Michael Williams, sans shoes and socks, had just stepped off the big tour bus parked in front of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice on Wednesday when, within moments, he got a quick education about the type of Changemaker student present at the University of San Diego.
Leo Brown-Young Jr., a sophomore business administration major and leadership minor, was eager to share with Williams, a member of the Educate 2020 team that’s in town this week for the USD-hosted Ashoka U Exchange, about his idea, Leaders of Tomorrow.
“It’s a program to empower college students to become Changemakers, to start initiatives, instill qualities that Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Gandhi and Henry Ford used to become successful,” Brown-Young Jr. said. “We’re piloting this program and we want to spread it to other colleges and universities to create social impact. But we don’t want to do this just through one individual or one group, but an entire generation. I truly believe in the success of the next generation.”
Williams, a 31-year-old entrepreneur coach, part-time professor at Georgia State University and guest lecturer at Berry University, is one of nine pioneer educators who boarded the Educate 2020 bus Jan. 31 in State College, Pa. The group has driven across the nation, learning and dialoguing with innovative educators and institutions about test programs and actions to create a model for the future of education and that “next generation.”
What kind of ideas? One medical school has eliminated professor lectures altogether. Undergraduate students are learning their subjects better because they’re the ones teaching the class to other students. In Oklahoma City, Williams said, the importance of practitioners is energizing music learning.
“Oklahoma City blew us away,” Williams said. “Politicians, the university president and the community at large are trying to build a ‘Creative Oklahoma,’ and to have Oklahoma’s new slogan be ‘The Creative State.’ They’re bringing in artists, Changemakers and creative musicians. The director of the music school is the band manager for The Flaming Lips. The professors are band managers. Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler, Garth Brooks and The Flaming Lips are major people who’ve come in and given back as guest practitioners.”
“Someone mentioned that this the first generation that’s not only thought they could change the world, but has said ‘we will,’” Williams said. He followed with a question to Brown-Young Jr.
“How are you instilling it so that you are the Changemakers?”
Brown-Young Jr. (pictured, right), who is part of a group of USD students involved in Leaders of Tomorrow, said: “It’s a two-semester process. We want to get their creative potential thriving, spark their passion for whatever it is they believe in and then try to push it, implement it into an actual idea. That’s what we’re doing. We’re empowering people, even at the idea stage.”
Williams smiled, especially at the latter part of the answer.
“What we’ve seen on this road trip is that it’s a constant struggle. People, companies and organizations will only get behind ideas that have proven success. What we see is that there’s a major need for incubating at the idea stage and to let those people know that it’s OK to fail, to just try it. Failing is part of the journey.”
The knowledge gained, Williams said, has made the trip quite special. The Ashoka U Exchange will undoubtedly add to it. The Educate 2020 bus will be at the IPJ through Saturday and Williams said members of the group are present to talk with the USD community and Ashoka U Exchange conference members. One bus member is doing her senior thesis. Another is filming a documentary. Williams said the crew is eager to hear and learn about innovative ideas and programs that provide a much-needed boost for the state of education.
“People need to be catalysts to change the narrative about education from a negative to a positive one,” he said. “[Attending the Ashoka U Exchange] we want to continue to share, learn and highlight it. We invite people to join us in this dialogue, to realize it and to spark their creative juices. We want to listen, partner with, challenge and rub shoulders with great student and faculty innovators who say: ‘Hey, we’re doing some very innovative things here and we’re changing the world.’”
— Ryan T. Blystone