NDSU class helps students develop big ideas that benefit society
Published March 2016
Anthony Albright had an idea. What if there was a way to help ex-convicts become productive members of society rather than ostracizing them?
It was a big idea that could have slipped away in the busyness of life. Albright has a full schedule pursuing a doctorate in English, teaching writing classes, taking care of his family and working with the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theater.
But he found a way to work on this idea through a new social innovation class at NDSU. The class is led by English professor Andrew Mara, who sees power in letting students work on real-world problems that matter to them and developing skills through real-world experiences.
The class focuses on developing solutions to social problems. Students research their subject matter, persuade other people to buy into their ideas, evaluate each other’s work, give constructive feedback and manage projects. Passion for their work, not a teacher or a grade, pushes them to be sophisticated writers, speakers and influencers. That is what deep learning is, Mara said.
An important part of the class is encouraging students to follow their ideas. Albright’s idea came from dark personal experience, and he doubted anyone would ever support it.
He was a young boy when several family members went to prison. He thought the stigma he lived under was bad until he saw what their lives were like after they served their time. His family struggled to meet basic needs because no one wanted an ex-convict as an employee or neighbor.
It became clear to Albright that being able to establish a stable life after prison would help more people stay out of trouble and that a transition between incarceration and release is missing.
With the help of the class, Albright has developed his idea into a mentoring program to reintegrate nonviolent ex-convicts into the community. He will present his vision to a national audience at a Clinton Global Initiative event this spring, where he will have the opportunity to gain support and find resources to help implement his program.
All the students in the class have found a platform, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, NDSU’s annual Innovation Challenge or TEDx, to sell their idea to an audience.
The class, open to undergraduate and graduate students, is called SocialVentures. It is a one-credit, repeatable class, so students can continue pushing their ideas toward implementation.
Mara used Bison Microventure as a model for the class. Bison Microventure was created by David Wells, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, to give students the opportunity to learn to turn lab research into commercial products, intellectual property or processes.
Mara’s goal is to give students a place to work on ideas that will improve the social fabric of the world.