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Pivoting Towards Purpose: How My Values Led Me to the Kroc School’s Master of Arts in Social Innovation

Wednesday, October 21, 2020TOPICS: AlumniChangemakerStudent Success

begin quoteUltimately, the MASI program instilled in me trust. I learned to trust myself, my agency, my values, my community, my mind, my heart, my hands, and most of all: my purpose.

Sienna George (right) with 2019 Women PeaceMakers fellow Mossarat Qadeem.

The following blog post was contributed by Sienna George ‘20 (MA).

“I decided I don’t want to be a lawyer, and I was just wondering if it might be okay with you if I, uh, change my mind.”

A blank face stared back at me, almost frowning… and then. Laughter. Anyone looking in on the conversation would have thought I was not actually a recent, nervous college graduate, but instead, a full-blown comedian, rehearsing a well-executed routine to a lively audience of one.

“Sienna. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh,” (more laughter) “but are you seriously asking for my permission to change your mind?”

Three years ago, I anxiously scheduled nearly a dozen meetings identical to the one I just described with people I trusted to help me prepare and plan for my future. I played over in my head the best- and worst-case scenarios of how each important person in my life would respond to the news that after six months of diligent LSAT prep while working a full-time job at my alma mater, Boise State University, I had decided instead not to pursue law, but rather to go back to school for a master’s degree in design. As I reflect back on that time, I realize how foolish I was to ask for permission not only to change my mind, but also to pursue the values that had guided me, and made me the happiest, since I was about six years old.

A Quick Lesson on Life Compasses

When I was six, my dad sat my brother and me down in the backseat of our white Ford Expedition and handed us both a piece of paper. On it was a picture of a compass. “Each direction,” he explained, “represents one of your values.” Being six, I promptly asked him to explain in detail what a value was, but eighteen years later, the values compass is still one of my most trusted life tools.

On one particularly miserable day of LSAT studying, I had an acute awareness of just how purposeless I felt. Furthermore, I was viscerally jarred by the feeling. So I set my test prep book aside, pulled out a piece of paper, and drew my own values compass: joy, courage, trust, empathy. Then, I made a list. I detailed all the times in my life I had felt close to my values. As I highlighted themes and drew connections, I recognized a common thread: I felt the nearest to my values when I was contributing to the lives of individuals through creative design. Additionally, my values compass was pointing me in the direction of finding more moments geared towards collaborating with others to reconstruct and redesign larger systems that were hindering individual and collective efficacy, and in turn, creating barriers to architecting a more peaceful, just, equitable and compassionate world.

In the end, that was the last time I opened an LSAT prep book, and also the last time I asked for permission to change my mind and pursue my values, but it was certainly not the last time I would change direction, or – as they say in design – pivot.

My Values Compass Pointed Me to The Kroc School

Sienna begins her Master’s in Social Innovation program at the Kroc School.

Sienna begins her Master’s in Social Innovation program at the Kroc School.

After six months of portfolio creation and drowning in design school applications, I chose to attend the Kroc School to pursue a MA in Social Innovation (MASI). While it wasn’t the traditional design program I’d anticipated for myself, its locality within a School of Peace Studies deeply resonated with me.

While in the MASI program, I was challenged to actionably pursue my values. My empathy was deepened by the stories of Women Peacebuilders from conflict zones around the world and again during my winter practicum when I returned to my alma mater to examine the rural realities and inequities of high school graduates attempting to access institutions of higher education.

I learned to pursue joy amidst a global pandemic and a revolution to denounce white supremacy and racial injustice by creating an online community, finding new ways of working as a graduate assistant for the Changemaker Hub, and deepening my commitment to learning how to educate myself on the issues that plague our world. I found joy in the community of people who shared my values at the Kroc School as well as life-long friends who believe in pursuing purpose above all else.

I cultivated the courage to create my own experience in and beyond the classroom by choosing to transform simple essay prompts into equations and diagrams that represented my own definition of social innovation, by accepting my professor’s offer to design and lead a course, and by opting to write and create a magazine instead of a research paper for my final capstone project. I aligned social innovation precepts with cooperative business model principles to reimagine a potential future state for higher education.

Ultimately, the MASI program instilled in me trust. I learned to trust myself, my agency, my values, my community, my mind, my heart, my hands, and most of all: my purpose.

Following My Values Compass to Advance My Career

Sienna outside the office of social impact firm Oliver Russell.

Since graduating from the MASI program, I decided I needed a break from the system I had every intention of designing for. While I still possess a deep care for creating more equitable and accessible learning systems (especially for higher education), I’ve pivoted once again to start a job as a Social Impact Strategist in my hometown of Boise, Idaho. As a social impact firm and Idaho’s first certified B Corp, Oliver Russell is a small but mighty team of people who believe in practices, opportunities and design that will create a more peaceful, prosperous, and purposeful planet. As a team, we’ll be working to craft learning experiences and products for people and companies who believe in purpose and helping these same communities and social enterprises to contribute to a greater good through earning their B Corp certification, or embedding purpose into their daily practices and mindsets, with a broader, more conscious awareness of their impact.

Looking back at that nervous college graduate now, sitting before trusted and important mentors, friends, and family members, asking for their permission to change my mind, I too laugh at the absurdity of it. The truth is, I didn’t need someone to grant me the permission to pursue my values, my purpose, or my happiness. There was only one person who could make that decision for me, but that would mean choosing to value joy, trust, courage, and empathy, not just in my learning or my work, but also, choosing to value those things for myself and believing in their ability to provide me with a direction: forward.

If you are reading this. I hope you will feel encouraged to write down your own values. To realign with your own purpose. To consider where you are today, and what privileges that stance affords you, or those that burden you. To think about your capacities, and to ask for support. To wonder about how joy moves you, and what questions your empathy asks of you. To recall moments of courage, and what their cause and effect brought forth.

Ultimately, I hope you trust yourself, because in doing so, you may find that you pivot towards something far more purposeful than you could have ever imagined.

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About Sienna George ‘20 (MA)

Sienna George holds a degree in Communication and a minor in Sociology from Boise State University and a Master of Arts in Social Innovation from the University of San Diego Kroc School. As an undergraduate at Boise State, Sienna served as the Boise State Student Body President and was named a University Innovation Fellow by the Stanford d.[esign] School. After graduating from Boise State, she served as the Project Design Lead to the Boise State Beyond the Major Catalysts, a team of interdisciplinary students tasked with helping their peers to: identify their purpose, seize unscripted opportunities and tell a compelling narrative about who they are, adopting the mindset of reflection as a self-catalyzing practice as well as the Student-Centered Design Coordinator to the Division of Student Affairs, where she supported University faculty and staff to adopt student-centered design principles and practices to better serve first-year commuter students. During her time at the Kroc School, Sienna explored the intersection of social enterprise models and higher education business models, and served as the Graduate Assistant to the Changemaker Hub. Today, Sienna lives in Boise, Idaho where she serves as the Social Impact Strategist to the B Corp, Oliver Russell. Sienna is passionate about designing social systems that instill individual self-efficacy so that individuals are empowered to impact the broader human systems with which they engage.

If you’re ready to advance your values and purpose-driven career, explore the Kroc School’s graduate programs.

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Kevin Dobyns
kdobyns@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-7618

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