Pivot or Perish

If you read my first post you know that while on the train I am focusing on building a physical non-traditional college that focuses on developing mindsets. While reading College Unbound during this journey, I thought more about the complexities of building a college. I want to get this idea out fast like a startup, but building a structure for a college could take many years and a lot of money.

A few days ago, I learned about the Chautauqua movement, an adult education movement from the late 1800s and early 1900s. While mainly used to spread Christianity, it consisted of many teachers, musicians, and entertainers coming into a community to spread their ideas and interact with locals. After connecting with the community for a specific amount of time they would then move on to the next location. The concept died with the invention of radios and movies, but at its peak it was very popular. Theodore Roosevelt even called it “the most American thing in America.”

Learning about this process has inspired my new idea for Mindover U becoming a service for colleges. I now envision colleges across the country bringing in the Mindover U team to create a two week “popup meta college” that would have three purposes: Image

  • Teaching 21st century mindsets
  • Connecting students from diverse fields to inspire new projects and businesses
  • Providing an avenue for students to learn from successful entrepreneurs locally and abroad

(Logo created by Lisa Mumbach)

With the cost of higher education rising, colleges have to provide more value to justify the price. Colleges do a good job helping students gain depth of knowledge in a particular field but don’t focus on the soft skills (creativity, innovation, adaptability, etc.) that employers find valuable (the horizontal line of the T-shaped theory). Mindover U could be a great venture for colleges to outsource this aspect of learning, and provide a unique and cost-effective experience for their students. Keeping with the chautauqua tradition, Mindover U can “revive” higher education and help create well rounded graduates who are desired in the workforce. The service will target all colleges and higher education learning environments (universities, community colleges, non traditional, etc.) and could even be brought in by businesses that want to infuse innovation in their companies. I could also see Mindover U going to high schools or going to a community and engaging with local professionals.

So that is what I see as the vision of Mindover U right now. What are your thoughts? I am also interested in forming a team so please contact me if you are interested in joining.

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Hello America!

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Traveling the country by train provides many great scenic views that you can’t see anywhere else. I experience this first hand as we traveled through California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. The sights of mountains, valley, and rivers were breathtaking at times. The downside is the lack of reliable internet available to connect to hence the lack of updates. 

The most interesting part of this journey so far has been finding the non-professional connections I have with the participants and mentors. For example, Amanda Itliong , a participant on the train currently lives in Detroit (the place I was born) and Tami Door, who is a part of the Downtown Denver Partnership (the current city I am in) lived in Detroit, and like me gets mad when anyone says anything negative about the place. Travis Price, an amazing architecture, who talked to the group yesterday grew up in Augusta (two hours east of Atlanta) and still has family there. A few people have also told me how much they love visiting Athens. Finding these connections makes it easier for an introvert like me to talk to people I don’t know. It is hard for me to walk up to someone and talk about my project, but I have no problem asking someone what part of Detroit they lived in or what is their favorite part of Athens. I also think these types of connections help people remember you. Someone may hear about 20-30 projects and forget most of them the next day, but it is easier to remember people who share with you unique connections. 

I was really excited about visiting Denver as I had never been before and I have not been disappointed. This is our third day here and I experienced a lot that Denver has to offer. On the first night we went to a Colorado Rockies game, yesterday we visited an innovative urban winery called Infinite Wine Theorem (the motivation behind the name is if you give a monkey a pen and notepad and an infinite amount of time, it will eventually write lines from Shakespeare) Infinite Wine Theorem has made wine in a can and on tap cool and also a neat space. After leaving the winery, we had mentor sessions and a pool party at Taxi. Today, we are at the awesome incubator Galvanize (which means to To stimulate or shock with an electric current). Galvanize has the structure of community, capital, and curriculum that has inspired Mindover U. I look forward to visiting the space and talking to some of the organizers. The locals have really pushed for us to think about launching our respective projects in Denver. They have a raising startup scene and want to compete with the Silicon Valleys of the world. I like what I have seen so far and could see myself living here. Tonight, we are leaving Denver and heading towards Omaha. It’s another place I have never been to and I am interested in seeing what the city as to offer. 

