Author Archives: Jennifer

About Jennifer

Jennifer New is a writer, curator, mama, and juggler of ideas.

endings, beginnings, and a little elvis

Peter Aguero of The Moth visited with us and shared the power of story. We all need to be able to frame a powerful and captivating story if we want to engage others in our work.

With every story, he encourages us to tell about:  What happened? How did you feel? Why?

Stories about change are effective, as are stories about pinnacle events, e.g., the worst Christmas, the best kiss. He encourages storytellers to expose their own vulnerabilities, which in turn helps others to share theirs, leading to mutual strength.

Rachel was reminded of the work of Maxine Greene on the social imagination — stories allow us to cross barriers. I  was reminded of a recent interview with David Isay, the creator of StoryCorps. So many people, he says, have reported that the 40+ minutes they spend in a StoryCorps booth being interviewed by a loved one have been among the most powerful experiences of their lives. Isay dissects why this is – the power of telling our story and also the power of listening. And Tom shared an example of storytelling with students — The Iowa Narrative’s Project in which students produce 8-minute podcasts.


After lunch, we circled around for a strenuous, complex, and generous conversation about what might be next. What common ground have we established? What ideas, big and small, were birthed?

Not surprisingly given the large number of sticky notes surrounding ideas around the current structure of higher education, we started by talking about the tenure system – what’s broken, what’s working. Given the focus on social entrepreneurship the Institute, we quickly wondered about how business is effecting education for ill (Michael gave the example of his students registering for a course and it goes in a shopping cart) and for good (Jessica gave an example of “cash cows and loss leaders” – the loss leaders that support a department’s or institution’s mission get to stay, those that don’t need to be cut).

Question: Is it possible to figure out what the metric is for social impact in higher education?

We wondered about each institution’s strategic plans (a few of us were able to quote directly from them – kudos Chuck, Bo, and Ken!). How do we clearly align whatever we do next with these in order to make a case for institutional funding?

We were very focused on what we can borrow from social entrepreneurs, but what does higher ed have to offer them? Beth commented that the depth of knowledge that the humanities, in particular, provide for understanding the past provides perspective and humility in how you deal with the present and future.

Eli: Why would you come back together again? What is chapter 2? Continually ask, ‘Why?’

Group: Because we see that the system is not working.

If we want to be accountable for what we profess, we need to bring in more of our peers and share this with them.

Eli: Why would a Tony Hsieh talk to you? What do you have to offer him?

Group: We have access to Millennials. We’re independent; we can provide evaluative services that are objective. We also offer an abundance of brainpower:  UNLV has 900 experts in its faculty alone, plus graduate students. All of these minds can be brought to bear on specific issues.

Kate: What if we rebrand the university?

There was conversation about what this means, including Dave sharing the two blue-sky ideas from the night before:

A)   The Trading Places metaphor in which a creative, such as Eli, is traded for a faculty member; the entrepreneurial space gains someone who can provide deep knowledge and training in a specific area of pertinence to their work, and the university gains someone who can provide new tools and methodologies.

B)   The two-week ideal university that pops up during Winterim or maybe in conjunction with Life Is Beautiful – may include actual credits and funding sources for the home institutions; could move from place to place or stay in LV; the city as text; provides faculty to come and try classes and collaborations that they can’t do at home. [Modeled on something like a Iowa Summer’s Writing Festival?] These could be solution based.


 We need to build a container. What is our container?

Dave recommended TRIBAL LEADERSHIP – about the notion of forming tribes. The highest level is when a group of people are gathered and focused on something bigger than themselves.

We shared some examples of project-based learning:

Tom shared a NY Times Op Ed about breaking apart the current university system:

 problem / purpose / process

This is what we want to share – Examining a problem and doing so with purpose that extends beyond our research to the wider community, via a creative and collaborative process.

Ken asked: “Place, purpose and pedagogy – which one comes first, which one is leading what we do?”

Here is what we agreed on:

  • The desire to re-brand the university.
  • That business can inform the university and the university can inform business.
  • That we want to work on big social problems.

The next steps? Write your chapter, friends!
































Embrace the Suck – Day 2

Drawing blind.

Drawing blind.

We started the day with blindfolds – drawing camels and cowboys, Eli and Jennifer. Looking at our collection of pictures we noted that drawing blind makes us more attentive to form and less distracted by details, it helps us to trust our intuition. It reminds me of this Anne Lamott excerpt from Bird by Bird:  Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

From blindfolds we moved to a presentation by Joe Sulentic about social entrepreneurship. Joe’s main definition:  “Social value is the main difference between an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur.”

He encouraged us to follow the example of the Navy SEALS and “embrace the suck” — know, as later presenter Andy Stoll would say, that you are going to take punches. It’s going to hurt. And incorporate that into the process. Along the way, look for opportunities, look for resources, look for team members.

Next up:  Andy Stoll and Amanda Styron, creators of the 10,000 Hours Project, The James Gang, and SeedHere.

