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Alum Speaking at Commencement Leads in Social Entrepreneurship

Alum Speaking at Commencement Leads in Social Entrepreneurship
Kreiner talking with members of NUCAFE, a coffee farmer collective that has invested in processing equipment to capture more of the value for the smallholder farmers

With less than a month to go before spring commencement, we're launching "CNS Alumni Change the World," a series about some of the outstanding people who got their start in UT Austin's College of Natural Sciences and went on to transform the world. Follow the series online with the hashtag #CNSworldchangers. First up is a speaker at two CNS commencement ceremonies on May 20.

"An education rooted in science can be leveraged in many ways—for your career, for humanity, and for the planet." That's the message alum Thane Kreiner has not just for Earth Day weekend or for the graduates he'll be addressing at commencement next month. It's a message for living he carries into his daily work.

Kreiner is executive director at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University in California, and a national thought leader in harnessing the power of innovative and entrepreneurial people to address global challenges—from environmental sustainability to poverty. Initiatives of the center have demonstrated that some of the most important pathways out of poverty are those that help people adapt to climate change and increase the rights of women.

Kreiner studied chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin before going on to receive both a doctorate in neuroscience and an MBA from Stanford University. After years of accomplishments in Silicon Valley's booming biotechnology industry—including serving at the helm of biotech start-ups—Kreiner in 2010 made a move that Xconomy magazine described this way: "He took a job that offered him a big cut in salary, no stock options, and no performance bonuses. The lure? The chance to help build businesses in the developing world with the potential to make a difference for 1 billion people."

Before he sat through his own UT commencement in 1983, Kreiner navigated an Austin where he taught his cat to climb oak trees, studied in spots that also let him share grilled cheese sandwiches with friends, swam and ran at Barton Springs and Town Lake, and listened to Blue Mist at the Hole in the Wall. He described some of that history and where he is today in an interview this month.

What is Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and how does it change lives?

Climate change affects the global poor the most, and the majority of the world's poor are women; creating resilience to climate change through women's economic empowerment is the most powerful lever. At Miller Center, we've served more than 660 social enterprises working in 65 countries, and they collectively have helped more than 230 million people through solutions including safe drinking water, off-grid energy, ready-to-use therapeutic food, maternal and child health services, livelihoods training, agricultural productivity, and education.

What are you most proud of?

My students. Six years ago, we created the Global Social Benefit Fellowship at Miller Center that creates transformative learning experiences for undergraduate students through action research in the developing world. I've had the opportunity to work with 75 Fellows so far, three of whom have won Fulbright Fellowships. Each gives me hope for a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

What advice do you have for the College of Natural Sciences students finishing this year?

Invention and innovation can happen anywhere, not just in the lab. …Be open to imagining a vocation that doesn't yet exist—then create it.

I believe the greatest opportunities for disruptive innovation will continue to be at the convergence of disciplines, in the natural sciences and beyond, including the social sciences, engineering, and the arts. Working collaboratively in interdisciplinary teams and learning outside your comfort zone to continually reinvent yourself are two essential skills.

What stands out from your time at UT?

I was lucky to have wonderful professors and real laboratory experience. I was welcomed into Dr. William Shive's laboratory and had the good fortune to support research assessing individual nutritional responses using human lymphocytes from clinical samples.

I took many electives outside of my major, including creative writing, psychology, poetry, and history. By my senior year, I was fascinated with the chemistry of human consciousness and why people behave the way they do. I took a neurobiology class from an incredible professor, George Bittner. That cemented my desire to apply to Ph.D. programs in neurosciences. I can still visualize Dr. Bittner saying, shouting really, "There is no mind-body separation!!"

Kreiner will address the 8 a.m. and noon ceremonies for spring 2017 Natural Sciences graduates.

Kreiner (top of photo to right of tree) in Rwanda with 1,000 women who are economically empowered through market access for their artisan goods.
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Friday, 27 January 2023

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