The ASI Story
As of September 23, 2009 Work will mean managing a tribe, creating a movement, and operating teams to change the world. Anything less is going to be outsourced to someone a lot cheaper and a lot less privileged that you or me. Seth Godin “I'm very excited to be a part of our group, and I can't wait to see how God will use us through this project!! Stephanie Kahn, CFL student “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Matthew 20:26-28 Joy comes from doing “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
Projects with a Purpose ASI is a student-led, primarily self-sustaining, consulting organization. Its work involves Assessing systems, creating Solutions, and Implementing those solutions as appropriate. One of ASI’s current projects is to work with the Allegan County food pantry providers to design a more effective and efficient food distribution system. At the same time, ASI is part of a larger project. That project is to promote projectbased learning as a way to teach and learn servant leadership. Servant leadership could be defined as helping others meet their needs to make a positive and significant difference. It is a philosophy consistent with Advanced Change Theory which says that to change a system, we must change ourselves first. We change ourselves first by living in tune with our values and by aligning our values with what’s right. It is a process that begins by understanding the 1
needs of people and the needs of the world. It requires “embracing the hypocritical self” and working creatively and collaboratively with others according to their God-given gifts. It means being motivated not by fear of pain, such as the fear of not being accepted by peers or people above us “in the hierarchy” or boredom or guilt, but by joy. Such joy comes from seeing others step into the unknown to do the right thing, standing tall against a system that will always fight back to maintain a status quo, even if the status quo is a “slow death spiral.” God has gifted us to be servant leaders, to be servants first, last, and always. We are to take our gifts and apply them to projects, projects that simultaneously address the needs of and utilize our hearts, souls, hands, and minds. In so doing, we represent Christ as his disciples, renewing the world as he has renewed us, creating a sense of shalom, and giving the world a taste of the way the world was meant to be.1 In embracing the impossible, we discover joy for ourselves and bring glory to God.
Project-based Learning Project-based learning is emphasized in Center for Faithful Leadership (CFL) programs to promote servant leadership. Project-based learning is emphasized for a strategic reason—to simultaneously put the heart, soul, and hands into the educational process. For the mind can’t stand alone. Educating the whole person is a rarity in higher education; but it is Hope College’s niche. What is even more unique is the project of educating the whole person simultaneously. We need to build upon Hope’s strength of faculty-student collaborative learning.2 Projectbased learning3 adapts faculty-student research techniques to not only educate the whole person, but also to address organizational and societal problems.
Colson and Pearcey describe this philosophy nicely: God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall (from How Now Shall We Live, p. xii).
In the sciences and at the Frost Center, Hope has been perfecting the faculty-student research model. We need to continue building on that foundation. 3 Project-based learning could be defined as: A form of active learning that focuses on teaching and learning servant leadership by engaging student teams in extended inquiry processes structured around complex, authentic questions with the purpose of enhancing organizational capacity and making progress toward solving societal problems and meeting organizational needs.
Developing a niche is important because without one the Hope experience becomes a commodity. If we, educational institutions, are all the same and perceived to be equally “good,” then students will choose the least expensive educational experience. Hope College can’t survive in that world.4 Finally, developing the particular niche of project-based learning is important because the “right-brain” competencies are needed more than ever. Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin and others tell us that creativity and collaboration, working on teams and creating movements, and synthesizing information are crucial complementary skills in our “flat world.”
The Center for Faithful Leadership Hope College has to improve the quality of its offering. CFL can complement that offering. Through ASI, CFL can bring faculty members together and nurture project-based learning. CFL grew out of an endowment from an anonymous donor, an idea nurtured by President James Bultman, and the administrative support of Provost James Boelkins. The purpose of CFL is to complement Hope’s efforts to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global context with recognized excellence in the context of the historic Christian faith. The key word is “complement.” CFL intends to help academic and co-curricular programs work synergistically in pursuit of developing Hope’s niche in higher education. It was within this context that ASI was created. ASI was created to be the “flagship” program for educating the whole person simultaneously through project-based learning. It was seeded by CFL and an individual donor.
