Social Entrepreneurship and Career Pathways Study

Our research team conducted a study to assess the impact of programs that promote social entrepreneurship for underserved high school and community college students. From fall 2016 to spring 2019, the Social Entrepreneurship and Career Pathways Study (SECPS), supported through a grant from the Cisco corporate advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, explored and learned the variety of skills students gain as well as how their mindset about entrepreneurship develops through participation in such programs.

  Project Details

Arizona State University, partnered with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Cisco, to bring entrepreneurial trainings and opportunities to underrepresented students in Arizona community colleges and high schools. The Social Entrepreneurship and Career Pathways Study (SECPS), under the direction of Alissa Ruth, assessed the impact of programs within this partnership. Moreover, the study advanced the understanding of the educational and community embeddedness of underserved high school and community college students, in relation to their exposure to curriculum that focuses on social entrepreneurship, as well as various other interventions. Researchers assessed the outcomes of these programs on youth and their teachers using a mix methods research design. The study focused on two programs: EPICS High and Poder.


Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) High, a program of the ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is a design based, service learning program geared towards high school youth that incorporates engineering and human-­centered design processes to provide solutions to real world problems. EPICS High teams partner with their schools or not-­for-­profit agencies to identify needs and opportunities for them to address. Furthermore, the program utilizes the creativity and expertise of students both already interested in STEM fields, as well as the skills of students outside of engineering or have yet to be exposed to engineering, to develop and implement these solutions. At the end-of-the-year, schools participate in the EPICS High Showcase, an exhibit that showcases team projects and celebrates their success and impact on the communities around them.


Poder is a social entrepreneurship training program offered at no cost to South Mountain, Paradise Valley, Estrella Mountain, Glendale, and Mesa Community College students by Arizona State University, supported by grant funding from the Cisco corporate advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). Over five weeks, students learn to apply entrepreneurship skills to solve community problems, while also learning personal success strategies and how to use technology to maximize their positive impact on the world. Moreover, the Poder curriculum also includes interventions on decision making/goal setting, growth mindset and self-paced virtual modules. Program training can be applied to non-profit and for-profit projects oriented toward societal impact. Students had the opportunity to enter a competition for seed funding of up to $5,000 to launch or grow their social entrepreneurship project. 

Partners: Silicon Valley Community Foundation | Cisco Corporation | Arizona State University Office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation | Arizona State University Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering | Maricopa County Community College District | South Mountain Community College | Paradise Valley Community College | Estrella Mountain Community College | Mesa Community College |
Glendale Community College

  Research Team


Cisco corporate advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation


Cadenas, G., E. Cantú, R. Sosa, S. Carroll, N. Lynn, B. Suro & A. Ruth. (2023). An Educational Program for Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Critical Consciousness and Cultural Strengths. The Career Development Quarterly., A., M. Beresford & E. Cantú. (2020). Community and Autonomy: Motivations for Entrepreneurship among Arizona Community College Students. Human Organization. Fall 79(3): 237-246.

Villa, L., A. Ruth, R. Luchmun & E. Cantú. (2021). Increasing Self-efficacy in Mentoring Relationships for Aspiring Entrepreneurs in Community College. Community College Journal of Research and Practice. 46(10): 693-711

Cadenas, G., N. Lynn, E. Cantú, T. Spence & A. Ruth. (2020). A Programmatic Intervention to Promote Entrepreneurial Self-efficacy, Critical Behavior, and Technology Readiness among Underrepresented College Students. Journal of Vocational Behavior February 116 (Part A):103350.

Ruth, A., J. Hackman, A. Brewis, T. Spence, R. Luchmun, J. Velez, & T.G. Ganesh. (2019) Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) in High Schools: Subtle but Potentially Important Student Gains Detected from Human-Centered Design Curriculum. Education Sciences. February: 9(35):1-17.

Cadenas, G., E. Cantú, T. Spence & A. Ruth. (2018). Critical Consciousness and Entrepreneurship Career Development in Underserved Communities. Journal of Career Development.

Ruth, A., J. Hackman, T. Spence, J. Velez, H. Parker & T.G. Ganesh. (2018). Board 130: Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) High: Culturally Responsive Programming and Learning Outcomes for Underrepresented Students in Arizona. (Work in Progress, Diversity). American Society for Engineering Education Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah.