GlobalMindED First Generation Students

GlobalMindED First Generation Students

I spent an exciting few days in Denver (June 17-19, 2015) where I participated in an innovative conference, GlobalMindED. The conference brought together four hundred leaders representing education, business, government and non-profits from throughout the United States and seven countries around the world. Though I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all sorts of professionals, the highlight of the conference was my interactions with first generation college students. What an honor to spend time with this diverse group of resilient and determined young men and women! They have faced major challenges in their lives, and turned those challenges into opportunities.

Michele Weslander-Quaid, a first generation student herself, is Google's chief evangelist.

Michele Weslander-Quaid, a first generation student herself, is Google’s chief technology evangelist.

Together we reflected on the ideas of innovators from Google, Microsoft and the George Lucas Foundation. These speakers dazzled us with their global visions of a future enhanced by technology, sharing stories of innovators who dared to think differently. But what struck me more than the ideas of the seasoned professionals were the ideas of the first generation students themselves. It is they who will pave the way to the global future with new ideas fashioned from real life adversity.

These remarkable first gens are living breathing examples of how life circumstances do not have to define and defeat us. These young people never gave up the hope of education as the first step to changing the world.  Some first gens grew up homeless. Others fought restrictive family cultures that discouraged them from discovering their individual passions. But most first gens realize how well their first generation status prepares them to be successful global citizens. They already understand the impact social class, ethnicity and race have on the way people view the world because of their own everyday experiences.

The first generation students illustrated their powerful perspectives by applying design thinking to problems they themselves defined. With a little design thinking help from Michael Furdyk of TakingItGlobal, the students defined questions and began to answer them through rapid prototypes completed in only four hours. One of my favorite prototypes came from the first gen team whose members designed a program called “Support, Inclusion and Diversity in Education (SIDE)”.  Take a look at their prototype (and forgive my photography).

Prototype of systemic approach to first generation student success developed in four hours!

Prototype of systemic approach to first generation student success in college developed in four hours!

The SIDE prototype addresses the question, “How might we solve the problems of lack of acceptance, understanding and resources on college campuses in terms of race, color and gender?” The first gens outlined a comprehensive and seamless program that identifies first gens when they arrive on campus and nurtures them throughout the college experience and into the workforce. It was particularly interesting to me that SIDE shares many characteristics of programs envisioned by first gens at Ivy League universities who participated in a design thinking workshop at Brown University I facilitated in February 2015.

The four-hour prototype provides a powerful lesson on how important it is for us to listen to the first generation students themselves. Too many college administrators spend too many hours planning remedial programs to “help” first generation college students. And all too often, administrators are so busy designing new programs that they forget to ask the very users of their services — first generation college students — about what is most important. But this is starting to change. Colleges and universities throughout the United States and the world are breaking free of prescriptive thinking and moving toward collaboration.

First gens have their own voice -- are we listening?

First gens have their own voice — are we listening?

Clifton Taulbert, a community leader, entrepreneur and speaker at the GlobalMindED conference, called first gens the generation of promise. “Watching these curious and adventuresome millennials take hold of demanding assignments designed to utilize their grasp of innovation to think and respond to a global community, I had a keen sense that this generation is equipped to master the innovation of their times as have been done by each generation before them.” Taulbert told GlobalMindED founder Carol J. Carter in a recent Huffington Post article that “to harness the best of technology and to take full advantage of embracing a global outlook … we must start at home committed to building a culture that recognizes the gifts and potential in all of us — and not seeing some as non-essential because of their ethnicity, the color of their skin or the languages they speak.”

Innovation needs cultural transformation as a partner.  –Clifton Taulbert

Taulbert contrasted the promise of the first generation students assembled at the Denver conference with the tragedy of another young millennial, Dylann Roof, who made the choice of hating, rather than celebrating, diversity. Hatred led him to murder nine innocent people studying the Bible at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We must face the questions of why diversity frightens so many in the United States.

Despite the horror of Charleston, Taulbert remains optimistic. And he is right when he says first generation students represent the generation of promise. When we start to listen to them, we open up enormous possibilities to become global minded.


Karen Collias

My name is Karen Collias and I founded Knowledge Without Borders™ to infuse creativity and innovation into the most salient educational issues affecting global contemporary society. I attribute my enthusiasm to cross the borders of traditional knowledge domains to the multi-disciplinary nature of my education and professional experience. The first in my family to go to college, I have a Ph.D. from Columbia University. My professional experience focuses on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and strategic thinking at a variety of institutions, including Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of State. I currently am crossing borders to write about creativity and innovation in education and philanthropy.



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