Trying to Be Better

” …we don’t match, but we don’t need to match to be a family and love each other” – Lauren Jordan

People are speaking up. Black lives matter. Human rights matter. Injustice can not be tolerated.

I haven’t blogged or otherwise posted on social media recently not because I’m trying to ignore the events currently happening in the US, but simply because I haven’t known what to say. I respect, appreciate, and support everyone calling for change, but at the same time in some ways it’s felt better to just take the time to listen rather than try and say something and accidentally say the wrong thing by mistake.

Even with the “#BlackOutTuesday” campaign where theoretically you would think, “You don’t have to come up with anything to say, just post; it’s so simple to show support.” But again at the same time I read a lot of posts talking about negative side effects of this trend for how it was unintentionally blocking the distribution of a lot of resources, so even that seemed controversial. I also fear for many it was a hollow post and I didn’t want to post out of fear it would be a hollow post myself and also for not being convinced any message I share will reach anyone new.

As one of my friends put it: “I think what’s so frustrating to me as a white person it that I’m sharing information and resources and expressing my own support for BLM but I’m screaming into an echo chamber. I have no followers or friends who don’t support BLM (that I know of) so who am I helping by sharing? I want to help, but don’t know the best way to do it.”

So instead of posting, I spent the past day trying to better educate myself. My work on this journey is not comprehensive nor is it complete, but it’s a start, and it’s an action. To me actions often speak louder than words, so I don’t have any reflection or takeaways to share – I’m still processing and some of that requires internal thinking-  but I wanted to say that I know where I stand and want to do something about it, so here’s what I’ve done thus far as I try to personally be better so we can make a better future together:

Watched “13th” on Netflix

Read and signed 10 petitions.

Read the following articles:

END THE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE

First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources For White People

“MOM, WHY DID GOD CREATE MATCHING?” A mom’s conversation with her adopted 6 year old about racially mixed families.

100 RACE-CONSCIOUS THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO YOUR CHILD TO ADVANCE RACIAL JUSTICE FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

Responding to Racism Anti-racism tips from the NZ Human Rights Commission.

Discourse and Debate: Is performative activism inherently bad?

This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like

Pilot Success: Virtual DT Workshop

Today was a big day! We hosted our first-ever virtual design thinking workshop with Wish for WASH, and it was great!!!

It was by no means a perfect event – I have lots of notes for improvements… – but as a pilot workshop, I was super satisfied with the outcome of this 3-hour design sprint around supporting the homeless during COVID-19. We had a low turn out despite a solid registration which caused the need for a lot of on the fly pivots to our flow for the day, but we got through it and the feedback we got was enormously helpful!

Overall, our participants really enjoyed the workshop and were also very supportive and impressed with our quick pivoting and ability to adapt to be both participants and facilitators in an attempt to make for fuller teams. They even said that they would’ve been willing to do a whole day hackathon with us/would love to in the future. This really surprised me because we thought a 3-hour online event might potentially feel too long to participants. We also got good feedback around how to better word our pre-workshop email around what to expect/prepare with, and as expected everyone wished there would’ve been a bit more time for more elaborate brainstorming/prototyping/pitching – which was somewhat expected after we had a bit of a late start and a slow warm-up with getting people to participate, so we knew the whole time that we were running behind, but also good to know in the future we should better anticipate this potentially slow start. 

The biggest changes I’d like to consider for the future (in case anyone else is interested in leading a virtual workshop and wants insight into what I learned):

  1. Try to get higher levels of registration in anticipation of some no shows / more intense and maybe more targeted marketing. Potentially even create the date/time of the workshop after gauging interest and feedback on times that would work well for those interested.
  2. Re-structure our planned amount of time per activity to account for a slower start as everyone tries to get to know each other without the little side conversations that would normally take place in person. (This way we have the full time for a good experiment and produce phase.)
  3. Have one person designated for watching the time and updating the facilitators about where we are in the flow relative to where we planned on being. I found it really hard to pay attention to timing (didn’t help that I also had to convert the time zone) while also leading the facilitation because I could only have so many things going on in my head at once. Furthermore, since I had to also be a participant (which was not originally the plan) I didn’t have downtime while teams were working to be able to think through the big picture stuff like we had planned on, but should not have counted on. While I knew from the beginning we were behind schedule, I think we could’ve better made up time earlier in the workshop/ better allocated time to activities throughout the entire flow if I had been more aware of just how far off we were.

