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Fall Courses for Changemakers

With course registration upon us, are you looking for ways to make a positive impact in the future? Consider one of our Fall 2020 courses: 

GCC 3005/5005 Global Venture Design—What Impact Will You Make? – Work in interdisciplinary teams to develop entrepreneurial responses to current social and environmental problems. 

GCC 3003/5003 Grand Challenge: Seeking Solutions to Global Health IssuesWork in teams to examine the fundamental challenges to addressing complex global health problems in East Africa and East African refugee communities here in the Twin Cities.

Acara is excited to provide opportunities for student engagement with grand challenges next semester. Special focus will be placed on supporting health and the economy after the coronavirus pandemic. 

Want to know more? We’ve compiled some FAQs about our two Grand Challenge courses along with the help of past students Narmada Venkateswaran and Amy Yi. Read ahead to learn how our courses can help you make changemaking happen: 

I’m not sure if a GCC course is the right fit for me, what should I expect from these courses? 

These courses are designed to give you the tools for creating project-based change. If you are willing to learn the skills and techniques to help solve social and environmental issues, this class is perfect for you! We asked Narmada what her advice is for students considering a Grand Challenge course, and she suggests that “I would not choose this class if you’re looking for a traditional style class where you are being lectured at, and I would advise students to keep an open mind and be flexible in their ideas!” 

We want to give you skills that are applicable to any work you may do in the future, and therefore we believe these courses can be a great fit for anyone. As Amy says,“I would highly recommend any student to take the class! Whether you have the desire to just work on a project during the semester, or continue the project beyond the semester, there are many applicable skills that can be transferable to future pursuits.”

What will our class projects be based on and how will they be formed?

Class projects are based on community issues and are formed in response to community partners and their needs. After gathering suggestions from local and global communities on ways to respond to the current economic crisis while focusing on positive environmental impacts, GCC courses will begin to develop their projects. The community partners propose their issues, giving students context and research behind their work. Student teams will then go determine how they will address the proposed problem by creating their own project. If you already have a community partner and project in mind, instructors can work with you on how to incorporate these ideas into the class. 

Would I be able to work on a solo project? 

Forming teams is a main component of both courses. We believe that the best way to solve complex problems is in interdisciplinary teams. This gives students the opportunity to communicate and work with group members who have strengths in different disciplines.

Amy recognizes that “working in a diverse group of individuals and learning how to work on something you may or may not know a lot about will stretch and challenge you to critically think and develop yourself as a person.”

Who are the instructors for each course? 

GCC 3003/5003 is taught by Nasra Giama and Cheryl Robertson from the School of Nursing and Fred Rose from Humphrey School of Public Affairs. They will also collaborate and connect students with Faith Nawagi, Uganda Research Consultant on research and instruction.

GCC 3005/5005 is taught by Tom Fisher from the  College of Design and Minnesota Design Center, and by Acara Director Megan Voorhees. Regular guest lecturers in the class will be Tony Loyd, the podcast host of Social Entrepreneur and a new podcast titled “Thrive Connect Contribute.”, and Andrea Davila, who was previously a Deputy Director at Echoing Green. 

Both classes have regular guest speakers who will share inspirational stories of founding or working for impact ventures, as well as help you to better understand the community issues you are seeking to address. All students will receive support on their projects from community members who volunteer as Acara Impact Coaches.

Who are some of the community partners for each class ? 

We want our classes to be relevant and timely, so many community projects will be identified over the summer. GCC 3003/5003 will focus both on projects proposed by community leaders in the Twin Cities and Rochester that work with the East African immigrant community.  The course will also work with Alight, formerly the American Refugee Committee, and on projects proposed by community leaders in Uganda. GCC 3005/5005 will focus on the economic issues raised by the current pandemic and will partner with community members in both rural and urban Minnesota, and may also partner with communities in Puerto Rico and India. 

Our community partners are here to help you learn more about our local communities and the issues that they are tackling. Amy says a highlight of her GCC class was “being able to communicate with local contacts and learn more about what we thought we knew, what we realized we didn’t know, and what we had no idea to even ask about. I saw a completely different perspective and I really enjoyed the learning.”

 Which disciplines do you prefer to have in your classes?

All of our courses welcome students from every discipline! We are interested in incorporating all areas of study, from art to aerospace engineering, in order to create a wide range of interdisciplinary teams. Again, the skills and tools taught in these classes can be applied to any field of interest. 

Can you describe some of the specific skill sets we will be developing in these classes? 

GCC 3003/5003 aims to help students critically evaluate information, learn to communicate effectively, and apply the role of creativity, innovation, discovery, and expression across disciplines.

“I’ve used a lot of the problem-solving and collaborative skills in many of my experiences, especially interdisciplinary settings. In my current GCC class, the way that I tackle different issues individually before coming together with the group comes from the design thinking approach that we followed in GCC 5003,” says Narmada.

In GCC 3005/5005 students will develop specific skills such as synthesizing knowledge from multiple sources, developing a basic understanding of the design thinking process, demonstrating intercultural competency, and project management skills. 

Amy states that “The skills in this class have actually helped me in my job. I graduated and got a job working at a hospital. Part of my job is working on quality improvement projects and learning about identifying the problem, who are the key stakeholders, what change do we want to see, and just the whole thought process has helped me with my project work. Change isn’t easy to make and no matter how small or big the change is, the core concepts can be applied to any challenge!” 

How will these courses implement lessons from the recent pandemic? 

We want to focus on strategies of how to build healthier communities going forward, so GCC 3003/5003 will look at what can be learned from what happened and think about ways to respond. GCC 3005/5005 will focus on interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial responses to the current economic situation. In early fall, course instructors will reevaluate which aspects of the course will be most applicable to course goals in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. 

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at acara@umn.edu.

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