Higher education is about hope. Parents save to send their children to college in the hope they will have better futures. States support their institutions of higher learning in the hope of creating engaged citizens and stronger economies. Donors give money to universities in the hope of transforming lives. Scholars do research and teach students in the hope of inventing a better world.

Friday night I had the opportunity to witness hope in action when I helped judge the finals in the college’s Cornerstone Competition. Cornerstone is a social entrepreneurship course that includes a service learning project. Each year about 2500 students complete 400 projects that represent about $1 million in economic impact. This year, Cornerstone was recognized by the Florida Campus Compact, winning the campus-community partnership award for its work with Boys Town. Cornerstone is a great example of Dr. Hitt’s vision for UCF to be America’s leading partnership university. It has also inspired UCF’s David Brim to create a unique social entrepreneurship app called Bright Impact. But most of all, Cornerstone is at the heart of the College’s enculturation process, instilling entrepreneurial thinking, creativity, teamwork, communication skills, ethics and an appreciation for diversity in our students.

The competition celebrates the Cornerstone projects, and thanks to the generous support of UCF alums Jim and Debbie Balaschak, who also helped judge the finals, provides a cash prize to the group that best exemplifies the values of Cornerstone. About twenty teams participated in Friday’s competition, with four groups presenting in the last round.

This year’s winning team was Hope’s Reality. The group raised enough money to give one very sick little boy the opportunity to turn his hope of a Disney cruise into reality. The team didn’t win because they raised the most money (they didn’t). They didn’t have the most careful presentation of how their project linked to course learning objectives. Nor did they overcome the greatest obstacles. They won because they were best able to leverage the emotional resources created by telling their story of pursuing one little boy’s dream and making it reality. It moved the judges and showed they really cared about their project. Harnessing the power of hope to achieve goals is what social entrepreneurs do. Nicely done.

Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/deanThis post appeared on December 3, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.