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Impact CMC Weekend Career Panel: How to Jump Start Your Career and Succeed in Spite of Failure

By Robert Cain ’21

As a grand finale to Impact CMC Weekend, the Kravis Leadership Institute concluded with a noteworthy career panel. Sitting at the table were Semantify VP of Product Strategy & Marketing Arjun Dutt CMC ‘07, First Data Product Manager Claudia Raigoza CMC ‘14, Skyview Capital Private Equity Analyst Don Swan POM ‘15, Assistant Director of Development of Valley Performing Arts Center Maria Paredes ‘09, and Glenn Hickerson CMC ‘59. 

To begin the panel, Raigoza mentioned how none of the panelist found themselves in their intended career paths. Dutt talked about his dream of becoming a child development psychologist, and Swan shared his love for sports business. Now, they find themselves working in product innovation and private equity, respectively. Swan told students to keep their eyes open to different opportunities, because “I never thought I would find myself working at Skyview in private equity.”

Hickerson, who retired from the aviation industry working in various management roles, told students to “follow their passions wherever they may take them.”

How students discover these passions led to the next round of lively debate amongst the panelists.

Paredes referenced how she struggled between choosing chemistry or art as a major due to the disparity in hourly wages. This led to her first point: knowing your values. “You must decide what you value most,” she claimed.

Dutt also noted that students should constantly seek out mentors positioned not just within their desired career field but also outside of it. This, he argued, “allows you to exhaust all of your options and experience different roles in order to accurately gauge your interests.”

But even after undergraduate students find their passion, how should they situate themselves in positions likely for success?

Paredes listed some skills such as creativity, leadership, and grit that campus recruiters look for in their hires. Hickerson argued for strong quantitative skills and a little economic understanding. Dutt reaffirmed the need for strong quantitative skills, but also professed how “it’s never the same two or three skills” that he looks for. He zeroes in on students who can view situations from unique perspectives. For example, he highlighted how he once hired a theatre major at his tech company for a data analytics role because of the applicant’s theatre training primed her with the ability to think on their feet, which is invaluable during meetings with clients. The lesson here is figuring out how to take what you learn in the classroom and apply it elsewhere.  

But what role did failure play in the current success of the panelists?

Raigoza led with “failure is not the opposite of success, it is an element of success, because everytime you fail, you get closer to success.” Swan added that students should “take on failure with a new lens.” Dutt provided a more practical example, because he is currently involved in a startup that is on the precipice of almost going under. He revealed that his biggest fear right now is that he may not be able to make the next payroll, since the company has run out of funds, and isn’t generating enough revenue to break even. But in light of this trial, he still managed to acknowledge how important it is to learn from failure rather than dwell in it.

During an interview with Raigoza, I ask her to describe her career journey in one word. She said, “bashert,” which is a Jewish word that means everything happens for a reason or meant to be. We tend to label failure with a shameful reputation, but Dutt, Raigoza, Swan, Paredes, and Hickerson are all proud to be products of failure and perseverance. They prove to us that we can’t let fear of failure define our lives or our will to succeed, and as Hickerson put it, “don’t be afraid to take risks… look for opportunities even if it involves a little bit of a risk.”

After hearing all of this advice, I not only feel more confident about facing failure but also more prepared to jumpstart my career. Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

A Dinner With Nanxi Liu

 On October 2, Nanxi Liu came to the Kravis Leadership Institute to talk about her journey as an entrepreneur and social innovator.
On October 2, Nanxi Liu came to the Kravis Leadership Institute to talk about her journey as an entrepreneur and social innovator.

By Josh Meadows ’20 & Paloma Pineda ’19

On the evening of Monday October 2nd, we had the opportunity to host and hear from Nanxi Liu, co-founder of Nanoly Bioscience and Enplug, Inc. It’s hard to keep up with her since she’s barely older than us and she’s already launched 2 successful ventures with offices all over the world. She was featured in Forbes, won numerous awards as a beauty queen, musician and producer including an Emmy!

