EXPOSE YOUR STUDENTS TO INNOVATORS – EVEN DURING A PANDEMIC!

Guest post by Kevin Anselmo

Many are eloquently making the case for enhancing students’ social capital – access to human connections that support a students’ career goals. 

Traditionally, one might think that the best way to do this is via in-person activities like mentoring programs and career events. It is indeed a shame that many in-person activities are curtailed due to COVID-19. Many are rightfully in survival mode trying to get by during these difficult times. Experiences that might be a bit outside the box are put on the backburner. 

My message for you is simple: now is a better time than ever to expose your students to individuals who can support a students’ career goals. Overall, many successful business people are more willing to give back to society. Many empathize with the situation that educators are being tasked with during these times. Hopefully, you might sense and experience a greater appreciation for teachers and school administrators.  

There are surely many ways to do this. I wanted to share with you one way to accomplish this: have you students do interviews with innovators and entrepreneurs, both within your school community (alumni, local leaders, etc.) and beyond. Then have the students create content based on this interview, whether it is a video posted online, a podcast or a written article. 

I put together a process that focused on the writing aspect through Interview an Innovator, an experiential, eight-module online course that is part of my Global Innovators Academy initiative.  

Six different college students and one high school senior have gone through this experience over the summer by interviewing different professionals and entrepreneurs aligned to the student’s particularly interest. I have seen first-hand how their social capital has been impacted through the process of conducting interviews and then publishing their work on the Global Innovators Academy website. Here is a recap

1. Motivation

Imagine you are a college student interested in working in the fashion industry. You interview an entrepreneur who started a clothing retail brand that now has over 100 stores around the country. You engage in a meaningful conversation with this entrepreneur before writing an article online highlighting this individual’s journey, advice for young people and your key takeaways. This is exactly what Haley Panessa, a student at Rollins College, experienced when she interviewed Kevin McLaughlin, the co-founder of the clothing retail brand J.McLaughlin (here is the article).

“This gave me the confidence and knowledge as to how I can work on my professional growth during these early stages of my life,” she said.

Cali Carper is an aspiring community leader who used the course experience to interview two different political leaders in her home state of Wisconsin. 

“The opportunity to interview different leaders and write a story offers the potential to imagine our future,” she explained. “The journey starts with curiosity. Then, our imagination motivates us to create new connections, ask thoughtful questions and form new beliefs. We have to imagine a future for ourselves and our work and then ensure we find the proper steps to make that vision a reality!”

It is hard to fathom any sort of typical in-class lecture or presentation that can generate such student feedback.

2. Digital networking

Many reading this have probably experienced the benefit of doing an informational interview – “picking the brain” of a professional over coffee. I consider the process of connecting with a professional and then writing an article online to be the “informational interview 2.0”. By publishing an article online, the student practices real life communications skills and showcases their work to a public audience. The individual who is interviewed reaps the benefits of positive exposure, and thus is more likely to take part.

Anybody who has ever created content online has probably benefited from new connections. This has certainly been the case for the students I worked with this summer. The articles are highlighted on the students’ individual LinkedIn profiles, liked on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter. Many of the interviewees promote their articles through online platforms, and the Global Innovators Academy’s social media channels also shine a spotlight on the students’ content. As a result, the students connect to many new individuals. Just as important, if any future recruiter searches any of these students online, they would come across thoughtful, well-written content that showcases their different skills and aspirations.

“I had the pleasure to speak with a successful businesswoman,” said Ashley Gunter, a junior at Rollins College. “I wrote an article about this experience which not only aids in self-promotion and networking but also serves as a resource for others.”

“Students and young professionals need to consider how they can enhance their marketability on a digital platform,” added Carper. “I used to think it was daunting to market myself online. The experience of interviewing an innovator gave me confidence and taught me important content marketing principles, interview best practices and professional communication tactics.” 

3. Global connection
Yejin Sohn, a senior at Perry High School in Arizona, went through the course experience. She did an interview and wrote an article about an entrepreneur literally located halfway around the world in Seoul, Korea. 

Andrey Alipov, a student at Penn State University, is currently in Russia and is in the process of writing two different articles based on interviews with U.S.-based entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the video production space, an area that he would like to work in one day.

We certainly need to educate students to be global citizens. Giving students the means to interview individuals who are located in other parts of the world gives them the opportunity to hear different perspectives. 

In addition, providing a platform for students to publish content potentially provides a global audience. As opposed to just a teacher evaluating a student’s work, now an audience located anywhere in the world is able to consume the content and provide feedback.

COVID-19: An Opportunity to Facilitate Connection

Never in our lives has there been as much uncertainty about the future of education. We can be sure that online learning will increasingly be part of education. 

We put so much emphasis on what a student knows. Without the proper networks, such skills and knowledge can’t be deployed in an optimal way. A world of connections waits at our fingertips. Let’s use the disruptions caused by the pandemic to provide students with meaningful experiences to connect with other individuals they aspire to be like one day. 

This is an adapted version of an article that was originally published on the Getting Smart blog. 

Kevin Anselmo is the founder of the Global Innovators Academy and creator of the Interview an Innovator course experience. Connect with him on LinkedIn to discuss how to expose students to innovators outside your classroom. 

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