Iona College Students Help Local Business, Nonprofit Navigate COVID-19

Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Empowers Students to Learn Outside the Lines of the Classroom in Service to Community

COVID-19, Iona Students Learn Outside The Lines

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Iona College’s Dr. Rasheda L. Weaver dreams of establishing a social impact lab at the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, where students can “Learn Outside the Lines” of the classroom and help solve real-world challenges in the community. It’s a dream that successfully started to form this semester as Iona students partnered with two local organizations to help them navigate business challenges arising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s all about service-learning. Yes, we teach students in the classroom, but we’re connecting them to a real community problem, and we’re expecting them to move the needle on the problem,” said Weaver, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation. “The first step is belief. You have to believe you can do something.”

Eleven students are currently enrolled in Weaver’s Social Entrepreneurship, Civic Engagement and Community Development class. Working in teams, the students have been tasked with helping two local organizations identify and solve challenges related to connecting with customers during COVID-19.

The two partner organizations are Impact100 Westchester, which has raised over $1.8 million for high-impact, nonprofit grants in the county; and Nurish, a social enterprise that aims to build community for parents with young children (ages 0-6) while helping them tackle parenting challenges through a mobile app. Students are currently conducting market research, surveying customers and working in close collaboration with both organizations to prepare key findings and strategic recommendations.

“Our goal is to blur the lines between classroom learning and real-world experiences to empower our students to positively impact our community through their actions,” said Christoph Winkler, Ph.D., endowed professor and founding program director at the Hynes Institute. “Dr. Weaver engages our students in powerful ways, adding another vital element to our growing interdisciplinary entrepreneurship program.”

Chyanne Blakey ’22, a double major in business marketing and entrepreneurship from Queens, N.Y., said that when she first came to Iona, “it was almost like I was doing a 360, because I had to discover what I was interested in on campus.” She always knew she wanted to be a business major, but when she took her first marketing class, she “just immediately fell in love because it is the most creative business class – in my opinion at least,” she said with a laugh.

Blakey’s first course in entrepreneurship – Introduction to Entrepreneurship – was with Weaver in 2019. Today, Blakey is not only taking Weaver’s Social Entrepreneurship class, but she’s also assisting with the professor’s first book, Social Entrepreneurship: A Practical Introduction to Social Enterprise. The book aims to be the go-to source for people seeking to combat societal issues like poverty, racism, climate change, hunger and more, using entrepreneurial techniques. Blakey is composing case studies on different social enterprises across the globe to present at numerous scientific conferences, including Iona Scholars Day and the EMES International Research Network’s Social Enterprise Conference in Spain.

“I tell my students, ‘You can be your own hero. You can be the change.’ And you can see the light bulb going off in their heads. You can see them becoming more empowered,” Weaver said. “When I educate someone in my classroom, they take that education with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of education.”

That’s also the power of example.

“I’m at the point where she’s really a mentor for me. The goals I see her obtaining in her life are some of the goals I want in my life, and it’s amazing that I get to see that unfold. It’s like fate,” Blakey said. “The highlight of my day is going to my courses. It’s so transformative that even online, the engagement we get is just amazing.”

Want to learn more? Weaver and her students presented as part of Iona Scholar’s Day, which is available for viewing online. Explore all that the Hynes Institute has to offer at

The Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation was established in 2017 through a record-setting $15 million gift from James P. Hynes ’69, ’01H and Anne Marie Hynes. It is an interdisciplinary program that fosters the development of creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship skills critical for success in a global economy. The Hynes Institute offers two undergraduate majors – a Bachelor of Arts in Entrepreneurial Leadership and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship, as well as an advanced certificate in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Located at the center of campus, the Hynes Institute is housed in a 3,800-square-foot, state-of-the-art coworking space offering a modern and sustainable home for creativity on campus and beyond. In addition, the Hynes Institute operates its GaelVentures Incubator at 748 North Avenue. Explore the Hynes Institute and get in touch to learn more today! 

Founded in 1940, Iona University is a master's-granting private, Catholic, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. Iona's 45-acre New Rochelle campus and 28-acre Bronxville campus are just 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. With a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students and an alumni base of more than 50,000 around the world, Iona is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona is highly accredited, offering undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona students enjoy small class sizes, engaged professors and a wide array of academic programs across the School of Arts & Science; LaPenta School of Business; NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences; and Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Iona is widely recognized in prestigious rankings, including The Princeton Review’s 2024 national list of “The Best 389 Colleges” and The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s “2024 Best Colleges in America,” which ranked Iona at #66 in the nation overall and #8 in the nation among Catholic schools. Iona’s LaPenta School of Business is also accredited by AACSB International, a recognition awarded to just six percent of business schools worldwide. In addition, The Princeton Review recognized Iona’s on-campus MBA program as a “Best Business School for 2023.” Iona also offers a fully online MBA program for even greater flexibility. In July 2021, Iona announced the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which is now principally located on Iona’s Bronxville campus in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian. Connecting to its Irish heritage, the University also recently announced it is expanding abroad with a new campus in County Mayo, Ireland. A school on the rise, Iona officially changed its status from College to University on July 1, 2022, reflecting the growth of its academic programs and the prestige of an Iona education.