Nanxi gave the listeners a lot of great advice but if there’s one thing in particular that stood out, it would have to be the importance of networking and building a strong team. Nanxi told us stories of how, even when she wasn’t entirely sure of her direction, she would surround herself with people engaging in innovative problem-solving. Similarly, she would always try to associate herself with people with the largest network as a way of further expanding her own connections. Ultimately, Nanxi encouraged us to see that when you’re surrounded by innovative people, you then have the potential to get involved in their innovative ideas. This idea was particularly profound when Nanxi admitted that the current company she co-founded, Enplug, Inc., was in fact based on someone else’s idea. Regardless, she had the right skills and was connected to the right network to get the job done.

Similarly, Nanxi encouraged us to look at networking not just as an opportunity to connect with new people in similar situations but also as an opportunity to connect with people who have accomplished goals similar to those you are trying to achieve. That is to say, when networking as a student, don’t feel as though you should only be networking with other students… Instead, try to connect with people such as CEOs and accomplished changemakers. Not only are these the people who know how to achieve success, but they’re also the people who have the resources to start new ventures. Nanxi told us the story of how when she was interning with Goldman Sachs, she would ride the elevator just so she would have the opportunity to talk to the executives riding along with her. She didn’t listen to her supervisor who said he’d try to get her a conversation with the higher-ups, instead, she took control!

Finally, Nanxi encouraged us to look at entrepreneurship as team building. Everyone has a set of skills that they uniquely possess and utilize. A good team comes from connecting individuals with complementary skill-sets. It’s important to have clearly defined roles and that those roles complement each individual’s skills. Once you’ve established a team with clearly defined roles, all that’s left is to make sure the team has the motivation to succeed. According to Nanxi in regards to importance: first comes team, then comes motivation!

We feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to host Nanxi. It’s inspiring to see someone so young and close to where we are in our own entrepreneurial careers be so successful.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Build a great network
  • Things she looks at when she hires people: extremely talented in one thing and  one of the best people in the industry and integrity
  • Learn from top executives and don’t be afraid to ask advice or funding for your startup
  • Team is the most important component in a startup, second is motivation
  • Be aware of your competitor, and make sure anything you build in the same field is better

Debunking Myths: “What We Know About Leadership From Science”

By Sabrina Hartono ’21 & Robert Cain ’21

After spending the last 10 years in Australia and Singapore, Professor David Day joined Claremont McKenna College searching for a smaller, high-touch, elite, private college community and looking to repatriate after being overseas for ten years. Drawing from his most previous experience as a professor of organizational behavior and Woodside Chair in Leadership and Management at the University of Western Australia Business School, Professor Day is not only a professor in CMC’s psychology department but also the academic director of the Kravis Leadership Institute.

“I look forward to the opportunity to participate in leadership research and education –which is exactly what KLI does,” he said.

In the past and now at KLI, Day’s research focuses heavily on charting and understanding the trajectories of personal development, clarifying this as “looking at how people change overtime in their journey of becoming a leader.” He investigated this through some of his past projects.

He recently co-authored a study titled “Am I a leader? Examining leader identity development over time,” which was later published in The Leadership Quarterly. In 2010, he was awarded the Walter F. Ulmer Research Award from the Center for Creative Leadership (USA) for outstanding, career-long contributions to applied leadership research.

Additionally, one of Professor Day’s major focus for KLI is developing the Leadership Sequence at CMC.

“Doing the leadership studies sequence is a way of developing a much more sophisticated way of thinking about leadership,” he says. “If you believe the adage from social psychology that thinking is for doing, then you should have a broader repertoire as a result of the sequence and being involved with KLI. Therefore, you have just that many more ways to be effective as a leader, and that’s going to be a career-definer in terms of your potential to be hired.”

On October 5, the CMC community officially welcomed Professor Day during the Installation Ceremony as the Steven L. Eggert ’82 P’15 Professor of Leadership over a luncheon program at the Athenaeum. During the event, he spoke on the topic of “What We Know about Leadership from Science” where he debunked many of the myths and misconceptions about leadership.

