So many of us shy away from assessing programs because we imagine the way it’s always done- a survey where you circle numbers, or check boxes, and give a lot of information with little return on our time investment. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! When you make it easy for people to share their thoughts and feedback, you will find that their answers are more robust and helpful. Here, I’ll share a few ideas for how you might do that:
THIS OR THAT?
Force people to take a side, and you’ll likely get some strong opinions. Coke or Pepsi. Beyonce or Rihanna. One Direction or 5SOS. The options and forced choices go on and on. How can you operationalize that natural willingness to chime in? At the end of an event, class, or initiative, prompt your participants to share a takeaway or suggestion…and then place it in a bowl or jar. From there, you have the feedback you need…and the overall opinion of the group on some of life’s biggest questions.
How did this workshop go, on a scale of terrible to awesome? Yes, you can send an email afterward and hope to capture the thoughts they left in the room, or flip through lots of survey sheets. Or, you can get a great visual representation of the room’s take on a topic. As a bonus, encourage participants to share a critique or bit of feedback, regardless of placement on the graph, to provide additional insight.
COMPARING STUDENT EXPERIENCES, APPLES TO APPLES
We’ve all been there: someone asked us a question, and the words to answer it just didn’t come. But one way to get around this loss for words- provide them! At the close of an event, set up a “photo booth” or encourage selfies be posted to a hashtag. Place out the green (adjective) cards and request participants take a photo while holding the card that answers the question. As an example: “choose one word to describe your experience at this event,” or “choose a word to describe your experience signing up for this event.”
Any or all of these three methods could serve as a fun way to find out what people think about your work, while making it fun for them to volunteer the important information that could help you improve. What other methods have you used to get feedback on your events or initiatives?
In the past few weeks, I’ve found a new TV show to get consumed by, but it’s not anything you might be able to guess. I’ve finished The West Wing, blew through Mad Men, and haven’t started The Walking Dead or finished Breaking Bad.
One of my new favorite shows is…Odd Squad. A Canadian show made for kids and shown on PBS Kids, Odd Squad is about a kids’ detective agency that solves odd crimes. Most of the crimes they investigate can be solved by a basic understanding of a mathematical concept, hence its placement on PBS Kids. And while the website indicates it was developed for children ages 5-8 (I’m much older than that), I’m finding that there are lessons to be learned from this program. You know, besides the math lessons.
No Leader is an Island. Each Odd Squad agent is paired up with a partner, who goes with them on all calls or talks them through cases. They develop strong relationships built on trust and respect for one another’s intelligence, and they build friendships in the process.
While it may seem as though the right way to lead is as a talking head at the front of a room, it can be beneficial to share the load of leadership with a partner or group. You can prevent one another from being overworked, troubleshoot problems that an individual may not be able to see a solution for, or fill in any skills gaps that you may have. A leadership structure that can encourage the sharing of responsibility- either formally through the use of co-chairs, or informally with the formation of mentor/big-little relationships- will yield stronger, more cooperative leaders.
Every Problem Has a Solution. On Odd Squad, this is literal- some of their odd cases are solved with a device aptly named to solve a problem. For example, a bike that wouldn’t fit where it needed to go, was made smaller with a Shrinkinator. While our problems in real life aren’t always that easily solved, the thinking is smart- seek to attack each challenge that you and your team encounter, as though it can’t be solved. Many of us will give up early, or work in difficult conditions, because we give up on finding a solution, or delay doing what needs to be done to prevent conflict or discomfort.
Miss O (the juicebox-loving head of Odd Squad headquarters) and I want to challenge you to do one better; treat each issue that arises as though it has a solution. You can come to this solution in a number of ways- consulting with those affected by possible solutions, friends and mentors, or even your advisors or bosses if you’re truly stumped. Don’t let a problem lie just because it’s hard- make the triumph all the more sweet by continuing to work at it until the case is solved!
Find Your Ideal Workspace. For the Odd Squad agents, it’s the Mathroom- a Fortress of Solitude-like virtual space where they can render their clues and tie them together to map out their solutions. In this space, they have all the tools they need to get their work done, no distractions, and time to solve the problem at hand.
Where would you say your “Mathroom” is? Do you have one? It’s easy to try and make this space in your student organization’s office, public spaces on campus, or even your bedroom…but these may not be the best places for you to really dive into your work. Rooms can be made loud by roommates or neighbors, offices can be distracting when other tasks or coworkers compete for your attention, and your bed, while comfy, isn’t the best place to work- it’ll make it harder to sleep later on. Take some time to experiment, find your sweet spot where you could be more thoughtful, productive, and able to best serve your organization.
While the lessons shared each week on Odd Squad aren’t designed to teach college students or professionals, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good lessons in there for us too. I encourage you to give it a watch, have a laugh, and see what it can teach you about being the kind of leader kids can look up to.
As we continue the journey toward our fall conference in Orlando, we want to give you the opportunity to meet some of the people that help us make it happen. Today, Gary brings us the story of e2c Services.
It’s every college senior’s major question when entering their final year of school: “What am I going to do after I walk across the stage in the fall?” Many college graduates graduate and do not have a job; this is true for a great many who are out in the world today. Some might question the lack of preparation in higher education for that. But career service organizations like E2Cservices are changing that fear, and turning it into a possibility.
The model that they adopt and have college students follow is what shows their success. Dave Pearce and Dawn Brunn’s story is unique. They were co-workers at the same company and one day had a conversation about how much they learned; they wanted to bring that knowledge back to college students for others ultimate success. Dave Pearce is founder of E2Cservices, while Brunn holds a masters degree in Adult Education and is a Certified Professional Coach. Their networking model developed as they reached out to different students, organizations, colleges and other groups- from there the word spreads about E2C.
E2C believes that universities can get their faculty active within their community, particularly in business. Students should get opportunities to get out of the classroom and do internships. E2C says, statistics shows students who have had a internship during a period of their educational career have a greater chance at obtaining a job at that organization, than their peers who do not take advantage of this opportunity. E2C has had great success- each student they take on as a client receives the same coaching and the same number of interviews with the organizations they want. A quick example: one of the trainings that E2C conducts is called Strengths Training; through this one of E2C’s clients discovered he wanted to go to school for his Civil Engineering degree. Now he is working in his dream field, and has an internship at a Engineering Firm.
E2C feels that Lead365 is a great conference opportunity and partner, because both organizations have the same audience and core values. E2Cservices welcomes everyone to attend their session (to be held at the start of Day 2); they will present networking ideas, resume building, LinkedIn profiles, and do’s and don’ts on Social Media. Join them at Lead365.
This fall, the Lead365 Conference will be adding two sessions on student entrepreneurship to the lineup- check out our schedule for more details on this session. To prepare you for the idea of learning about entrepreneurial leadership, we talked to Northeastern University’s Lauren Landry about the value she sees in that sort of thinking and how you can encourage it in student leaders on your own campus.
What sorts of experiences did you have as student leaders that led you to want to continue working with college students?
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work for the school’s first lifestyle magazine, initially as a writer and eventually as the managing editor. What made the experience so meaningful is that it became the place students could come to discover whether publishing was the right fit for them, and in what capacity. Did they start as a writer, but fall in love with design or sales? Or did they think they wanted to be an editor, but realized they’d miss writing their own stories?
The magazine served as a creative outlet for so many. It was also a place run on peer editing, meaning students were pushing each other to be better. Our goal was to create the same quality you could find on newsstands and, because of that, it took a lot of work. Students made the choice to spend their time outside of the classroom on the magazine, and that desire to be the best was inspirational. It’s easy to miss that collaborative environment and youthful energy, which is why I was thrilled to cover campus innovation for BostInno.
Given your background as a journalism student, where did the interest in student startup culture start for you, and what opportunities did you take to build it?
Admittedly, prior to taking my job at BostInno, I was a stranger to student startup culture. That said, I, like so many others, was unknowingly plugged into it all along. I was constantly logging on to Facebook, regularly sharing documents via Dropbox, or visiting SoWa on Sundays just for Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. When doing these things, I never thought, “These companies got their start in Boston-area dorm rooms.”
My position at BostInno granted me the opportunity to remind people of that. Even better, I got to put a spotlight on the dozens of other young entrepreneurs trying to make our world a better place, whether through the convenience of on-demand services or the democratization of education.
My initial goal was to simply educate readers on a growing culture I was surprised to know so little about—particularly as a former Boston college student. We launched the Campus Innovation Guide in mid-2012 to highlight the incredible work being done city-wide, as well as provide aspiring student entrepreneurs with the resources necessary to get their ideas off the ground. As luck has it, some of the stories populating that Guide happened to spark the interest of investors and customers, which proved to be a huge win for students and motivated me to wake up every morning.
Over time, I realized my role went far beyond sharing stories—it was making connections. I spent many inspiring nights sitting around tables with student leaders from around Greater Boston brainstorming and collaborating. When I met an entrepreneur I knew could benefit from the expertise of another, I would introduce the two, regardless of the schools they were studying at.
Achieving a vibrant startup community is impossible if everyone is operating in silos. A lot of progress has been made—student-run firms like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund are great examples of that. More could always be done, however, to encourage students to break out of their campus bubbles.
As I’m sure you’ve seen, many institutions aren’t always ready to support entrepreneurship, instead preferring to steer students toward more traditional paths like corporate work, graduate school, or service. Why do you think that is? [what fears are tied up in it, what skills need to be developed, etc.]
If an entrepreneur is stumped on a problem, they will do whatever necessary to figure it out—often on their own. I think that scares some schools; they fear irrelevance. If an aspiring entrepreneur can learn something without attending class, why should students bother taking on the average $30,000 in student loan debt? After all, we live in a world where students are being paid $100,000 to drop out.
That said, the best schools are making entrepreneurship a part of their fabric. I’m admittedly biased, because I currently work at Northeastern University, but the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education has done an amazing job connecting what students are learning inside the classroom to what they are building outside of it, using three simple words: “Educate,” “Incubate,” and “Launch.” They assist students at every point of their startup journey—from fleshing out that initial idea to bringing their concept to market.
More schools should be supporting student entrepreneurs and celebrating innovation.
Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more inclusive and fruitful leadership experience for students who want to create a lasting impact through building a company or solving a problem.
Point/Tip One: Give students the room to innovate.
There is no better time to start a company than in college, when students have a built-in safety net and don’t have to worry about how they will cover rent or additional living expenses. Acknowledge that and encourage entrepreneurship. It’s hard to believe that, at one point, students at Harvard were forbade from running businesses out of their dorm room. Ensure you are not killing the next Facebook by giving students the room to innovate.
Point/Tip Two: Create a safe space for students to innovate.
Part of giving students the room to innovate requires they have a safe space to do so. This doesn’t require a state-of-the-art facility—it’s unrealistic to say every college or university can afford to create an Innovation Lab. That said, schools can provide a variety of resources dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship. Is there a spare classroom that could be turned into a makeshift co-working space, or faculty available to walk students through their business plan? Are you bringing outside speakers in, perhaps successful alumni, who can inspire students to take that leap or offer mentorship? There are a lot of little things colleges can do that make a big impact.
Point/Tip Three:Celebrate the wins through more than business plan competitions. Business plan competitions are a great place to start—students should be recognized and monetarily rewarded for their hard work. But business plan competitions shouldn’t be the only way entrepreneurs are supported. Additional programming should be integrated throughout the academic year, whether that be hack nights, networking opportunities, or speaker series. Entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in a vacuum during the spring semester; your programming should reflect that.
Point/Tip Four: Help connect student entrepreneurs to the greater community.
For students in Boston, there are dozens of ways for students to plug into the greater startup scene. Help students discover those opportunities. Too often, we complain about a “brain drain”—students coming to school here, acquiring knowledge, and then leaving immediately after graduation. A way to prevent that is by helping young entrepreneurs build a network too valuable to leave. Companies in this area are committed to giving them a reason to want to call Boston home. Tell them about ventures in your area like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund, introduce them to accelerators like Techstars and MassChallenge, or bring them with you to events like TUGG’s Tech Gives Back or the New England Venture Capital Association’s NEVY Awards. They will thank you for it.
Point/Tip Five: Build a strong, encouraging alumni network.
One of the best ways to inspire student entrepreneurs is by introducing them to someone who’s experienced what they have. Start building a strong alumni network early—one that’s able to support like-minded entrepreneurs post-graduation if your school might not have the resources to do so. Alumni want to get involved. A prime example of that is the Soaring Startup Circle, a summer accelerator program started by Boston College alumni for Boston College students. Encourage initiatives like this, and provide students with the confidence that their support won’t run out immediately after commencement.
If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create a more inclusive environment for creating an environment where potential student startups and their founders can thrive, what would you suggest?
It’s simple: Celebrate entrepreneurship. Create an environment that encourages students to want to take that leap of faith. As President Obama said in July at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit:
Everywhere I go, across the United States and around the world, I hear from people, but especially young people, who are ready to start something of their own—to lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies. And that’s entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world—it’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights and push back against corruption. Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.
If I were to compare my time as President of OUTspoken (my alma mater’s LGBTQA+ organization), I would compare it to Leslie Knope’s time as Deputy Director of the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation. If you’re familiar with the show Parks and Recreation, you will find that Leslie Knope is very passionate about her job. She loves everything to do with the Parks and Rec department and she clearly enjoys her job. I envisioned myself to be the Leslie Knope of OUTspoken for a few reasons.
The first reason is that that it was an organization with a mission that I was very enthusiastic about. I wanted to be a resource for education for the LGBTQA+ community. Even though Leslie held the position of Deputy Director, she was very much the spokesperson for the whole department. People knew that she would fight for the town of Pawnee and its parks. I liked to think that in my time as Secretary of OUTspoken during my Sophomore year, I was viewed as the same way.
Towards the end of the series, Leslie gets promoted to chair of a branch of the National Parks service, pretty much the pinnacle position you could get being in the Parks Department. When I moved from secretary to president at the end of my Sophomore year, I felt that I had reached a point where I could truly make a difference.
Like Leslie Knope, I was passionate about one thing and decided to immerse myself as much as I could in it. I worked with my executive board to reach out different people in other organizations and in other departments around campus to get the OUTspoken’s name out there. Leslie Knope did everything in her power to make sure the citizens of Pawnee knew that the Parks and Rec department cared and wanted to make the town parks better for the children of Pawnee.
Being President of OUTspoken taught me so many things. It taught me how to communicate with other people; both people who were on the same level as me and people who were in positions higher than me. It taught me how to work with different people in different positions; some people who did their work well without any direction (ahem, Jerry) and some who needed a little more guidance with their job and what they needed to do (read: Tom Haverford). But regardless, being a part of OUTspoken was such a great part of my undergraduate career. Being my first leadership role, it gave me my first steps with getting more involved on campus. It will always be the example I give to other students who are having trouble fitting in on campus.
One quote from Leslie that I always enjoyed and I think people should keep in mind is: “I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.” I think we should all be inspired by the work that we do and where we have started to where we are today.
This month, the Lead365 community engagement team is looking at their formative college leadership experiences as many of us head back to campus and the classroom. Today: Gary tells us what becoming an RA in his second year means to him today.
Four years ago, as a sophomore, I became a Resident Assistant for a first-year student resident hall. I was excited at first because I was a people person; and I wanted to connect with others, make new friends and enjoy the experience. I had heard great things from other people who were RAs in college who had a good experiences. But almost two months into the position I had an “a-ha!” moment. I did not know what it was exactly, but I was liking the experience more than I thought.
I was very involved on my campus all throughout college; my RA positions lead me to other great opportunities. But I never really expected to take on big leadership roles in either a Fraternity, Student Government, or even being a Community Advisor in our Housing department. By my junior year in college, I had a mentor mention to me that I should think about a field called “student affairs.” At this moment in my life, I loved every moment of being involved, more than being in class. I thought to myself, “I actually could do this as a living.” It came to me at a perfect time, because I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. So I took the summer to look into. As it turns out, it was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I was very fortunate to get into an amazing graduate program with some support from amazing mentors. I am currently a Graduate Assistant with the Department of Housing Residence Life at the University of West Florida, in their College Student Affairs Administration Program.
I feel so lucky that my involvement got me to the start of my career path. I learned some great lessons through my involvement as an RA- great people skills; leadership skills; and, most importantly, personal skills. I gained growth within myself. I can confidently find resources, assist with conflict resolution, and execute successful programming. This is not a job for everyone; it takes a special type of skill. I’ve definitely learned that I do have that. Every day, I love waking up and working with the students who live in the community that I live in. I like creating a engaged and involved community, because I personally feel that if a college student has a positive and involved community in college then that could help with retention rates.
DISCLAIMER:I did not invent this leadership activity; it has been adapted for the purposes of this blog post. You are welcome to use it and adapt to your own needs as it is, as far as I can tell, in no way copyrighted/patented.
EDITOR’S NOTE:That said- if it is, please let us know!
In the 1800s, the word “swag” was a term used for stolen goods. As you are probably already aware, the connotative meaning of the word has changed quite a bit since then. Figuring what swag is, what it means to us, and how we use it as a device for development, can greatly inform our leadership styles and abilities.
Now, expand upon each of these words for yourself or as a group:
-What stuff are we talking about?
-What does this stuff represent/mean to us, to our programs, to our ideas?
-Who is we?
-What about this makes it collective i. e. more than one?
-How inclusive is this all?
-What are the implications and benefits of all?
-What does getting something imply?
-What is important about having something?
Give this a try! See what thoughts it brings up for you or what ideas come out of a group of people doing this. You are also more than welcome to make the letters in swag stand for different things. Another idea to generate some more thoughts with regards to swag is to do an image search online for the word swag or a YouTube search. See what is out there with regards to this word that we sometimes do not think very much about and is simply a part of what we do. Let’s do some thinking about how and why we do “swag!”
I would love to hear how this goes when you or your colleagues/groups give this a try. If you have any questions or would like suggestions for other leadership activities please do not hesitate to contact me.