I’d like to share photos from yesterday’s moving close-of-service luncheon for the first class of CSU STEM VISTAs – an AmeriCorps program. It was a lovely event at Rancho Los Alamitos next to the CSU Long Beach campus. Our own Shannon Palka was selected by her peers to do the “closing thanks” for the group. Afterwards Shannon and I agreed that we haven’t really come to grips her public service stint at CSUPERB is ending!
I am not sure it’s been captured anywhere at the CSU STEM VISTA program level yet – but I was asked to present our first year CSU I-Corps experience at the National Innovation Network (NIN) meeting in Reston, Virginia, last month. To remind infrequent readers, CSU I-Corps is a systemwide entrepreneurship education program for curious researchers and nascent academic entrepreneurs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). We are already finding it to be a highly engaging student program with surprisingly large dividends of learning and commercialization activities systemwide. I didn’t realize before attending NIN that I was one of only a handful of I-Corps Nodes/Sites asked to present our first year experience.
There is no group more demanding and perfectionist than the CSUPERB program office. We tend to think all 23 campuses will show up for all our programs. So we were a bit daunted that “only” 34 teams, 116 students and 24 faculty members from 9 universities have signed up for I-Corps in our first year. Apparently NSF thought that was pretty good for a $100,000/year investment.
I received a surprising burst of applause, shouts and hoots from the audience when I said 44% of the year-one CSU I-Corps participants are female. Afterwards people told me this is a significantly higher female participation rate than many of the other more engineering/computer science-heavy I-Corps programs. The other reaction I got to my presentation was amazement that CSU campuses (and colleges) would work together to offer programs like this – it was a culture unfamiliar to some participants. These are features I take for granted in my job. But the NIN meeting served to remind me our efforts to build and nurture this systemwide, diverse (in many ways!) community are not insignificant; new programs like CSU I-Corps and investments in CSUPERB build upon our 30 year history and a deep base of good will.
These early CSU I-Corps outcomes are also the result of Shannon’s student outreach. Despite our formidable CSUPERB community, we historically do our work through faculty and research office networks, as well as chair and deans’ councils. For I-Corps to go systemwide, we need connections to student groups. Shannon’s effectiveness was also due to her ability to fit into the CSUPERB program office team and her willingness to just dive into (or work around) our unforgiving administrative calendar of rotating programs and events. I wish she could have been in Reston to hear that applause.
So yesterday I clapped long and loud for the CSU STEM VISTAs. This is an outstanding group of motivated, strategic thinkers – a really remarkable group of young leaders. It was an honor to be a part of this.
In the midst of this emotional week for the nation and our program office, I learned that Congress has proposed cutting AmeriCorps programs. Even as we make progress on many complicated policy fronts across this nation – we still manage to trip up on little things that matter. As Pell grants and biomedical research received additional funding, AmeriCorps will face deep cuts. This kind of short-term, give-and-take, winners-and-losers process is a constant in national policy, budget negotiations and priority setting, but I find it so disappointing to watch tiny programs like AmeriCorps get swept under the losers rug.
The day before I heard this bitter news, I had a meeting about a Kresge Foundation-funded project around student success. The CSU faculty and administrators on the project all pointed to the pain point* around the need for temporary help (people = release time or human resources!) in ramping up programs and experimenting with new approaches around student success initiatives. We know that impactful and effective STEM programs require cross-divisional collaboration, relationship-building and even culture change before they become part of the fabric of how students learn. The VISTA program addresses this very real (and painful) pain point for resource-challenged organizations like ours, as well as non-profit and community service programs nationwide.
I’m hoping some of you might have read this far, are willing to invest in a longer-view of community service, and be moved** to contact your legislators to restore this little program with such a large impact on resource-limited programs, economically distressed communities, and promising young people nationwide.
*Pain point is an I-Corps phrase that comes from Alex Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Design and other writings on understanding customer or market needs.
#Stand4Service on Twitter and AmeriCorps Alums (@AmeriCorpsAlums) efforts (http://blog.americorpsalums.org/2015/06/24/reminder-to-congress-americorps-matters-and-americorps-alums-rock/)