Professor of Biology William E. Conner has been named the first David and Lelia Farr Professor of Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.
The chair was established by David (’77) and Lelia (’77) Farr of St. Louis, Mo., to recognize Conner and his work with the Wake Forest Program in Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. The funding provides support that will allow Conner to focus his expertise on the program’s continued development.
The Farrs made a $2 million commitment to endow the professorship, and it is one of the few chairs in entrepreneurship to be housed in an undergraduate liberal arts college rather than a business school. “We are deeply grateful for the Farrs’ support in helping the College recognize Bill Conner’s encouragement for students in every field, from biology to art to history, to use their education to think creatively to make the world a better place,” says Dean of the College Jacque Fetrow.
David Farr, chief executive officer of Emerson, was a chemistry major at Wake Forest, but has spent his entire career in business. Lelia Farr an economics major, was most recently the managing director of management consulting services at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the company’s Cleveland, Ohio, office.
“We recognized early on Wake Forest’s leading edge commitment to inspiring and developing students’ potential for creativity and innovation. The creation of a Chair and scholarships to support the University’s interdisciplinary focus on entrepreneurship is critical to the future of our economy and competitiveness,” says Lelia Farr. “We are grateful to Wake Forest for nurturing our potential while we were students, and we know that Dr. Conner will continue the rich tradition of mentoring young leaders.”
“Our goal with this gift is to continue the legacy of giving back to Wake Forest in ways that support our vision of educating and mentoring students that enable them to pursue creative opportunities for a rewarding and successful life,” adds David Farr.
The announcement of Conner’s endowed chair coincides with a University-awarded $36,000 Innovation Center planning grant. Combined, the two support the continued development of a center that will help students in any discipline of study think creatively as they seek solutions to challenges facing the community and the world. The Center offers training, personal coaching, mentoring and assistance with launching new ventures.
“In a recent national poll, 70 percent of high school seniors reported intentions of owning their own business. Students at Wake Forest, who believe in the value of a broad, liberal arts education, deserve to have resources available to help them learn how to turn their passions into a fulfilling life after graduation,” says Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development.
The Center’s development team emphasizes that entrepreneurship is not only about launching a new business. “Students need to learn how to apply entrepreneurial thinking in any situation,” says Polly Black, the Center’s director. “By linking creative and entrepreneurial principles with a liberal arts education, we empower young people to embrace change and learn flexibility — two qualities that will serve them well in today’s world.”
“I’m thrilled that through this endowed chair, the goals of the Program in Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship are validated,” says Conner. “I strongly believe that the University-wide interactive, interdisciplinary collaboration that the program will offer our students and faculty will add to Wake Forest’s already outstanding reputation.”
Conner earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University and joined the faculty in 1988. In addition to his biology professorship, Conner is director of the academic program in Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship and oversees the minor in entrepreneurship and social enterprise, one of the most popular minors among undergraduates.