ASI’s Humble Beginnings ASI began as a dream. It was the result of thinking not about college athletics as the antithesis to academics, but as an example of educating the whole person. Educating the whole person takes time. What if teachers had access to the same students for two, three, or even four years? What if students went through
Developing a niche is becoming even more important because the competition among educational institutions is becoming even more intense. In fact, its intensity is increasing because the educational market is global and U.S. institutions are the high-cost producers. Students want and are encouraged to become world citizens. That pushes them overseas. At the same time, educational institutions overseas are becoming more competitive, as the number of international Ph.D.s holders stay or return home as foreign wages catch up to those in the U.S. No longer can we, at Hope College, afford to use only the GLCA or other Christian colleges as comparative metrics. As a metaphor, consider the U.S. automotive industry and the plight of the U.S. autoworker and employees of suppliers. Then look at the salaries of college professors worldwide. This is not a pleasant exercise.
“conditioning” and “skill development” before they were expected to “play?” In addition, what if students could work on projects that lasted longer than a semester? What if they had time to study the “big picture,” to see how systems influenced problems? Isn’t seeing the big picture appropriate for leaders to understand? The dream was also influenced by the idea of a parent and prominent business executive. Jerry Stritzke suggested that the best education student could have is to learn how to “drink from a fire hose.” He suggested that one way to learn how to drink from a fire house is to operate a business. Therefore, ASI was set up with the goal of being a student-led consulting business in which students earned they own pay. To realize the dream, the CFL director gathered a group of interested students, found two willing clients, and $3,000 of seed money generated from consulting, writing, and presentations. A core group of advisers from the business community were assembled: Paul Jones of Steelcase, Todd Lambers of Geenen and Kolean, Garrick Pohl of Crayon Interface, Randy Thelen of Lakeshore Advantage, and Jody VanderWel of Grand Angels. The first consulting project began with four students in the fall 2008 semester. ASI floundered. A change had to be made. The CFL director fired himself. He appointed Virgil Gulker, CFL’s first Servant Leader-in-residence and part-time instructor, as director of ASI. With Gulker’s leadership, ASI is becoming the “flagship” program of CFL. To conduct its project work and to maintain momentum and consistency, ASI took the risk to hire two students at minimum wage to work part-time over the summer. As of July 1, 2009, ASI has three paying clients and a Verizon-like network of alumni and friends of Hope College representing a multitude of gifts and multiple years of experience. In addition, ASI’s future was made brighter by a second, more substantial, donor who agreed to support summer research and start an endowment for summer research support. The new director also revised the dream. The dream is to connect professors together across campus and engage them and their students in projects, not as independent/sub-contractors, but as co-servant leaders. Thus, together Hope faculty will add value to our students' educational experience by giving them relevant experience in leadership and service, and opportunities to practice and hone their critical thinking, decision-making, and emotional intelligence competencies. They will learn that the greatest human contributor to long-term sustainable success is how people work with and for people. The vision is that ASI will, in essence, take the research model of the sciences and adapt it to the entire campus. By doing this, ASI will not create another layer of organizational bureaucracy; rather, it will better leverage the gifts of Hope College faculty, staff, and students.
ASI’s Vision ASI projects involve both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Its bias is to focus on systems. Because CFL tends to focus on the “big picture” and on how systems influence problems, ASI reflects that focus when it looks at organizational issues. However, that perspective also makes ASI the ideal “project initiator” in the sense that it can engage others, particularly other departments and faculty for in-class and out-of-class projects. ASI can connect the classroom and the laboratory to the community and explore, even implement, creative solutions, giving students relevant leadership and service experience. An example of ASI’s ability to engage the campus and the surrounding community is the Flush Away Hunger project. This project grew out of a student retreat at the Two Moose Ranch. The June 24-28, 2009 retreat and the ripples it is creating are an example of what ASI can do.
ASI at the Two Moose Ranch Soon after the getting news about the opportunity to go on a leadership retreat, ASI students made a proposal to the food pantry leaders in Allegan County. In short, they wanted to learn from the food pantries and help them use their resources more effectively—and thereby meet more needs—in the long-run. Due to the generosity of Harvey and Annie Gainey and President James Bultman of Hope College, 21 students and six staff spent five days at Two Moose Ranch in Glen, Montana. Three students volunteered to help and were asked to be team leaders. The students were drawn from various programs: Accounting, Communication, Engineering, English, Management, Nursing, etc. Some were leadership minors, some were not. Only a few were involved in ASI. The students were divided into three interdisciplinary student-led teams. The staff served as facilitators: Paul Jones and Kate Maybury, Virgil Gulker and Paulette Chaponniere, Steve VanderVeen and Sarah Kolean. During this time, the teams created plans to help feed the poor in Allegan County, attempting to help meet their hunger needs in the short-run. On the last day, the teams looked for potential synergy among the teams, which also helped build community. The planning process helped participants feel the needs of others and to reflect on what was in their souls. So while the students engage in projects to meet the short-term needs of food pantries, ASI students continue to work on making the food pantry system more effective and efficient. When the students finish this project, they can truthfully say they have learned something about leadership and themselves. In fact, they already have.
