Re-Futuring Starts From Campus

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can with whom you can!

by Magdalena Ionescu, Faculty Innovation Fellow from Sophia University

Faced with an impending environmental collapse, more than ever before our generation is asking itself: what are we leaving to the next generation? Frankly, however, it seems to me that the question needs to be rephrased! Rather than focusing on what we leave to the next generation, I believe it is far more important to ask ourselves what we leave in them. 

Let me explain. 

The 20th century was powered by an industrial mindset that has been characterized as defuturing, since, in treating the earth as a resource rather than a responsibility, it has effectively led to a colonization of the future, thereby robbing future (human and non-human) generations of the resources necessary to fulfill their own needs.

I believe that by far the biggest task before us today is that of shifting away from this de-futuring mindset (on which all major systems and practices are based) to a re-futuring one. Framed as a challenge, this can be formulated as: how might we enable a shift in our self-perception as separated from nature to radically interdependent on the entire array of animate and inanimate components that make up the Chain of Life? And how might we redesign our socio-political and economic systems to reflect this perception shift in ourselves as “responsible custodians”, rather than “entitled owners” of our natural world? 

Without this perception shift, any current and future attempt to avert the impending ecological disaster caused by our rampant crossing of planetary boundaries is doomed to fail, amounting to nothing more than greenwashing. After all, as Einstein famously enunciated, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. 

So, what to do?

Age-old wisdom informs us that change comes in only two ways: by accident or by design. Although not a task we have chosen for ourselves, we cannot be as reckless as to passively wait for an accidental change! In truth, the only way in which we can assume the responsibility our generation has been entrusted with, is to intentionally envision and design the blueprint for the sustainable kind of future we wish for ourselves and our children. Therein lies my own power and responsibility as an educator.

I embarked on this University Innovation Fellows’ journey a little over two years ago out of the need I felt to open up new spaces where my students could explore on their own terms solutions to some of the big challenges we are facing. With its mission to equip students with the changemaker mindset and the tools required in the process of creatively designing and implementing solutions to challenges on and off campus, UIF has been delivering. 

Although they have just recently embarked on their journey as changemakers, the UIF Sophia fellows are already contributing to their community, putting their knowledge and skills to use in a flexible and mobile way. In various ways they are reframing the debate around sustainable campus life and facilitating the co-creation of solutions/practices towards sustainable futures.

Starting on a journey like this with your students may seem daunting. It did for me! At first, all I could see were limitations and obstacles. But throughout any period of self-questioning and self-doubt, I kept reminding myself: “My students need this! And our communities need them!” I realize now the only thing that was truly required was my openness to the new and the trust in myself and my students that we would eventually find a way. We did, and, inspired by Jacqueline Novogratz’s advice to “be more interested than interesting” and to “let the work teach you”, we are continuing along this path with passion and confidence.

Sophians Toward Sustainable Futures

by Mana Short, Giuli Nagai, Haruka Oizumi, Hana Saeki, Maria Sjoeblom Bjoerndalen, Kokoro Kuroiwa and Tomohiro Loeer—University Innovation Fellows from Sophia University

  • We are collaborating with organizations on campus, such as KASA Sustainability and the Sophia Office for Sustainability Promotion, to organize forums about campus sustainability. Through these cross-campus partnerships, we are striving to close the student-teacher hierarchical divide and bridge the seniority gaps in Sophia by bringing students, faculty, and staff together for collective discussions on how we may drive change for sustainability from within our campus and beyond.
  • We are stepping beyond the university campus and building bridges with secondary education institutions by hosting youth-empowerment workshops. In April 2022, we partnered with RISE to deliver a 40-minute workshop for students at Seisen International School based on the theme of the Butterfly Effect. Our workshop, RISE Together for Change, guides students to find their strengths, encourages them that they are enough to create the change they want to see in the world, and shows them the power of taking action together with others.
  • We are breaking down disciplinary silos in the Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures (SPSF) by bringing together students from a wide range of different departments to tackle sustainability challenges using elements of Design Thinking and Systems Thinking. We have designed a workshop for SPSF students intended to empower them to move from being passive bystanders to becoming active change-makers who use their skills and knowledge in the process of shaping socially just and ecologically sustainable futures.
  • We are fostering both creativity and a culture of collaboration across professions and status by creating spaces where campus stakeholders unite to take concrete actions towards solving challenges on campus. The SDGs x Innovation Sparker Workshop is a university-wide event that our team will carry out in October 2022 that applies design thinking skills and tools to SDGs related challenges.
  • We designed an experiential learning program where design thinking, with its core elements of empathy and creativity, acted as the foundation for participants to develop new skills and feel empowered in their work of opening new pathways for sustainability on campus. We tested this 8-day prototype in March in collaboration with Green Sophia, a student organization taking on big environmental challenges on campus. Going forward we intend to use this learning program as a way to gather multiple stakeholders (students, professors, student affairs and administrative staff) behind a campus design challenge. 