He outlined ten common myths:
1.       Leadership is an art, not a skill

2.       Leadership is an exclusive human endeavor

3.       Leadership is based on a formal position or authority

4.       Leadership does not matter for performance

5.       Great Leaders are born not made

6.       Men are better leaders than women

7.       Leadership training is useless

8.       The only real preparation for leadership is leadership experience

9.       Leadership is culturally specific

10.   Leadership is rare and exclusive

Then debunked them:

1.       Leadership is both an art and a science

2.       Leadership is a universal activity demonstrated by humans, animals, and insects

3.       Leadership is a process, not a position

4.       Leadership matters for individuals, teams, and organizations

5.       Leaders are born and made

6.       Men and women have an equal capacity to lead

7.       Leadership is effective across all domains

8.       Experience without theory teaches nothing

9.       There are universally-endorsed leadership attributes and practices

10.   There are leadership skills and attributes distributed across the population

After reversing the perceptions surrounding leadership, Day concluded by proclaiming how “we can change the world with leadership.” Through this statement and the debunked myths above, leadership is shown as a world changing capacity hidden deep inside of us, each equipped with the potential to render maximum impact. Therefore, “even if you can’t be the leader, you need to be a leader,” as stated by Day.

 

How We Win: Exploring Nonprofit Impact and Success

By Robert Cain ’21 & Sofia Trigo ’20

 Robert Cain ’21 posing for a photo with staff members from Habitat for Humanity
Robert Cain ’21 posing for a photo with staff members from Habitat for Humanity

In the first of a four part Nonprofit Success Series, social innovators and non-profit organizations gathered to learn how to best maximize effectiveness and increase their potential for success.

Leaders Scott Sherman, Senior Director of Social Innovation & Co-Curricular Programming, and Gemma Bulos, Director of Social Innovation and Impact, at the Kravis Leadership Institute explained that while working in the nonprofit sector it is incredibly common to confront frustration and feel utterly overwhelmed when attempting to achieve certain goals. In her introduction to the group, Bulos explained that this nonprofit success series would target how to tackle this ‘uphill battle’ that so many nonprofit groups face. She noted that upcoming events in the series would focus on diversifying revenue, building financial resilience, infusing social innovation into work, and learning how to influence policy.  

Throughout his presentation, Sherman emphasized the importance of optimism and creativity when considering nonprofit impact. He explained how organizations can build capacities and resilience for both themselves and their communities and pointed to three key principles of transformative action.

Scott identified these key principles as such: consistently speaking the truth and shining a light on injustices, transforming feelings of animosity into goodwill – what he coined a kind of social ‘aikido’ practice – and, lastly, creating an innovative solution that uplifts all stakeholders and produces a mutual ‘win’ for all involved parties. The group engaged in various interactive activities, encouraging them to explore these principles and learn about one another’s work in the nonprofit sector.

….

Sitting in on the activity for the first transformative action principle: ‘shining a light on injustices’, I was able to interact on a one-on-one basis with numerous nonprofit leaders. This, I realized, was precisely the goal for the event. Activities that encouraged, demanded even, students to genuinely converse and engage with leaders across the nonprofit spectrum.

Over lunch at the Athenaeum, I met Debra Watkins, founder and executive director of NECON: National Emergency Communications Organization Network and Pam Hogan, executive director of the Fender Museum of the Arts Foundation. Both women were leaders in their respective fields yet, nevertheless, eager to answer my questions and shed light on their roles. They shared the sentiment that nonprofit work required genuine ambition and advised me to pursue something I find truly fulfilling. Watkins, elaborated on her personal motivation to found NECON: the lack of communication and interconnection that exist between government agencies, coupled with the September 11th attacks. She remarked that this travesty provoked in her a keen sense of responsibility and civic obligation to help aid citizens in formulating an effective and immediate response to national disasters.

I was reminded, too, of Sherman’s earlier comment regarding the inadequate coverage of positive news. We are so tuned into harsh realities and tragic events that we often dismiss the immense impact nonprofit organizations are making around the country and the world. Surrounded by such passionate, dedicated and motivated individuals, I realized this very optimism Sherman mentioned. As an observer, the palpable sense of loyalty these leaders had for their organization and its motivating purpose was moving.

Later, I sat down with first year student participant Daniela Finkel ’21 who volunteers for the Andrew Grene Foundation focused on transforming and improving lives in Haiti.

“I think hearing everybody else talk about their experiences was really unique. I hear about a lot of different minor community service projects on campus but I rarely get to speak with people who are so invested in what they do. Most of the time if I’m talking about service it is with another student who is explaining their role in an organization but being able to hear organization leaders perspectives was super informative and eye opening.”

Additionally, Tammy Marine, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity Inland Valley, gave positive feedback of the event. She listed her major takeaways as “the importance of communications and messaging, a reminder about the importance of relationship building in the workplace and with supporters, and just a general rejuvenation being surrounded by so many passionate and caring people in the nonprofit sector.”

And when asked whether or not she would recommend this conference to anyone else, she respond with a convincing “yes!”

But even after all of the engaging activities, informative lectures, and group interactions, the emotional highlight of the event was the brief connection shared between Tammy and first year CMC student, Robert Cain ’21. During the activity where participants shared the stories behind their respective nonprofits, Tammy shared her association with the Habitat for Humanity Foundation, which immediately struck a nerve in Robert because his home was built by Habitat. Nearly in tears, Robert interjected by asking Tammy if he could hug her. She kindly accepted.

Overall, the day filled with experiential learning, bond forging, and unforgettable memories; but we all gained something far more valuable than all of these items combined. By witnessing how nonprofit work transcends past regional, state, and even national borders, we learned that having an impact lies less in how successful the nonprofit seems and more so in how we affect the people we are tasked to help. In effect, impact equates to the number of lives changed.

SLE: Popping the CMC Bubble

By Linnea Uyeno ’20

It is easy to get caught up in the CMC bubble. It gently prods us to do more on campus, pushes us to take an extra economics class, and convinces us to hang out with the same people. As I entered into my sophomore year at CMC, I felt a little ungrounded. I had been pushed into the bubble again without the guidance of freshman orientation week.

The Sophomore Leadership Experience (SLE) allowed the sophomore class to pop the CMC bubble, giving us a fresh breath of Malibu air. We ventured outside our friend groups, comfort zones, and looked deep within ourselves to reflect about our time at CMC.

At CMC we practice a lot of things: sports, school, and research. Sometimes we forget that even teamwork takes practice. SLE provided the opportunity for us to practice leadership, teamwork, and made us more aware of our impact on others.

The three-day retreat had us running around the camp like elementary schoolers. We participated in ropes courses, team-building activities, and fireside chats. At first the activities felt a little juvenile. But, as our groups grew stronger, it made us all realize that what we perceive as smaller or simpler tasks are valuable in creating an effective team. 

“For the first time since WOA I felt truly connected to my class. The team activities disrupted the social groups of CMC, and they made me realize how many amazing people there are in my class. The activities really provided us a space for us to recognize this,” Vicky Flores Najas ‘20 said.

Gradually, something overtook us all.  It was magical to see what could happen if we all cheered each other on. Even individuals with deathly phobias of heights confidently walked across tight lines and climbed rock walls.

At the end of all the activities we climbed up a mountain and sat in small groups overlooking the calm water. I was filled with sonder. Looking out at the peaceful shore after such a long battle upwards, made me put my “hustle” at CMC into perspective. Sitting amongst my peers in the small group, I broke into tears. We began to unpack our feelings about the past, present, and future.

“SLE gave me the clarity on what I want to get out of my time at CMC and how I can achieve both my long and short term goals,” said Dina Rosin ‘20.

