two years. An exception to this is students who have some background in the language at home or in another state; they may be able to enter Delaware DLI programs at any grade.

Fulton says she’s seen families come in from other states and choose where to live based on the availability of an immersion program at their child’s grade level. This has also happened within Delaware where parents have moved from one district to another and been able to transition their children into an existing immersion program.

Early on, the DLI team took administrators interested in exploring immersion programs on administrator study missions to see how it worked elsewhere. A visit to Wasatch School District in Utah had an impact on a number of Delaware administrators. “The superintendent of the school district told Delaware administrators that he had immersion programs in each of his elementary schools because he wanted to change the culture of his district,” Fulkerson said. “He wanted to create friendships where the students bond between languages and between cultures. He wanted to change the entire culture of his district into being an inviting place for cross-cultural friendships to develop.”

Cape Henlopen and Seaford School Districts have followed the lead of that Utah district by establishing dual language immersion programs in each of their elementary schools, allowing greater access for every student to learn in two languages.

“We know what the research says about the strong cognitive and academic benefits for learners in dual language immersion programs,” Fulkerson said. “But that friendship piece, I think, is such a powerful thing too. That’s really what we’re in this for— to ultimately create that positive inter-cultural, inter-language value between people.”

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