Fasika Delessa '18 writes about her experience attending the Net Impact Conference at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga., Oct 26-28, 2017.
In his 1938 book, Experience and Education, Dr. John Dewey wrote, “there is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education,” at once marking his indelible place in the history of experiential learning theory. Although experiential learning--the idea of learning from experience--has recently emerged in popularity, people have long acknowledged that knowledge is not exclusive to a classroom. Aside from academics, writers and activists like the great James Baldwin wrote incessantly about how much one learns from her or his own environment.
The Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business has embraced experiential learning since its founding in 2009, when an inquisitive, idealistic group of students organized around a vision of commerce and industry where profit and social impact mutually exist. This center, a few years shy of its 10-year anniversary, has never strayed from its grassroots beginnings, constantly developing programs to ensure students go on to become business leaders with the skills to advocate on behalf of all stakeholders.
With the launching of a new Impact Ambassador Program this fall, the CSVC generously supported three students to attend the Net Impact conference in Atlanta, Ga., in late October - making true on its value of experiential learning.
As one of the students who had the privilege of attending Net Impact, the conference was an incredible experience and speaks volumes to the importance of hands-on learning. Although every aspect of the three-day conference was impactful, two moments in particular stood out for me. When Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green - an organization that studies and supports social entrepreneurship - took the stage on the first day, it was powerful to see someone who looks like me speak so candidly about her own struggles, frustrations and accomplishments. Dr. Dorsey reminded the audience of the civil rights movement, and urged us to contextualize Atlanta beyond a city where the conference happened to be located. Social entrepreneurship, aside from the private and public sector, Dorsey said, plays a big role in combatting the structural violence that plagues many communities.
On the second day, Kathryn Finney, managing director of Digital Undivided and Echoing Green Fellow, spoke to the audience about her experience as a black woman in the tech industry. Finney unpacked how, although isolating at times, she found a way to channel her energy into productivity to ultimately create an organization that collects data on entrepreneurship among black and latina women. After speaking about her own family's humble background, and the strength of her parents, Finney spoke to the crowd about the importance of mentorship in the community, and how having role-models there to guide you through informal networks can make all the difference in one's success in and outside of entrepreneurship.
Traveling to Atlanta and seeing the powerful impact social entrepreneurs have on cities, communities and states across the country made all material I’ve learned about social entrepreneurship in class come to life. Hearing directly from people who have done the work - tested theories on the ground, transforming the abstract into the practical - was invaluable.
As more young people than ever have the opportunity to attend college, the traditional educational system will continue to be vigorously examined, questioned and challenged; with all queries seemingly boiling down to one question; How much learning can be done outside of the classroom? While I don’t have a perfectly scientific answer to this boundless question, my own experience tells me John Dewey was correct in stating the necessary relation between education and experience. When institutions support experiences that illuminate students’ education outside of the classroom-- from community-service learning, internships, and conferences, to name a few- they help paint a bigger, more inclusive, and empathetic picture of the world, and everyone is better off.
For more information about the Center for Social Value Creation, visit: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/svc