At the end of the day, we all joined together at the campfire. We were instructed to write down the things in our life that we wanted to let go of this year, and toss them into the fire. People who seemed to have their lives put together had tears streaming down their faces. I looked around at all the melancholy stares of my classmates. Sometimes, it can feel like everyone in the Camp Claremont bubble is happy. It felt nice to know that my classmates were all dealing with something, and was comforted to know that we were all going through it together.

The next day we wrapped up the retreat by reflecting on the things that we wanted to take back to CMC with us. We brainstormed different ways we wanted to improve the campus and pitched it to each other. A few of the ideas that came out of SLE are being presented in front of ASCMC.

“When brainstorming social life at CMC, we saw a few problems we wanted to address, especially focusing on the dining hall culture. Our solution to these problems is the “Community Table” a table in Collins that will encourage people to eat with new people and not sit alone,” Nick Pibl ’20 said.

Listening to everyone’s pitches made me realize how many amazing thinkers and change makers we have within our class. I think we all came back to the campus feeling empowered and a little less alone on this journey. I am a sophomore, but that doesn’t mean I am supposed to have everything figured out. And that’s okay.

 

Meet Daniel Kan ’09, CMC alum who recently sold his startup for $1B

By Linnea Uyeno ’20

According to Forbes, 9 out of 10 startups fail. Daniel Kan is an outlier. He has founded two successful companies since graduating CMC in 2009. His latest startup, Cruise, recently sold to General Motors (GM) for more than a billion dollars. With GM’s support, Cruise is working on building a fully self driving car.

So what’s the secret formula to creating a successful startup?

“I don’t know if I have figured it out, per say. One of the biggest things is not necessarily the market or the product. I consider what is the end value I am providing to the user.  You have to fix someone’s problem.”

At his first startup, Exec, Kan provided an on-demand personal assistant service to the public. Both of his startups have directly worked at fixing someone else’s problem. However, this is only part of the formula. What makes Kan special is his work ethic. Mix a great idea with a great deal of perspiration and you get a self driving car. I guess the only way to build self driving car is literally through a little “self-drive”.

“If I am doing something, I want to do it all in. For the most part, all [my team and I] did was get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep, for two years. That was everything we did for two years. I think one of the things people are afraid of doing is diving into it. In this age of information, with computers, anyone can start a business. Things don’t have to be perfect in order for them to work. ”

If I am doing something, I want to do it all in. For the most part, all [my team and I] did was get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep, for two years.”

At the same time, self driving cars don’t really seem like something you just wake up one day and decide to build. I questioned Kan about his decision to enter into the self-driving car arms race. Why did he think he had the skills to accomplish something this futuristic?

“I don’t think there is anything that you can’t do if you put your mind to it, and if you break it into small enough pieces. I don’t necessarily have all of the skills to build a self driving car.  I had never built anything in robotics. [However], I do have the skills to find people that can help me. You don’t necessarily have to be the best at anything, but if you can find the right people you can build anything.”

 A glimpse of Cruise Automation technology $10,000 conversion kit applied to an Audi in 2014. 
A glimpse of Cruise Automation technology $10,000 conversion kit applied to an Audi in 2014. 

Kan certainly has an unconventional approach to running a business.

“I try to think how I can make other people more efficient. For example, one of the things we do at our company is that everyone gets their choice of chair and laptop.  I [believe that] if you are going to spend eight hours of your day in your chair and your laptop, then you should have the best things possible. We want people to be focused on the job they are doing. If you can get people in that mode, you can really build something amazing.”

As an economics and psychology double major with a leadership studies sequence, Kan says that the liberal arts education at CMC helped him to develop creative and critical thinking skills.

“You have to make decisions every day in a startup. You have a limited set of resources, so to deploy them on one project you have to take them out of another project. I was heavily focused on the entrepreneurial side of the leadership sequence. [The curriculum] taught me how to think about tradeoffs and how to deal with conflict and emotions that are irrational.”