Thought from Andy:  Social entrepreneurship is hard. It’s so much easier just to make money. It’s a ridiculous balance. … There’s this dance between, “Wow, I’m doing good, but I can’t eat or I’m making money but I feel like crap.”

He gave the example of giving everyone in a class $20 and seeing who has made the most money the next day. What if you add the twist of who has done the most good with their money?

Jessica sent this site for figuring out the value of volunteer time:

We closed the morning with three Downtown Project “doers”:  Zubin Damania, Turntable Health; Rehan Choudhry, Life Is Beautiful Festival; and Zach Ware, Shift (formerly Project 100). I am curious of the group’s “take aways” from these three presenters?

It would also be great to get some thoughts recorded about each of the field trips.

Onward to Day 3!

Day 1 – a distillation

Notes from Day 1 of the Faculty Institute – as reflected and paraphrased by Jennifer – added in the late afternoon with a tired brain that was no longer proofreading carefully! 

Eli started the morning by encouraging us to view these three days as an expedition:  “Go out and explore!” He also said that what happens in Vegas for this group will leave Vegas, rippling out into the world to do good.


What keeps you up at night?

  • Inequity in education – rich/poor, how to have effect as an educator
  • Scale of suffering – greed and power, consumption, health
  • Dreams for a better way

Qualities of Our Heroes:

  • Contagious optimism, e.g., Dan Eldon
  • Social change
  • Singe mother giving, generosity, sharing, e.g., open source code
  • Enduring leader – using position of power/prominence to do good, e.g., Jimmy Carter
  • Healing – working for the common good
  • Pragmatism, e.g., Geoffrey Canada
  • Fearless, e.g., Charles Darwin
  • Design thinkers
  • Remarkable visionaries, MLK


The recession was a chance for Las Vegas to re-set. (John Wagner)

There have been so many chapter 1’s written in LV; it’s very hard to get to chapter 2. Unlike, say, Boston, this is a place that’s open to all different ways to rewrite the text of the city. Let’s get to chapter 2. (Michael Borer)


[First off, check out the feature of Paul in today’s UNLV News piece about UNLV grads who are on the cutting edge of change in downtown LV]

On suburban mindset:  LV is oriented around car culture. Because people move frequently, they don’t invest in neighbors or community. You have to buy the experience of community. Downtown LV is never going to be for everyone; it is appealing to a subset. 

On the margins:  As we grow, we’ll attract more misfits – people who can’t / don’t want to live in a suburb where you have to have a car, pay a mortgage. 

On corporate urbanism – Corporations started in downtown and moved to ‘burbs. Now they’re moving back into cities at the same time that we’re gutting public sector funds for social services. 

Q:  If someone like Tony or an entity like the Downtown Project buys up a lot of land, there’s an expectation that they’ll tackle some of the social issues in that area.

Paul:  Yes … but is this fair? The DTP cannot drill a hole in a road, we can collect taxes. We don’t have the means to effect change in the way that government can.

BRIAN KNUDSEN – Community Resource Manager, City of Las Vegas

Brian talked about how the recession pushed the city to ask questions of what its citizens most want;  Security, jobs, schools, “How can I help” were the leading responses in 100+ conversation groups he led. Brian decided that children are at the intersection of multiple systems – transportation, housing, health. What came out of it is the Downtown Achieves program. It works with a series of public schools (K-12) and seeks to align resources. It engages groups of educators, students, parents, educational leaders, and researchers.

On collaboration:  You know you’re collaborating if it’s painful at first. You always have to give something when you start to collaborate. 

On service providers:   Our community is built on these one-stop shops – we expect people to come to you, come to your service. That doesn’t work. What if the providers came to the school?

On academics:   It’s really hard to work with academics. It’s hard to know how to plug in with you. What you do is so important. I almost guarantee that I can plug your research in to what we’re doing.  ….  There is so much space in our community for research to inform our decisions. 


Storytelling to Teslas

Las Vegas Club billboard 4-7-1953During the Faculty Institute, we’ll have a visit from Moth Grandslam Champion Peter Aguero. Listen to a few of his yarns in advance.

Some of us will have an opportunity to ride in one of the Teslas that is part of Project 100’s fleet. Read more about this DTP effort to rethink urban transportation.

Water and sustainability are issues that are sure to come up during our visit. Here is a smattering of recent articles that might trigger conversation:

Also, learn more about the UNLV Design Center. Its director, Ken McCown is one of participants and he’s graciously opening their space to us for one afternoon.



The Power of Cities

Some of what we’ll be talking about next week is how to use a city as the canvas for our research and teaching. Cities present many social needs and bureaucratic obstacles, but they are also rich in diversity and creativity.

In every room of The Ogden there is a copy of Ed Glaeser’s book Triumph of the City. Here is the abbreviated version of Glaeser’s argument:

And you might also watch this series of talks about why mayors are best equipped to effect real change in our urban landscape, including talks by seven global mayors: