BY Patrick Gordon
Joel Kaplan remembers sitting in a classroom in Madrid taking a course on cultural diversity and evolution when he fell in love with the liberal arts. Ultimately, the experience altered his life’s path for the better.
Already having changed his major twice, Kaplan returned from Spain and immediately changed his major to reflect his untapped affection for the liberal arts.
They say the third time is the charm, right?
“It was the best decision I made,” Kaplan says. “It changed everything for me and I’m better off for it. It paved the way for everything I’m doing now. The ability to study philosophy but then also accomplish so much, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Kaplan, a 2014 graduate of the Department of Philosophy, is combining his passion for helping others while building on his keen sense of business and entrepreneurial spirit. He recently was honored by the Knight Foundation and named an Emerging City Champions Fellow. Through the program, he received $5,000 to launch a year-long initiative to improve high schools in his current hometown of Boulder, Colorado.
“Right now, we help students identify their passions and the things they really care about and then we go into schools and do workshops to help them find majors that align with not only the things they are good at but also the things they care about,” Kaplan says.
Kaplan also is affiliated with Venture for America, a program for recent college graduates to launch their careers as entrepreneurs. Fellows spend two years in the trenches of a startup in an emerging city, where they learn how to build a business while making an impact in the community. The program is relatively new having been around for only five years, but it appears to be an incubator for success as 25% of participants have gone on to launch business ventures of their own.
Kaplan credits his time within the College of Liberal Arts as a pillar of his work.
“When I was in business school I felt really limited,” he says. “I wasn’t getting pushed to think outside the box and that’s when I took a philosophy class where it really pushed me. I had never been pushed to think that creatively or in an abstract way ever before. From there, a light bulb went off and I realized I’m going to get so much more from this if I stick with it.
“From my time abroad I began taking more liberal arts courses and noticed I was pushing myself to think in ways I never really thought before. At that point, I realized I’d rather be challenged mentally and academically, even if it doesn’t directly apply in the short term to my career goals.”
Kaplan came to America via Venezuela when he was eight-years-old. His father, an entrepreneur himself, sought the opportunity to escape a crooked government besieged by corruption and nepotism. He passed the love of start-ups down to his son.
“I was raised in that environment and I have a really close relationship with my father,” Kaplan says. “I see entrepreneurship as a really powerful way to impact people and the world, so that’s where the seed was planted. It’s funny, I think about my experience at Temple and the things I’m doing now, all of it would have been impossible if I stayed in Venezuela. So many of the opportunities here in America are non-existent in Venezuela. There’s really no future to look to there and build towards.”
As for what’s next, Kaplan isn’t interested in settling down.
“I know this sounds simple, but I just want to impact the world and impact people,” he says. “For me, entrepreneurship has always been a simple way to do that and I believe studying philosophy is a perfect match because you learn about ethics and moral responsibility. Combined, I don’t know what’s better.”