What makes your heart pump?
When do you feel like you’re in the zone?
What type of work makes you feel the most you?
These are all questions that 100 rising eighth graders answered when they visited the University of Maryland this summer to learn about social innovation.
These young students are just beginning to learn what it means to think like a innovator. During the school year, the middle schoolers will be using components of social innovation to create change in the issue areas that matters most to them, through a year-long project experience sponsored by the Ashoka Youth Venture Program. Students will form teams, identify a cause they care about, and work to find real-world solutions. In the past, students have taken on issues such as food waste, homelessness, discrimination, and more.
The students’ visit to College Park, Md., was was designed as the kickoff to their projects and was split into two sessions: a workshop on what it means to be a changemaker from the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and a ‘sustainable campus tour’ featuring the University’s green facilities, hosted by the Office of Sustainability.
At the beginning of the workshop with CSVC, students were given a simple task: write down the cause they cared about most on a name tag. They were then invited to walk around the room and share their passion. By speaking and listening to each other, students were given a first look at the kind of collaboration necessary to create change with a team.
The main focus of this session was helping the students get clarity on the issues important to them, that could extend into a project. To help them get there, CCSVC Program Manager Kirsten Craft walked them through a guided facilitation exercise called Head, Heart & Hustle, designed by non-profit Echoing Green, to help students get greater clarity on purpose. Students explored each of these tenets one at a time, and were asked questions that helped them connect with the topic.
Students also had the opportunity to hear from two social entrepreneurs participating in TerpStartup, a summer incubator for UMD students run by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Guest speakers included Nina Silverstein, founder of 2B, a children’s book and clothing company seeking to educate children about careers, and Katie Arañas, co-founder of Annie’s Children, which collects and creates regional folk story books to support that area’s orphanages.
After the guest speakers shared their story and their own personal Head, Heart & Hustle, the floor was opened up for the eighth graders to ask their own questions about becoming a changemaker.
Finally, students were split up by what cause they identified to be important to them at the beginning of the session to form specialized brainstorming groups. They then identified a problem statement for their group’s issue, ideated solutions and then created a rapid action plan detailing what they would need and how they could get it to be successful in their projects.
“It was great to see so many young students eager to learn about social innovation,” said Craft. “Hopefully the students can take the lessons they’ve learned here, apply them to their projects and make an impact in the community.”
After leaving campus, the middle schoolers had a much better understanding about what issues meant the most to them, and how they can become a social entrepreneur, innovator and changemaker. In April 2018, their project showcase will undoubtedly feature some stellar ideas, perhaps most importantly, an array of emerging changemakers.
To learn more about the work the Robert H. Smith School of Business is doing that relates to social, environmental and economic prosperity, visit the Center for Social Value Creation.
By: Sam Harris, Marketing and Information Systems, Class of 2018