Until next time….

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Let the journey begin…..

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Today marked the first day of the Millennial Trains Project. It took over 12 hours from the time I woke up to the time I finally made it to the hotel in San Francisco yesterday. The first event started not on the train but at the Crissy Field Center on the San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background (once the fog cleared). We had inspiring talks from Elizabeth Gore (UN Foundation) and billionaire entrepreneur Kamran Elahain (note: I think this is the first time I ever met a billionaire).  I also enjoyed meeting many of the other participants in the project. There are other projects focusing on higher education including improving college search, investigating the barriers for students to start and complete college, and testing the financial knowledge of college students. I hope to connect with each participant and form new ideas for improving life after high school.

We also got our first lesson in purpose-based leadership from Dr. Max Klau from City Year. He discussed how this journey will not only change our “outer worlds” through the impact of our projects, but also our “inner worlds” concerning who we are at the core. We were tasked with writing our personal leadership mission statement. This statement goes beyond our regular day jobs and quantifiable goals but capture the essence of what we want to achieve in the world. I had a little difficulty at first trying to come up with the words to describe the lofty expectations I have for my life but I was eventually able to muster some sentences that I will share below.

“As a leader, I seek to wake up each morning with the purpose of generating ideas, engaging communities, and creating processes for inspiring the innovations that will change the world. I will partake in new adventures and challenges regularly, never becoming stagnant and complacent. I will stay reflective and mindful in all tasks while always showing empathy and being a open collaborator to everyone.”

I am sure this statement will change over the course of this trip but I think it is a good start. I welcome any thoughts on my statement in the comments. The events so far today made me excited about the road ahead. I will visit my first startup incubator, The Hub, later today and there is also a celebration dinner event tonight.  I am interested in finally seeing the train which will be my home for the next 10 days.

To see more about what went on today check out my Storify: http://sfy.co/eOIg

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All aboard!

What is the Millennial Trains Project?

On August 8th, I will be joining 19 other millennials (ages 18-34) to embark on a 10 day journey to explore the country while working on social projects. This is the first event sponsored by the Millennial Trains Project which is “a non-profit organization that leads crowd-funded transcontinental train journeys that empower diverse groups of enterprising and civic-minded Millennials to explore America’s new frontiers”. The cities we will be traveling to include San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and DC. While on the train there will be seminars led by mentors in diverse fields and in each city there will be events and workshops with local leaders. Each passenger had to raise $5000 in a short amount of time to reserve a spot on the train and I am grateful for everyone that contributed to my project.

So what is your project?

MINDOVER U Emblem

You can check out my crowdfunding page here, but the main idea is the development of a non traditional college (called MindoverU) that serves as a cheap higher education alternative but also teaches the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace or start your own (ad)venture. The idea is still in the early stages and changes everyday but I envision the college using the combination of long term projects and short learning experiments to create self-directed learners. Instead of focusing on majors and grades, the college would support students pursuing real experiences that would eventually tell a story of their attributes and skills rather than getting a degree.

What do you plan to do during the trip?

Because of my current venture as a PhD student at University of Georgia, it is only natural that I turn this into a research project. One of the hypotheses I have for my college, and higher education in general, is that they should more resemble startup incubators in that they provide community, capital (financial and social), resources, and curriculum to help students find their interests, develop necessary skills, and pursue projects that could eventually become businesses. While many incubators are created at universities, to access them you have to pay the large tuition costs and the incubators aren’t considered a main focus of the university.

In each city I will be visiting a startup incubator and seeking to answer the questions: “How do startup incubators support the development of their customer’s ideas?” and “What can higher education learn from the techniques and tools of startup incubators?”. I am hoping to interview employees and tenants at each incubator and at the end of trip have many insights on how my future college can combine the strengths of a university with the strengths of a startup incubator to create an effective higher education environment.

I will be using this blog to document my findings in each city through short posts and a lot of pictures. If you are interested in my journey, I invite you to use this blog to follow my journey.

Bonus

Yesterday, I joined a few other MTP participants to talk about our projects on a Google Hangout with NowThisNews. Check out the video below.

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