Molding Bold Students to Take on Big Problems
Program Manager, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship
January 17, 2018, Staff, Entrepreneurship, Innovation
My favorite part of my job is helping students gain the confidence to tell their stories. In my current role, I recruit, mentor, and support student teams throughout Innovation in Action (IIA), the University of Michigan School of Public Health's interdisciplinary innovation competition. This involves finding creative ways to encourage—and sometimes cajole—students to follow their passions and talk to as many people as they can to fully understand a big problem. Teams have tackled food insecurity, end of life planning, maternal and child health, dementia care, chronic illness, HIV/AIDS management, and many more important Public Health challenges.
I love mentoring teams to hone and refine their stories. I see how empowering it is to realize you've hit on an interesting, innovative idea and have all the tools you need to create an amazing pitch to the judges at the competition.
I'm surprised and delighted by the fact that—even though tons of money, energy, and attention is paid to 'social impact' in places like Silicon Valley—our students seem to hit on things the world really needs.
When it comes to innovation, we need more than business and engineering students. There is room for—and arguably an absolute need for—public health students to be part of the conversation around creating sustainable, scalable solutions for these massive problems.
I grew up in Los Angeles, close to several Hollywood studios and backlots. I knew my whole life I wanted to make movies, so I moved across the country to New York City to attend Barnard College at Columbia University, double majoring in film and political science. For a few years, I worked in producer roles on a bunch of independent films and got to learn, test, and perfect a host of storytelling and project management skills that have helped me in every job I've had since.
Working in independent film was interesting, but I found myself getting farther and farther away from my passion of helping people tell their stories. I joined my partner Dan at his company, Good Eye Video, where we spent eight years traveling all over the world telling the stories of nonprofits, social causes, and changemakers. From a refugee health care clinic in Boise to an educational nonprofit in Istanbul to a remote micro-lending operation in western Haiti, we were privileged to be invited into people's lives to tell their stories and amplify their work. I will always consider this to be some of the most compelling (and tiring) work I've ever done.
One of the reasons I recently decided to go back to school to get my MBA at the Ross School of Business was that I think fewer and fewer people speak the language of business. Unfortunately, those select few aren't always from diverse regions with varying perspectives or experiences. So I see it as my role to learn and use that language to help public health students translate their passions and work into other disciplines and have the largest possible impact on the world. The best examples I have are students.
Public health is an amazing discipline, with social justice and equity baked in as pillars of its values. Often, this is at odds with what most people conceive of as entrepreneurship or business—some consider it "selling out" if you make money from your efforts. I think deeply about this everyday because I believe that succeeding in the world of startups is only worth it if you are true to your own views of what will make the world a better place.
- Interested in public health entrepreneurship? Check out Innovation in Action.
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