The original article can be found in the Perspectives section of the 2021-2022 Change Forward Journal— Visions and Voices of Higher Education’s Future.

Earning a Degree When you Have Kids

Building student-centered supports for student-parents

By Erica Hernandez, Faculty Innovation Fellow Candidate from Bowie State University

As I rush into class a minute late, quickly logging into the instructor computer station, I suddenly hear the unexpected sound of a toddler squealing in delight. This adorable visitor is the two year old daughter of one of my students. The student gets her daughter settled into watching a video while also getting her own notebook out for class. Today, this student-parent is trying her best to balance caring for her daughter with pursuing her own education to create a better future for her growing family. There are a myriad of challenges that student-parents must overcome to earn a degree. How might we help student-parents to attain their educational goals while also honoring the importance of their role as parents?

“The Faculty Innovation Fellows (FIF) program has provided a great community for feedback, ideas and encouragement for this project. One of the best pieces of advice came from a Faculty Innovation Coach: ‘try stuff’.”

Student-parents make up approximately one in five college students in the United States, for a total of 3.8 million students (Ascend & IWPR, 2020). Student-parents frequently face barriers to graduation such as a lack of institutional resources geared towards students with children, challenges balancing family and school responsibilities, and feeling isolated and different from other students. However, it’s not all bad news: many student-parents find supportive faculty and staff at their institutions. Student-parents report that they are motivated to graduate because they want to set a good example for their children and gain financial independence for their family (Ajayi et al., 2022). At Bowie State University, I found that there are many individual faculty and staff who are supportive but there are no institutionalized services for student-parents. I decided to focus on creating a set of institutional supports to increase student success while ensuring that student-parents feel seen and valued. 

The Faculty Innovation Fellows (FIF) program has provided a great community for feedback, ideas and encouragement for this project. One of the best pieces of advice came from a Faculty Innovation Coach: “try stuff.” I started by reaching out to faculty and staff who support students with different types of special needs to find allies with the power and willingness to support student-parents. I found campus partners whose existing services, from tutoring to medical and disability accommodations, might be adapted to meet the needs of student-parents. From this, I started building support among colleagues to propose a Student-Parent Resource Center. In July 2022, I will apply for a federal CCAMPIS grant to provide financial support for student-parent childcare expenses while also providing wraparound support services using existing campus resources. I am also working with colleagues at different institutions to create a research hub to compile existing research about student-parent support services and educational outcomes.

“I realized that an effort to support student-parents will be more impactful if the voices of student-parents are included from the beginning stages of design.”

Another essential concept that I learned through FIF at the 2022 Silicon Valley Meetup was “co-creation”. I realized that an effort to support student-parents will be more impactful if the voices of student-parents are included from the beginning stages of design. I have been honored to work with University Innovation Fellows who are student-parents themselves. They are very effective advocates for positive change for student-parents, and their voices have guided this effort. The Fellows also connected me with other student-parents to launch the Student-Parent Association. This will provide an opportunity for student-parents to connect with other students like them, reduce isolation, and advocate for impactful positive change on campus.

Bowie State student with her two children
Credit: Eric Anderson

Over my first year in the FIF program, my project has taken a three-pronged approach to supporting student-parents: proposing institutional supports, starting a research hub to consolidate national efforts, and launching a student-organization to amplify the voices of student-parents. My vision is that all student-parents feel seen, valued and supported as they attain their educational goals. Creating these supports at a Historically Black College / University (HBCU) like Bowie State University elevates HBCU’s as part of the national conversation about student-parents. Considering the millions of student-parents in the United States, finding an effective, scalable solution for increasing student success among student-parents will have a dramatic impact on the education and financial independence of both the student-parents and their children.

This article was featured in the latest edition of the journal, Change Forward, published by the University Innovation Fellows program. Read the journal online here.