(Also on a personal note, I think I might’ve done too much of the facilitating/coaching and wish I would’ve done better at finding ways for other W4W members to play a greater role in the leadership side of the workshop. The original plan was for me to co-facilitate, and therefore, lead 3 parts of our flow, and I was not supposed to be a participant at all – just float between breakout rooms supporting as needed – but then one person on our team last minute couldn’t make it and a coach was feeling concerned about leading a team on her own, so I was going to assist her but wanted her to take lead. Then with all of the last-minute changes that happened once we started and realized we had less than half of the people signed up, I ended up doing almost all of the facilitation in the full room with the way things got cut, and I ended up leading in the small team despite what I originally wanted… So I need to do better there.)

The most valuable part of the day though was just knowing that this kind of event is possible. We successfully ran a 3 hour full DT workshop online! THINK OF THE IMPLICATIONS?!?!?!?

  1. The success of this workshop means the potential for future opportunities has increased exponentially! We can have digital workshops with people from all over the world; that’s pretty spectacular to think about the ability to expand the scope of people aware of design thinking and WASH-related issues.
  2. Building off of implication 1, with successful online integration, imagine the diversity of people that can be brought together for future collaborations?!?!? The success of today’s workshop was greatly supported by our ability to get professionals in the WASH sector as well as experienced design thinkers together in a “room” with a bunch of college students with open minds and crazy ideas. Even when we can meet in person again, I think in some ways online workshops might still be a great way to facilitate DT challenges, because it makes it a lot easier to bring together people with so many different knowledge points. It also makes me wonder if when we get back to school in person if this experience with online learning will make people more open to things like virtual guest speakers. The mix between experts and students is truly amazing to be a part of and I think if we capitalize on this experience with online education it could lead to some great collaborations with schools in the future.
  3. To me this proves any class online can still be interactive. The idea that an online class needs to just be lecture-based or for quick check-ins and – the idea that drives me craziest –  that teamwork can’t happen online is a myth! It’s all about intentional design. We used the tool “Annotate” on Zoom to allow participates to write directly on our slide deck as if they had a printed version of the activities in front of them. We also encouraged a “use whatcha have” norm – so even though we might not all have access to the most high-quality prototyping tools, we enforced the idea that anything can be prototyping material if you are creative enough. So even though we were all in our own homes, we were all able to build physical prototypes and share them with each other. Furthermore, we used a combo of full room sessions and breakout rooms (to stimulate table teams) to allow for streamlined facilitation in addition to small group discussions. With this feature, we were also very intentional in our flow by limiting the number of times we had to switch back and forth between rooms. We found in our testing/experience with Zoom classes, that when you constantly go into breakout rooms for short periods of time it becomes too disruptive and time-consuming, so instead we made our flow work so there would be longer chunks all together and longer chunks in small groups this way both types of conversations felt meaningful. We even made a “cue-to-cue” document like you would in theater, which a document just outlining all of the times we have to change a technical component of the “performance” so that we could practice all of the tech changes and see if anything felt weird being too close together in timing.

 

Some final takeaways: 

I loved how inspired and happy everyone was after the workshop. One participant commented that she spends all day at work focusing on the issues caused by COVID-19 and she really appreciated having the ability today to note real human struggles and then brainstorm ideas rather than focus on all of the negatives.

I appreciated hearing our participants talk about wanting other co-workers of theirs to participate in future workshops with us, and they also wanted to work with us again.

And finally, I was really proud of our team’s work both leading up to and during the event. This couldn’t have happened without the hard work of lots of individuals each doing their part and be willing to totally change plans on the fly as necessary.

It was a great pilot! We learned lots and have great potential for the future!

(Just a few of our prototypes by our awesome facilitators and MoVe talk speakers! I wish I had more pics but haven’t been sent them yet/we want to make sure our participants approve of the pics before we post, so for now it’s just us.)

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 8.50.07 PM

If you’re interested this was our slide deck (without the MoVe talk slides because we found it easier for the presenters to have their own deck for screen share maneuver purposes). We used the DEEP process with tools designed primarily by MV Ventures (formerly known as MVIFI).

Physical Development in Education

One of my classes this semester is Human Development Through the Lifespan. Our textbook is broken down into chapters that represent each stage of development as seen with the lifespan theory (so pre-natal, infant, toddler, early childhood, middle childhood…) Within each chapter there are three sections to breakdown the three major types of development: cognitive, social-emotional, and physical.

Currently we are studying middle childhood which is highly associated with the beginning of formal education. Something that stuck with me after reading the chapter today is that I feel like school disproportionately focuses on these three types of development. Cognitive development being the most emphasized, then sometimes social-emotional development, and really physical development seems to be more of a side thing.

Sure we may have “Physical Education”(PE) time, but often this is a short amount of time, sometimes it’s only for a few days a week, sometimes it’s on rotation with other classes so kids only take PE maybe for a semester or a quarter, and as kids get older recess time becomes smaller and smaller and PE often becomes a choice class that kids can elect to take or not. Granted, as you get to high levels of education most schools will still have some sort of physical requirement like playing a sport if you choose not to take PE, but learning about development is making me wonder, is this enough? At the same time though, as a student, I’m personally very grateful I didn’t have to take PE in high school. PE was kind of seen as a class you tried to avoid because it “wasted time” in your schedule and wasn’t fun… But what does this say about the societal views on physical education?

Research says kids should be getting at least one hour of physical exercise a day for healthy physical development. Furthermore, physical ability is correlated with increased cognitive ability (which school definitely stresses). And there is also a trend in decreased physical activity and increased child obesity levels over recent years.

Physical Development So why is it that physical development in school is often treated as just a box that has to get checked off and then ignored?  Why don’t we spend more time not only talking about it’s importance, but making it fun so kids actually want to spend an hour a day exercising rather than sitting on their computer?

A Star in the Sky

For the past few weeks, I have been working on the brainstorming and planning behind what it would look like to host a virtual design jam (a design thinking workshop/challenge). We hope to start officially marketing the event next week, and I was originally going to wait until then to post about how much I’ve been enjoying working on this project, but I decided I couldn’t wait. It’s been so much fun to plan because I have to rethink everything I would normally do and figure out how to adapt it for an online environment and that’s been a weirdly amusing thought puzzle for me.

Today we had a group meeting with all of our table coaches for the workshop and even then I found myself still catching more little details that could be adjusted to make for a more interactive and engaging experience. It seems that every time I revisit the plans I realize there is something else I could do to make the process more efficient, and I think it’s finally starting to take on a really cool shape.

What excites me the most about this idea is that if we can pull it off, then a virtual design jam will be another tool in our pocket that we can continue to build on in the future. Being able to host a workshop virtually would give us the option to connect with such a wider range of people in the future and that’s a really exciting thought. To not be bound by the limits of physical location is truly game-changing, and I’m not sure we would have had the push to try out this concept had it not been for this pandemic; it’s forcing us to think differently and try new things that have the potential for great capacity building.

This pandemic has been awful, but it’s nice to remember that even on the darkest night, a few stars can still be found.

Research Papers

I’ve been working on this same research paper for over a year now. Our Engineers Without Borders team has been interested in the use of design thinking in the global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector so we decided to do a literature review on the subject. Last spring we curated resources to review. Then over the summer, we reviewed those resources sorting by what seemed most relevant. Then in the fall, we got together our first full draft of the analysis work. We had experts give us feedback over the winter break, and now this spring we have been working on revisions. This process has taken a lot longer than we thought, but no one on our team has really done anything like this before so there has been a large learning curve. We are hoping to finally publish in the next few months or so even if it has to be an informal white-page kind of publication at first, (We’ve been working on getting funds to actually publish to an academic journal, but at this point, we believe it’s more important to just get the information out there than to wait to have the fundings for a more formal publish),  though I feel like I’ve been saying this for the past 6 months…

To be honest, I’m very ready to be done with this paper. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like I’ve re-read the same thing far too many times and just can’t think about it anymore, but I suppose that’s what the writing process is all about: writing and re-writing. Though the other thing that really bothers me every time I go to work on this project is just the general formatting of research papers.

From my perspective, there is a very small part of our population that really reads formal research reports, and it’s mostly just people actively in academia. Yet, most research studies have information that would be interesting and perhaps even beneficial for a much larger audience to be aware of, but these papers just aren’t in a very user-friendly medium. Research papers are long, use technical language to the point that almost feels like overkill, and are typically formatted in a way that’s uninviting to read (small, close together font with multiple columns all in black and white). When I have to look at research papers for school, I know that I never really want to read them – no matter how interesting the title makes the study sound – because they just look so intimidating. So every time I work on our paper I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone really going to read this…?”

