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Sarah Ritter ’16M never loved school all that much. Even after graduating and entering the job market, she couldn’t find something that drove her passion. She worked in the information technology field for years, but it wasn’t until she was faced with some major health issues that Ritter realized just how much of her life was taken up by something that didn’t make her happy. “I’m really grateful for the perspective I gained during my sickness,” Ritter said. “I realized that I was spending eight to 10 hours of my 24-hour day at work, with six to eight hours of time for sleeping, and one or two hours commuting to work. Work is not necessarily going to make you happy, but your work should give you a sense of purpose. I was in a position where I needed to find more meaning.”

These revelations led her to consider becoming a student again, even though she had not found the structure of formal education stimulating. Craving a multi-disciplinary approach to education, Ritter was drawn to UNCW’s computer science and information systems program in conjunction with its strong business school and expansive entrepreneurship community. Mostly, though, she just wanted a chance to explore her future while learning about new subjects. In becoming a student again, she began her transformation into a teacher. From the start of her time at UNCW, Ritter knew she wanted to be involved with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and develop the beginnings of an idea she had for a startup business. She met Ron Vetter, computer science professor and associate provost for research and dean of the Graduate School, who connected her with the CIE and its resources. “Upon meeting Sarah, I immediately recognized the unique qualities and aspirations that she brought to UNCW,” Vetter said. “Although she started out as a graduate teaching assistant in the M.S. CSIS [computer science and information systems] program, I wanted her to share her technical abilities and passion in starting businesses with other students.”

Growing Turnips,

Developing Minds by Caitlin Taylor ’18M

Becoming a student again turned Sarah Ritter into a teacher.

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U N CW MAGAZI NE

In 2015, Vetter appointed her as the first student entrepreneur-in-residence at the CIE, where she could use her talents to mentor other students while growing as an entrepreneur in her own right. Throughout her time as a student entrepreneur in the CIE, she worked with other startups and observed their processes, all the while thinking through her own ideas. She attended boot camps, met with investors and was mentored in startup ventures and software applications by CIE faculty. Ritter’s ideas eventually fused and expanded to become Turnip Learning, a digital content website and app created for teachers to buy and sell their own original educational interactive activities. “While my studies have been focused on technical and business skills, the creative departments like digital arts and creative writing have also inspired me,” said Ritter. “My startup has given me a sense of purpose, and I am excited about how technology can change the classroom.”

UNCW Magazine Fall/Winter 2016  
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