Kan also talked about how it is easier to take on a leadership role early on at a startup.

“You have the opportunity to do more because you have less resources. Scarcity provides the ability for younger people to take on a harder challenge. Larger companies aren’t going to take the risk. Startups have nothing to lose.”

Those leadership opportunities might be an option at a startup, but they won’t present themselves.

“One of the mistakes, I made early on was that I didn’t know that I had to ask [for opportunities]… In the past all of my jobs had a list of instructions. When the job is undefined you really have to go and find people to start making those definitions.”

For someone who has seen so much success he is incredibly humble. In fact, Kan says that sometimes he still experiences imposter syndrome.

“There are days where I am like ‘What am I doing? Why am I all of a sudden this person that people look up to?’ A year ago no one even knew who I was. It’s a little weird. I don’t really see myself as a bigshot. My life hasn’t changed much. I haven’t made any major purchases,” laughed Kan.

He doesn’t dwell on his success, or soak in the limelight. He is focused on the process, rather than the end result or financial gain.

“I am excited to see how self driving cars can have a big impact on society and help people. Uber has kind of helped with accessibility, but it’s expensive and not everyone can afford to use it. With self driving cars, the long term goal is to make accessible transportation for everything: goods, services, and people.”

Kan ended the interview touching on all the future doors his company could open.

“[Self driving cars could help] people who might otherwise not be able to take cabs to the airport and things like that. A lot of other interesting industries will spawn out of this that people didn’t think would have existed. I am excited to see what happens.  I think that is one of the main motivators for me.”

 

Annual SOURCE Symposium Reveals Community Impact and Internal growth

 Photo of SOURCE students interacting with guests at the Annual SOURCE Symposium 
Photo of SOURCE students interacting with guests at the Annual SOURCE Symposium 

In its last event of the year, SOURCE, Claremont McKenna’s student run non-profit consulting group, gathered in the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum to host its second annual symposium. Professors, students and SOURCE clientele were among those in attendance.

Opening the event were managers Lily Muskal ’19 and Jack Segal ’18. Segal who has worked for SOURCE for the past three years and is a government-economics major, briefed the group on the status of their numerous projects, while Muskal, a rising junior and biology-economics major, focused on recent organizational developments and internal restructuring.

Segal and Muskal explained that this event was meant serve as a platform to look at and share the impact SOURCE had on the community this past year. For many intrigued students, this event also provided a unique lens to understand SOURCE and further grasp its main goals and objectives as a non-profit consulting group.

SOURCE has existed for 12 years and originated from a Kravis Leadership Institute business plan competition in 2005. It is an entirely student run non-profit consulting group, currently compromised of 37 student consultants. SOURCE partners with non-profits in the local community mainly within Claremont, Upland and Pomona, but has recently began to work in Montclair as well.

In his introduction to the group, Segal explained the basics of what SOURCE consulting entails. “The main point about SORUCE is our twofold mission that we’ve diverted to external and internal impact”, he said, “the first part is to leave a positive impact on the community by providing value-added, result oriented, services to non-profit organizations. The second, internal side, stresses providing our student consultants with practical leadership and development opportunities to prepare them for successful careers post-graduation.”

Both managers emphasized the tremendous growth SOURCE has experienced over the past 12 years. In 2011, SOURCE focused primarily on advancing its student development component and in 2015 the team celebrated its 10-year anniversary, bringing in over 140 nonprofit members from the surrounding community.

Muskal later detailed SOURCE’s client affiliation. “We have 7 very different, diverse, clients each year,”she stated. “We work with groups from theater nonprofits like ‘Ophelia’s Jump’ to environmental groups like ‘Sustainable Claremont’. Our most common projects are impact analysis, market strategizing, fundraising, and programming development. We are able to really dive into these projects because of our partnership model which allows us to spend an entire year [with] clients.”

After their presentation overview, attendees were invited to walk around the Athenaeum and visit the various round tables set up. Each table featured student consultants and their respective project this year. This interactive structure allowed for great one-one discussion and in-depth explanations of the consulting process.

First year consultant, Kenlyn Mirbach ’20, shared her motivations applying to SOURCE and experience thereafter. “I am super into community service and giving back” she said. “My ultimate goal is to start my own social venture at some point, so I’ve always been involved in community-service, but I didn’t know about the strategic side of nonprofits. This is why joining SORUCE was so valuable. It granted me the ability to be on the strategic side of nonprofits, not just volunteering. I feel confident that by working at SOURCE I learned how to give back from a higher level.”

Lead consultant Ethan Tom ’19, shared much of Mirbach’s sentiments. “In high school, I was frustrated because throughout the service trips and volunteer programs I participated in I saw a lot of things I wish I had more input in – it felt like a lot of our potential and resources were being wasted. So, in college, the chance to work from a strategy level and actually map out how resources are allocated sounded really interesting. My other favorite part about SOURCE is working with a group of like-minded individuals. We all came to college to some extent to prepare for a career, but doing it with people who are invested in the nonprofit community is all the more fulfilling.”

Walking around the symposium, it was clear SOURCE consultants were diligent and devoted to their role at SOURCE and its non-profit work. Each round table provided a new perspective of the SOURCE mission and impact. Not only did student consultants take pride in their past year of work but it was also clear that the internal SOURCE community was a major component motivating their success. Attending students were clearly intrigued by the sense of team-work SOURCE encourages and, for many, this event further propelled attendees to apply for open positions next year.

Shooting for the Moon, 2017 Moonshot Fellows: The New Wave of Social Entrepreneurs

 Students brainstorming ideas at the Moonshot House. Photo courtesy of Wes Edwards ’18.
Students brainstorming ideas at the Moonshot House. Photo courtesy of Wes Edwards ’18.

Before heading off to their various summer internships and vacations, on Sunday, May 14th, 34 Claremont Colleges students (31 CMC, 2 Scripps, 1 Pomona) headed down to Lake Elsinore for a once in a lifetime opportunity. The group spent the next week together learning from each other and the seven accomplished social entrepreneurs living with them for the week. The program in its inaugural year, run by the Social Innovation and Impact Office of the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) at Claremont McKenna College, was called the “Moonshot House Retreat” named because Moonshot thinking addresses a huge problem and proposes a radical solution using breakthrough techniques, models and technologies that can change and disrupt systems for the better. The hope was that by the end of the week, the students would be inspired to change the world for the better, begin to learn the skills necessary for that to happen, as well as built a strong network of similarly minded peers. The week that followed the initial bus ride was beyond anyone’s greatest expectations.

On Sunday afternoon the group arrived at the spectacular beachfront home located on the shore of Lake Elsinore, the property offered a huge kitchen (important as the students cooked breakfast every day), plenty of outdoor deck space, a lawn big enough for morning yoga and spikeball, and a beach volleyball court. In talking about the location, Gemma Bulos, Director of Social Innovation and Impact at KLI, stressed that they felt it was important for the students to feel that they were in a relaxing and creative environment, especially coming off the heels of final exams. After a relaxed afternoon of getting to know one another, the group gathered to listen to the stories of the social entrepreneurs who would be mentoring them over the course of the coming week. To put it simply, the group was an all-star cast of Echoing Green Fellows. Echoing Green, an organization who works as a catalyst for change by recognizing and investing in the most innovative social entrepreneurs who are solving the world’s most pressing problems, has recognized these changemakers who are changing and shaping the future around the globe. Alongside Gemma and Scott Sherman, Senior Director of Social Innovation and Co-Curricular Programming at KLI, their fellow Echoing Green Fellows included Mark Hanis a “serial entrepreneur” who began his first enterprise, Genocide Intervention Network, while still a Junior at Swarthmore, Rose Wang and Laura D’Asaro, co-founders of Six Foods, a company that makes chips out of cricket flour that was featured on Shark Tank, Kalimah Priforce, founder of Qeyno Labs, a group that empowers black youth through coding and hackathons, and Lauren Burke, founder of Atlas: DIY, a cooperative empowerment center for immigrant youth and their allies that offers college and legal resources. As a special surprise, Cheryl Dorsey, the President of Echoing Green, was also able to spend a few hours with the group Sunday evening. This type unfettered access and one-on-one mentorship with some of the most successful social entrepreneurs in the country is unparalleled and beyond any of the students’ wildest dreams.