I just wonder if rather than writing a traditional research paper, if our work would be better received if we considered different modes of sharing our results. And I wonder this for all research. While it’s good to have documentation of the technical aspects of research papers, should a greater amount of time be spent on thinking about how to make that research more accessible rather than more “technically sound”?

We Are One Planet

Today, as part of my work with the Wellington International Leadership Program, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Planning for this anniversary was clearly intense with hundreds of people around the world organizing to speak out specifically around the need to take action in regards to climate change. And then the pandemic hit…

Guest speaker and founding Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes expressed his devastation and frustration about two years’ worth of work now being illegal to execute in most countries. But what was most inspiring to me, and my biggest take away from the event, was his hope, despite everything, for what this could mean in terms of how we think about global challenges in the future. Hayes’ said it would make up for all the lost work if we come out of this crisis realizing that global threats need global cooperation and collaborative solutions that actually eliminate threats worldwide, because if only some people, some states, or even some countries take action – if it’s only “some” – then there is always a threat of the issue coming back. “We are one planet,” Hayes’ exclaimed, and so we need to work together cross-culturally to make change happen. This goes for all global threats from pandemics to climate change.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t even remember that it was Earth Day this week before I signed up for the event, let alone know that it was the 50th anniversary. I support Earth Day, but it’s never been a holiday I go out of my way to figure out how I can get involved with. But there are other global threats that I more actively work to find solutions to, like access to education and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene options. That’s why this conversation around global cooperation was so powerful to me because it’s relevant beyond the scope of just Earth Day; there are dozens of global threats out there no matter how directly we notice them impacting our lives.

For obvious reasons, the threat of climate change was compared frequently with the threat of Covid19 on today’s webinar. All of the panelists discussed how the virus is impacting their daily operations now and how they expect it to impact the future. A key idea that came up throughout the session was that even with Covid19 until people saw their neighbors rushed to hospitals, they weren’t taking the threat seriously. So the webinar left me thinking: “How might we get people to take threats like climate change and other global sustainability goals seriously when it’s even harder for the average person to visualize the direct impact these threats have on the world and the individual?”

The answer is unclear. However, from experience, we know that when people are actively involved in the process of planning and creating change, they believe in it more and care about pulling society along with them. So really the question is, “How might we get the average person to actively engage in processes to overcome global threats?” This is still a lofty question, and there could be hours spent on unpacking the meaning of “average person” alone, but it’s encouraging to have heard from several social entrepreneurs today who seem to really be thinking about this question daily.

Furthermore, panelist Molly Morse with Mango Materials suggests that there is already a demand for solutions to some of these sustainability threats like climate change. The key for social entrepreneurs to keep in mind is targeting the right market; markets need to be focused and specific that way every user feels that the issue is truly relevant to them as an individual.

So my take away from Earth Day amidst the Covid19 crisis is that no matter your area of passion, global threats exist, demands for solutions exist, and people tackling the big questions to create solutions exist. Now we just need to put it all together by working in collaboration with each other across sectors, political affiliations, and borders in order for change to actually happen. We are one planet – let’s make it one worth living on.

Staying Mentally Active

My Engineers Without Borders team had our first virtual meeting today. Despite the wasted time spent figuring out technology and the sadness around how many of our projects are now delayed with the new circumstances, I felt like it was a rather productive meeting.

Maybe that’s just because I realized how much I’ve missed having meetings. I miss collaborating with people on new ideas and trying to make stuff happen. Sure it can be fun to have time to do stuff on my own like messing around with my flute or categorizing old blog posts, but to me, nothing beats a good brainstorming session with teammates.

I’m fortunate that my sub-teams work isn’t too affected by the pandemic since we’ve just been working on a research paper about the role of DT in the sanitation sector, so our work has always been online. However, one of the events our team puts on each semester did have to be canceled – our semesterly “Design Jam” where we host a design thinking workshop around WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issues for the GT community.

Sometimes though, constraints can lead to great creativity, so now we are playing with a new idea: what would it look like to host a virtual design challenge? We think it’s possible, so we are going to run with it a bit and see what we can come up with. Today it was merely a thought, but next week we plan to flesh this thought out a little more to get a better sense of all the pieces involved in doing something like this. I’m really excited to see where this goes, especially since I’ve not heard of many if any virtual design thinking workshops, so it would be cool at a minimum just to see if it’s possible and how that could grow into so many new opportunities.

I’m glad that this week is starting to bring more structure to my time social-distancing, between my EWB meeting and more gymnastics video chats starting to become regular. I think this structure and more consistent interaction with people around new ideas is going to be helpful for keeping me mentally active and engaged because you can only challenge yourself so much – the best challenges for yourself are typically the ones you can’t think of on your own.

Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

W4W_2018Paideia_CourseReport

Back to Reality

Today was my first full day back in Atlanta since mid-June. It was a fairly standard day for me being at the gym most of the time and then crashing my brother’s tap rehearsal.

Being back in Atlanta though, it hit me today how close it is to the summer being over. It’s about time for next semester to start and I don’t feel the least bit ready. It’s about time for classes, and projects, and coaching, and acro, and tap, and maybe theater though looking unlikely this semester sadly.

It feels like summer flew by and now it’s back to reality time of needing to get ready for the rest of this year.

I’m not really looking forward to going back to school which is kind of disappointing honestly. I feel like the past few years I’ve always been at least somewhat excited for school to start, even if just for the sake of seeing friends and teachers and a few classes and clubs I knew I could count on being great like Latin and Innovation Diploma. Nowadays though I don’t feel like there’s much I’m looking forward to in regards to school. It was kind of a sad discovery to have as I looked at my messy room and realized it was time to start packing, so now I’ve been trying to really process what might be a positive thing about going back to school but still struggling some…

I think I’ll be closer with my roommates this year which could be fun. I’m moving to the advanced tap group which is kind of exciting, though I still kind of feel like a bit of an outsider at times with the tap troupe because most of the people were besties before forming the troupe. Theater I don’t foresee me being as involved with this semester just due to time commitments with actually working a fixed schedule at the gym this year plus 18 credit hours of classes (which I’m really not excited about especially with still taking so many core courses still); I am excited though to do A Mid Summer Night’s Dream again in the spring. Engineers Without Borders will be interesting considering we’ve finished teaching the class with Paideia, which was what I had joined the team for in the first place, but we’re hoping to continue the education team we just haven’t worked out details so I should get a lot of leadership with that. I’m somewhat excited to start taking psych classes this semester, but “intro to psych” is considered to be sometimes a hard weed out course which makes me a little less excited.

So I guess really I just have a lot of mixed feelings about school starting so soon. I’m not really sure how to feel about some things, meanwhile not excited about most of my classes whereas I use to have more classes to look forward to. My conclusion at this point: I wish higher ed was more learner-centered.

Inspiring Perspiration

Yesterday was a crazy day ending with a gym sleepover I worked for 50 some kids ages 5-15, so sadly I couldn’t blog until tonight.

It was the last full day of two big events I was working: the Olympic Gymnastics Camp (OGC) and the DT/sustainability course I was co-teaching at Paideia high school.
Last days can often only be described as being “happy-sad.” I was so proud of how far all of the kids came, but it was also sad to think our time together is over now. The OGC kids I may see again next year at camp, or at gymnastics meets throughout the year, but for the Paideia kids, who knows if I’ll ever see them again.
After 18 days working at Paideia, we successfully ended the course with each team having a prototype of a composting toilet and a deeper understanding of design thinking!!! I had to miss a few days during the last week due to working OGC, but I’m so glad I made it to their final pitches because they turned out really well for first-time design thinkers.
While we obviously had a schedule planned out before the course started, I was still a little nervous about if we would really be able to get all the way through a design challenge with newbies in only 18 days of about an hour and a half meeting each day. I was even more worried when we didn’t have full attendance until day 4… But we powered through!
Internally, I think we did a great job of really inspiring the kids early on and making sure to get everyone connected with each other to feel more comfortable before tackling some uncomfortable topics and situations- like talking about toilet habits.
Honestly, that’s probably one of the greatest takeaways I’ve had from this course: to have perspiration you need inspiration, and with the right inspiration, anything is possible.
I am planning to do a follow-up blog post after my Wish for WASH team who taught the class gets together to have our internal reflection meeting about the course. There are things I would change if we were to do it again, things I would like to further explore, and things that I was surprised about, etc, but I’ve not had a good chance to sort through all of my opinions just yet.
For now I just want to think about how crazy it is to believe we are finished, and how proud I am of the high school learners and of our Wish For WASH team for accomplishing our big goals: the learners built their own composting toilet prototypes that a panel of experts were interested in and they demonstrated a deeper understanding of design thinking and sustainability topics through their final pitches and reflection surveys.
#ProgressBell !!!!