Finals are Here and I’m not an Engineer

Earlier today I received my first official email from the Scheller College of Business. That’s right, I’ve finally declared a major, and it isn’t what most people expected. download-2.jpg

Since I started really thinking about where I wanted to go to college (so basically since junior year of high school), I have kind of avoided the question of what I wanted to major in. People would tell me,  “oh you’re good at STEM and like problem-solving, you should be an engineer!” I figured, why not. I didn’t have much of a better idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to continue doing design thinking, and I knew education was at the very least a passion of mine. I firmly believe that design thinking is a mode of thought pertaining to every discipline and major, but I’ve observed that higher education doesn’t seem to apply this notion to degree curriculum plans where it seems that only a few majors really dive deep into principles of design thinking.

I realize now that at the end of my high school career I spent far more time looking at colleges then I really spent learning about different majors offered. It’s said that it doesn’t matter what major you choose, and that’s fair, all majors are “good majors” and each is “hard” in their own way- that’s not how you should choose a major. It’s said, “a lot of the first few semesters is the same for everyone”, and I’ve found this to be true too, there are a lot of core requirements that all first years take. It’s also said that it’s fine to come into college as an undecided major- this is the one I have some problems with.

I entered college in undecided engineering, so I say all this from the perspective of someone is living out the life of an undecided major. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it makes sense that an 18-year-old doesn’t have their life completely together yet, which is what they tell you when you think you’re going to apply as undecided. However, once you get to college you have way less time to try and contemplate what major you want to go into. And sure people say you have time to decide on a major, but really what they mean is, “We want you to decide by the spring, that way at least you’re in something. Then we can deal with you changing your major later if that’s what you need to do.” (This isn’t me implying, I’ve been told multiple times that even though most classes are practically the same for the first few semesters, they still want you to pick a major by the end of spring.)

The other hard thing is that I like to talk to people to learn about the different majors. However advisors are figured out by major, and undecided engineering majors are just clumped with mechanical engineers because it’s the “most general engineering.” So my experience was that all of the advisings was really just focused on mechanical which wasn’t very helpful when looking to just learn more about different majors before making a decision. Thus I also tried talking to other advisors, but some advisors only speak to their specific major (including business…).

The big thing that I realized throughout this process, and in general since being in college, is that working in the realm of innovative education is more than just a passion of mine. I think I’d really like to continue working on forwarding the Education Transformation Movement as at least an initial career. download-1

It’s when I made this realization that I finally started to question if engineering was right for me. I started thinking instead about what’s kind of become a motto of mine, “could not should.”

When I applied to MVPS at the end of 5th grade, I was given a creativity question during my interview. The question asked, “List all the things you could do with a pencil.” So I did: write, use as a bookmarker, keep a locker open, hair piece, stab someone,… When I was telling my mom this story afterward this is the point she stopped me and said, “ANYA PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T SAY YOU COULD STAB SOMEONE WITH A PENCIL!!!” My response was, “It asked what you could do not what you would or should do.”

I got into the school, so as my mom and I like to think, we guess they accepted that I was taking the question very literal for the sake of creativity. But despite what my interviewer thought, my friends and family have never let me forget this story, and I’m kind of grateful because it’s become a good motto.

I’m not one to lack confidence, and I truly believe that if I wanted to, I have the brain power and persistence to where I could become an engineer. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I should just because I could. As I started to think about this possibility I realized that I’ve never been one to particularly love activities closely associated with being an engineer, like creating CAD models, or using power tools, or running data analysis on experiments. I’ve never hated these activities when given the chance to work on them, but in a team setting, for example, someone else is always the “engineer” role.

download.jpgSo I’ve switched to business because I want to be a social entrepreneur and oppose to spending my time learning about thermal dynamics, I’d rather focus more on leadership studies, risk management, startup and entrepreneurial culture, change theory, etc. And I’m excited about how the business school is really focused on real-world applications and has extra advising specifically for looking at career paths and getting all students to have an internship/co-op/study abroad experience before graduation. In particular, I’m currently looking to do a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital and get a certificate in Social/Personality Psychology, and I hope to also do an exchange in New Zealand to take some education courses and/or maybe do research there. I’m excited to plan more of what’s ahead as I start to meet with my new advior soon.

