I just got back from an excellent weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, participating in a 24-hour challenge, co-hosted by ReinventED Lab and The Bureau. The challenge was based around the question, “what am I going to do with my life?” and it was targeted at college students in and around the University of Virginia.
By Michael Crawford
I was invited to participate and serve as a coach by Keaton Wadzinski, Founder of ReinventED Lab, an innovative, student-led organization that endeavors to create and support student-led initiatives at the intersection of education, innovation, and entrepreneurship in Charlottesville.
At the event, I also met Spencer Ingram, Founder of The Bureau, an organization that teaches students how to translate ideas into projects, not only helping to bolster student portfolios but also to help students develop critical 21st Century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. This idea of “projectizing,” – which, in my enthusiasm, I may have overused while at the event – is an undervalued skill that has the potential to make major waves in the noncognitive skills space and beyond. Spencer is very good at what he does, and he’s absolutely on to something with The Bureau.
Overall, the event was a success, drawing a total of more than 50 students over two days. Day 1 challenged students by way of design thinking exercises, micro-talks by invited coaches (including Joe Belsterling, Founder and CEO of Major Clarity), and unconference sessions, to consider the question of the event (“what am I going to do with my life?”) in two ways: (1) how am I going to answer this question for myself? And (2) what can I create that will help other students answer this question? These sub-questions forced students to think in terms of problem identification – the first phase of entrepreneurship and the development of an entrepreneurial mindset. After sessions and conversations, students left that night with a better sense of how their questions could be translated into problems, which could then be attacked with planning and action.
When students returned on Day 2, they were treated to several great design-thinking exercises from Spencer and Keaton. Spencer encouraged students to “do the doable,” to leverage the time constraints, and to create minimal viable projects that would be shared with others at the end of the day. Keaton introduced the Duncker Diagram, helping students to translate their problems from ideas to actionable steps.
At the end of the challenge, students presented their projects to the larger group, eliciting feedback, receiving suggestions, and answering and asking questions. It was great to see the creativity and energy the students brought to their projects. It’s one thing to be assigned a project from your instructor; it’s another thing entirely to create and build something that you pick because it matters to you and you see how it could add value to the lives of other people. There’s something incredibly powerful about ownership and relevance, and it was on full display throughout the event.
All in all, I had a great experience speaking with students, engaging in thought-provoking activities, and learning from everyone. In true design-thinking form, I’m going to use a template that we used at the challenge to share my final thoughts: I like, I wish, What if.
- … that this event came to life because students wanted it to happen and made it happen. They didn’t ask for permission from faculty or administrators. They didn’t wait for someone else to set it up for them. They worked with one another to articulate what they wanted to make happen, and they made it happen, securing sponsorships, recruiting participants, and executing their agenda.
- … that the attendees came from diverse backgrounds and areas of interest, which enriched the conversations and feedback that emerged throughout the weekend. There were students who had a sense of what they wanted to do with their lives and students who had no clue. There were first-year students and graduate students. There were entrepreneurs and local professionals. There were Virginia residents and attendees from as far away as California (fun fact: one guy from California was visiting a friend on his last day in Charlottesville, came in to the space to charge his phone, and ended up staying because the event was that intriguing).
- … more organizations like ReinventED Lab and The Bureau existed to help people think about themselves and problems in new and beneficial ways.
- … communities like the one I participated in in Charlottesville existed in more places.
- … that schools would consider alternative, transformative ways of engaging students, rather than mostly relying on minor, trivial iterations on what has existed before.
- … that more people more often could experience the type of energy and engagement that I felt this weekend.
- … more people manifested their ideas into realities?
- … more people mobilized people and resources to make things happen?
- … more people didn’t feel the need to ask for permission, in order to do something they felt compelled to do?
- … more people recognized the power of devising projects out of their interests?
- … more people had an entrepreneurial mindset that enabled them to more intentionally engage their academic, professional, and personal lives?