For the first time since 2019, we were thrilled to be able to gather our community together in-person for the Innovators Conference, presented by PeopleGrove. Across three days at the start of August, the conference brought together thought-leaders, educators, and practitioners in higher education to discuss some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.
And of course, it’d wouldn’t be a PeopleGrove event without plenty of opportunities to connect with one another. Following are some of the top takeaways from the conference.
The Great Recalculation
What happens when a once-in-a-century event causes unprecedented upheaval to almost every aspect of our lives and our organizations? The same thing that our GPS does when we make a wrong turn. We recalculate.
Multi-generational workplace expert Lindsey Pollak kicked off Innovators with an inspiring keynote examining the changes in our professional world and its impact on us and our institutions. Based on her latest book Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work, Lindsey shared how the pandemic didn’t force us to learn new skills but rather sharpen ones that we already use day in and day out.
“I’ve been doing workplace research for about 20 years, and I’ve never met anyone who at their retirement dinner says, ‘It was just a straight shot the whole way, ya know?,’” Lindsey shared. “There are always challenges, there are always detours, there are always moments of decision. And I’ve noticed recently that we’ve been reframing this concept of ‘soft skills’ to words like ‘human skills’ or ‘essential skills’ or ‘foundational skills. In today’s world, recalculating is an essential skill.”
Based on the research from her book, Lindsey shared her 5 Rules for Recalculating and encouraged us to maintain a positive, growth mindset. “There’s a magic word that helps us turn a fixed mindset into a growth mindset and that word is yet.” With this mindset, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish for our learners and our organizations.
The No. 1 reason someone pursues higher education is to get a good job. And a vast majority of jobs are gained through networking and connections. So why do we see a huge gap in students who intend to build social capital and those who don’t follow through on that intention?
Much of the conference was dedicated to discussions around the various structures that institutions are building to close this social gap and how they are scaled through the PeopleGrove technology. We heard from Carol Bassie of Drew University, Mario Vela of the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Mako Miller of the University of Missouri-Kansas City on how they are constructing programs that put mentorship at the center of the model. Representatives from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Kansas, and Hope College (winner of our first annual Innovators Award!) also shared initiatives that extend access to their community’s social capital to their learners.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in terms of social capital access was a big topic throughout the event. Traditionally underserved communities (such as students of color, first generation students, Pell-Grant eligible students, and others) are statistically more likely to join a university community with a smaller inherited network than their peers. Supporting those students with structures to help them build that network is vital. “This is about social mobility,” Mario Vela shared, “It is our responsibility to support [underrepresented] students and give them access to those opportunities.”
Pooja Pendharkar, lead product strategist at PeopleGrove, led attendees in a workshop designed to think through certain structures that would help close this gap. In a Pitch Competition, the Facul-Team took home the top prize by developing a concept to engage more faculty members in helping learners connect classroom and career via social capital. These representatives from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Texas A&M, University of Oregon, and Loyola Marymount University will help the PeopleGrove team develop and build this in our actual product!
The Process of Building Super Mentors
We kicked off Day 2 with an exciting announcement — our CEO is publishing a book!
In partnership with author, entrepreneur, and professor Eric Koester, our CEO Adam Saven is releasing Super Mentors: The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Asking Extraordinary People for Help. Conference attendees got their hands on the first print edition of the book.
Eric then took the stage to discuss the story and the principles behind the book. He shared why the key to creating powerful relationships lies with the mentees, not the mentors.
“We believe that mentors are these amazing people we meet and they basically guide us,” Eric told the audience. “The truth is that the mentors don’t make the mentees…mentees make their mentors — and in particular their Super Mentors.”
And while that feels daunting, it really doesn’t have to be.
“Super Mentorship is a process,” Eric explained. “That means it can be taught, which means it can be learned.”
Eric then led a workshop introducing the steps of this process to attendees including the “Aim High, Ask Small, Do It again” framework and the PAST Laws of Super Mentors. Attendees had the chance to reflect on the people in their lives who have been Super Mentors throughout their journeys.
You can learn more about Super Mentors and order your book today at https://www.supermentorsbook.com.
A Vision for the Future
We were incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Farouk Dey of Johns Hopkins University bring his Vision Chats series to our stage for the very first live edition with guest Eloy Ortiz Oakley, President and CEO of the College Future Foundation. Among his many other accomplishments, Mr. Oakley had just completed his successful tenure as the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges system.
In a wide ranging conversation, these two leaders in higher education touched on everything from student loan forgiveness to changing demographics to an industry-wide decrease in enrollment. However, ideas around workforce development dominated the conversation.
“Students are making choices based on the economic opportunity that they are going to gain [from higher education], so we can’t ignore that,” Mr. Oakley said. “Particularly with low-income students, first-generation students — it’s part of their calculus.”
Both leaders agreed however that concepts around workforce development wouldn’t replace the other missions of higher education. Instead, these developments challenge institutions to change the conversation to a “both/and” instead of an “either/or.”
“We want to help build a better society and a more informed citizenry, and that has to be a primary driver of our work,” Mr. Oakley shared. “But, we’ve ignored the economics for so long and we can’t ignore them anymore.”
You'll be able to view the full conversation on the Vision Chats homepage.
Building Opportunity Through Connection
As we exited the 2022 edition of the Innovators Conference, presented by PeopleGrove, our team could not feel more energized about the collective work we’re pursuing. The power of connections was evident throughout the three days — even in the simple conversations over breakfast and coffee. We’re excited to continue to bring our community together in-person across the country to continue to learn from one another and to move higher education forward in delivering the value that all of our community members continually seek.