This was a hard choice, especially since there is a big stigma around business majors at GT. Students consider it the “easy major” and try to claim the students in business aren’t as smart as other majors. But I know some amazingly smart people in business, and we all got into GT just the same, and I’m not transferring because I thought engineering was going to be “too hard.” It’s all just relative. So I’m proud of myself for finally submitting my form and making the choice to go all in. If I end up changing again, so be it, but now that first semester classes are over, I’m feeling pretty good going into finals tomorrow having a bit more of a direction with my college path.

 

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And with that, as tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night!

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Time to Head Home

As my grandparents mentioned to me yesterday, “These will be your last few days of just being able to relax for the next 8-9 years.” This feels even more true as I get ready to finally head home tomorrow morning for the first time in 6 weeks.

Starting tomorrow, my life will start to get crazy again with constant activities and work, but to my own surprise, I actually feel ready for it. I’ve never been one to really get homesick, but as a great author wrote in his book, The Light Fantastic,

“The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.”  -Terry Pratchett

I finished reading this book a few days ago and when I read this line I knew it was time for me to go back home. Time to see old friends again before we part ways once more. Time to pack and get ready for new adventures.

Monday morning I head to school for orientation and then I’m gone again to Scotland with 9 of my fellow Stamps Scholars to kick off the school year. Then I’m only back home for a day before moving in, so I really won’t be home for long at all. So I guess I’ll just have to especially cherish these next couple of days. #EndOfNormal

The End of Normal

My “normal” has officially forever changed ever since graduation. While I don’t think life is ever in a state of complete normalcy, because people aren’t normal and everyday is a new day full of new adventures, there is no denying that a lot of things stay constant in our lives for given periods of time. My semi-normal was living at home, going to Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, seeing my friends, doing a ton of theater, working at the gym, performing acro routines, playing the occasional soccer game with my rec team, etc. This semi-normal no longer exists.
After Italy I didn’t go home back to “normal life.” I woke up in New York City and got on a plane to Vermont to visit Zeno Mountain Farms, a collection of friends with diverse needs, where I went to camp for a week and got to be in a movie; that’s not normal. And now (well while I’m writing this even though I won’t have internet to send it until I’m back in NYC), I’m at Capon Springs, our family reunion place in West Virginia that is essentially Dirty Dancing without the dancing (or the dirty as someone also felt we should clarify on our teen hayride last night).
While Capon is kind of normal because we go every summer, it isn’t like the rest of the year because we get to just chill and run around with friends playing badminton and shuffle board and ultimate frisbee and really whatever we want without phone connection and limited internet. Plus I continue to travel after this. Next I’ll be in NYC and then Ohio before returning home for a weekend before orientation and then my first year retreat and trip to Scotland with the other Stamps Presidential Scholars at Georgia Tech. Then we get back and only have a day before I move into my college dorm and my life is forever different, cus college…
It’s just so crazy to think that everything I once considered to be normal life is never fully going to exist again. I will be attending a different school with different some friends, and new activities, and living in a new place all together. And that will continue to be slightly weird until one day I wake up and realize that this new life is my new normal.
Obviously not everything will change, and with being only about 20 minutes from my house, honestly less will probably change than the normal college student; however, it is just weird that it finally hit me that it’s officially the end of normal.
And while all of this traveling has been quite fun, it’s also a little scary to think about how much is going to change all at once, because unlike a lot of other recent graduates I know, I wasn’t as super ready to “escape” as some said. But it doesn’t really matter if I’m ready or not, because now it’s just time to live in the present and adjust to this new normal that’s out there, even if, like this summer, one day that normal becomes constant change. Change in my opinion isn’t always good or always bad, but it is ever present and full of new opportunities.
So good bye normal. It was nice knowing you.

Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads

 

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!

Oh How Far We’ve Come

C4y7nuiWMAMPqgN.jpgI always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.

C4zAo-fWYAEiFFd.jpgThe Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.

These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.


screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-12-14-06-amIt was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.

What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:

  • Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc. 
  • The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
  • Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
  • Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
  • Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.

These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to C3xAbL6W8AEW556.jpglearn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.

The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.C3xAbK4WQAALlIX.jpg

When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.  

reMoVe10

After months of data collecting and interviewing, the reMoVe10 team finally had our big presentation to our City of Sandy Springs clients, representatives from Georgia Clean Commute, and a handful of MVPS admin!!

Background

Spark:

No one likes sitting in traffic. It waste time, energy, and money and it is only getting worse each year. Early September of 2016 representatives from the City of Sandy Spring
contacted the Innovation Diploma to partner with us as consultants in a Design Brief in order to achieve the city goal to decrease traffic in the city by 10%.

Goal:

Lead conversations and experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.

1101161046.jpgPartners:

  • City of Sandy Springs council (Client)
  • Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
  • Georgia Commute Options

Data Collection

The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool. Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 1.03.34 PM.png

After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.

 

unnamed-1.jpgWe also created this info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).

Focus Group Insights

After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.

Here were some of our take aways:

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Next Steps:

 

Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.

The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.

The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.

Reflection

The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.

It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.

Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”

A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.

Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working 100% on this project (though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work). However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will  be involved  next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.

 

The Value of Design Briefs

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This year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.

After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.

This is my first time working on a Design Brief and I have had the pleasure to work with a team of 3 other ID members as we work with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic by 10 percent. Working with an external client has been a big change for me because the last two years I’ve found myself working on projects that were primarily driven by student observations in our school community. While it’s been awesome to be in an environment where I’ve been supported to tackle problems that I helped identify, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of getting to work with a client this year.

My team has already had 2 client meeting check ins signifying that we are officially halfway to our big deadline date where we will be meeting with a council of members from the City of Sandy Springs. This being said, I felt like it was a good time for me to reflect on a few of the benefits I’ve identified since working on a Design Brief:

  • Time Management: We get to co-create deadlines, but have to be firm on meeting those deadlines because we can’t just email our clients the day before a meeting saying that we haven’t met our deliverables and need to push back a deadline. I’ve had to further develop my time management skills in order to create and meet deadlines for this project which has proven to be helpful in all aspects of my life.
  • Craftsmanship: When working with an actual organization there is a higher standard of work that we have to meet. Most organizations haven’t used students as a consultants before, therefore, we have to prove that we are worthy of being worked with. We want to present work to our clients that is at least as good as the work they would be getting from adult consultants. I’m happy to say that so far, our clients have consistently been beyond impressed with our work!
  • Confidence: It’s one thing for my parents or teachers to say that I did a good job on a piece of work that I presented, but they practically have to say that every now and then because they have a personal connection to me. But when a client from outside of the school says that my work was inspiring, that makes me feel more confident in my capabilities and makes me strive to constantly strive to take on bigger challenges.
  • Spreadsheets and Google Maps: I’ve learned a lot of very specific skills that I didn’t expect to learn while working on this project. I have been learning how to use Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps to help create visual representations of data we have. I’ve ended up creating a dozen of maps, graphs, and tables and have learned a lot about how to use these tools.
  • Communication: As project manager I have been the point of contact for all of our external experts ranging from our clients to parents in the community. This has required me to practice my communication skills in the form of email, twitter, and blogging amongst others. I’ve noticed especially with emailing that I’ve been able to draft emails that require less editing each time over the past few months which has been very tangible evidence of my growth.

I’ve grown a number of skills through this project work, but I think what I find to be most impactful about my Design Brief work is that I actually want to work on this project. Everyday I go into ID feeling excited and motivated to work because I know the work we are doing is actually going to make a difference in the lives of hopefully hundreds of people. That’s a huge deal, and more than I can say about most of my core classes. This Design Brief is meaningful work, and, therefore, I feel even more driven to do everything in my power to be successful in producing high quality work. I can’t wait for the day when it becomes the new normal for everyone to be doing this kind of “real world work” as their “school work.”

I’m No Editor

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.34.31 PM.pngAn article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!

The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.

In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.

It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!

No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.

Documenting My Work

Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!

So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):

Taking Ownership

Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education: