This year, the Lerner College celebrated eight excellent alumni at its 27th annual Alumni Awards of Excellence. In the Alumni Spotlight blog series, we get to know these professional trailblazers with Q&A sessions.
The blog series’ first article highlighted alumna Esther Sportello, winner of Lerner’s inaugural Rising Star Alumni Award, which recognizes recent alumni who exemplify the qualities and spirit of Lerner’s Alumni Awards.
In this installment, we talk with winner Michael McCafferty, director of the Launcher Entrepreneurship Program and Bright Spot Farms, and alumnus of the Lerner Master of Arts in Economics and Entrepreneurship for Educators (MAEEE) program. Read on to learn more about how McCafferty’s time at Lerner helped him to develop his passion for giving back to the people of Delaware through social entrepreneurship:
Q: How does it feel to be selected for the Lerner Alumni Award of Excellence?
A: When I was first contacted by Dean Weber, I was very surprised and humbled by this prestigious award. As it sunk in, I felt that it validated all the hard work I have put into starting Bright Spot Farms, an urban farm in Wilmington that employs youth that have aged out of the foster care system. For many of the young adults, working on the farm was their first job. We focused on developing structure in their lives and helped them develop a work ethic.
Q: What made you decide to pursue a business degree?
A: After I sold the business my wife Naomi and I started 25 years earlier (Farm Meadows Nursery), I realized that I wanted to share my knowledge with others who wanted to become entrepreneurs. I was fortunate to be accepted into the MAEEE graduate program offered by the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE). Over the course of 2 years, I worked with 25 gifted educators from around the world under the guidance of Bonnie Meszaros, Mike Arnold, Jim Butkiewicz and Jim O’Neil.
Q: What opportunities did you have during your time at Lerner College, and how have these opportunities influenced your future career?
A: The opportunity to obtain my master’s degree at the Lerner College later in my career was a fantastic way to develop the idea of social entrepreneurship programs that would benefit people throughout the State of Delaware. I had the opportunity to work closely with professors who would help develop some of these ideas. They stressed to me the importance of leadership and how to develop innovative solutions to resolve complex social challenges.
Dr. Jim O’Neil was very influential in my latest project, the Launcher Entrepreneurship Program. This program educates and gives technical assistance to small business entrepreneurs in low-income areas. Over the past two years, we have started over 65 new businesses in Delaware that have hired over 150 new employees. This program would not be here without the support of the CEEE.
Q: Why do you decide to give back to the Lerner College?
A: No one is a success on their own. We all have mentors and role models that have helped us become a successful. Now it is my time to work with others who have the same dreams and aspirations as I have had. The great thing about working with students at Lerner College is that they are passionate about making a difference, and their energy is contagious. I would strongly recommend that all graduates of the Lerner College explore the many different opportunities offered by the college to mentor and support the students of not just Lerner but all students attending the University of Delaware.
Q: What is your proudest career moment so far?
A: Working with foster youth is one of the most challenging and difficult jobs anyone can have. Most of these young adults have been forgotten and abused for many years. The violence they face daily is staggering. When one of these young adults that has been in the Bright Spot Farms program works through the many challenges they face and realizes the power within themselves to live the life they want, it is a powerful and amazing transformation. Nothing makes me prouder then when these young adults come back and mentor the other youth in the program.