Over the next five days, the students learned what it meant to be a social entrepreneur, the challenges along the way, but also the tools that it took to begin thinking about how to create a social enterprise that could change the world. These “moonshot” ideas were what the retreat was named for, and in Scott’s words, were supposed to be ideas that could “…affect up to a billion people.”

The first real workshop day, Monday, was all about creativity. The students were asked what the biggest problems facing the world were, what their talents were, and how they could solve them. The solutions didn’t have to be realistic, or even practical—the goal was just to get the students to begin dreaming bigger. On Tuesday, students spent the day finding their own stories. They were asked to think about what challenges they had faced through their lives, and ultimately, what issues they were passionate about solving. These stories were then shared with the entire group. To quote Sydney Baffour ’20, “Hearing everyone’s story and understanding their background not only brought the group together, but also made me reflect on myself and where I was going…It was a truly humbling experience.” By Wednesday morning, the students had tentative ideas about what issue they wanted to tackle, and how they were going to go about creating a social enterprise to solve this issue. The rest of the day was spent iterating on these ideas—which sometimes involved writing out a full plan on a giant whiteboard and then realizing it wasn’t going to work and erasing all of it. The unofficial motto of the day was: fail hard, fail fast, fail often. On Thursday students refined their ideas and began practicing a one-minute pitch for their idea. The students went to bed not knowing that a huge surprise was coming on Friday.

The next morning, after one final round of pitch practice, the group boarded a bus and headed into downtown LA to the US Bank Tower. Once there, they took the elevator up to the top floor. Each student then slid down the glass slide that runs outside the building; the thinking being that if you can go down a glass slide off the edge of a 70 story building, giving a pitch should be a piece of cake. After the slide, the students were split up into six groups where they each gave their pitch. From there, each group voted on a winner to go on to a final round where they would compete for prizes. Some of which included asking Mark Cuban for advice about their startup, and spending time with Cheryl Dorsey to talk about their enterprise. These were just two examples of the six—each finalist won an incredible mentorship prize. The final ideas pitched on the top of the US Bank Tower, the tallest building in LA and the closest to the moon you can get in the city, were highly varied and very polished. Listening to the students speak one would be hard pressed to believe that they had only come up with, and designed these ideas, in the last few days. The pitches ranged from aquaponics at the middle school level to a “sustainable etsy” that allowed Indian women to sell their wares directly to the global market to an after school debate and politics empowerment program designed to get more students of color running for political office. The pitches were truly more than anyone could’ve hoped for at the end of one week.

As students came to realize on the first day of the program, each of us has an incredible, unique set of skills and passions. On one of the walls in the Moonshot House hung the quote by Aristotle, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” I cannot think of a more appropriate way to sum up the incredible conversations and general feeling left at the end of this incredible week.

The 2017 Kravis Leadership Institute Moonshot House was the most incredible program I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. With the formation of the Social Innovation and Impact Office, the Moonshot House, signals a somewhat new direction for KLI and perhaps CMC as a whole. Next year, KLI will launch a series of new social innovation related programs through the Social Innovation and Impact Office. Additionally, the student group impACT has been drastically revamped for the upcoming year; the group’s mission is to foster social entrepreneurship through networking, workshops, and competitions such as the Hult Prize. Taken together these should have a significant impact in raising the profile of social innovation at Claremont McKenna College.

A special thanks to Angelica Ferreira, KLI Events Logistics Coordinator. The program would not have been possible without the incredible logistical work of Angelica Ferreira.