Building a Productive Community Before a group of students can plan, they have to become a team. To become a team, they had to be exposed to and apply process thinking-based team leadership models. At the ranch, which allowed students to come together who otherwise could not, the students looked at four models: Tuckman’s four phases, Lencioni’s five dysfunctions/functions, and Quinn’s “seed thoughts,” and concepts from Kouzes and Posner’s The Student Leadership Challenge. The first large group session focused on the “mission impossible” of feeding the poor and, more broadly, changing systems. The students accepted the idea to raise money (or the equivalent in food). This meant that each of the three teams agreed to raise $3,000 before October 15. The session focused on the necessity of working together. Because “Together Everyone Accomplishes More,” the first session focused on the “forming” phase and building “vulnerability-based trust.” It stressed the need to “look outside:” to see the needs of the world and the systems which influence and/or create those needs.5 It stressed the importance of getting to know the gifts, passions, needs, values, and personalities of those on one’s team so that team members can complement each other. It meant the sharing of stories. The students learned about mythologist Joseph Campbell, who taught us that hero stories have three phases: separation, initiation, and return. From a spiritual standpoint, we are all “separated” from God, from each other, and from the way things ought to be. We are all looking for the magic “elixir” to fight our way back to “the garden.” For example, in advertising we learn we are not loved, so we are taught that everything from designer shoes to Coors beer will save our friendships and make us feel like we belong. If we find that elixir, and our “initiation” is successful, we will experience a new community. The poor are separated from the rich. The hungry are separated from food. Many Latino students are separated from college. At the retreat, many of the students didn’t know each other. All of the participants at the retreat have felt separated in one way or another. The point was to focus on building new community by first sharing stories and then by writing a new story. The elixir emphasized at the retreat was to live with integrity (according to one’s values), and to have one’s values in-tune with what is right. The students, therefore, spent time sharing their stories. They were asked to think about their values. The first session also focused on the importance of self-change. To work better as a team requires team members to first change themselves. Each member, then,
David Kinneman offers good advice for “facilitating mutual esteem,” a good first step in leadership: (1) Listen to me, (2) Don’t label me, (3) Don’t be so smart (arrogant), (4) Put yourself in my place, (5) Be genuine, (6) Be my friend with no other motives (from UnChristian, pp. 194-195).
can lead by changing him or herself to have a positive influence on the team. Each member is a co-creator of that team and of the systems in which that team operates. A leader is like an acorn. Leaders are the product of nature and nurture. We know an acorn will become an oak tree, but we don’t know what form that tree will take. The tree will interact with the larger system. In a sense, the tree will co-create the larger system with the other elements of the system. The same is true for us. We were given certain gifts. But we are also free to use them. How we use them depends on our attitude, opinions, and beliefs. The key to changing the system positively is to change ourselves first and to protect ourselves from being changed negatively by the system. We change ourselves when we choose to act in accordance with our values and when our values are intune with what is right.6 The second large group session focused on co-creative, “productive community”—an abnormal model of human behavior—and its relationship to servant leadership. Productive community occurs when people are inner-driven and others-focused, and when they work together with synergy. To understand the meaning of servant leadership, students were asked to read a short summary of the main character, Leo, in The Journey to the East, who was a servant to a group seeking wisdom and who later was discovered to be the leader. To emphasize the importance and the integration of love and communication, the students read about Monty Roberts in The Man Who Listens to Horses (as explained by Quinn in Change the World). Monty loved horses so much that he learned to communicate with them and to “gentle them along” as opposed to “break” them. Even though his technique was superior, he was unable to “gentle along” his father and his father’s horse training colleagues. Even though Monty wanted to dissociate from them and blame them, he still felt rejected. But the problem may have been from Monty, for not loving the trainers as much as the horses—for he spent more time trying to communicate with horses than he did with humans. If productive community is the elixir for overcoming separation, it requires personal sacrifice and pain—creating productive community is a lot of work. That may be way productive community is so rare. But as in athletics: no pain, no gain.
Transcending Fear and Enabling Others The third large group session focused on “transcending fear” and “enabling others.” We discussed how “control is a way to avoid pain that can come from
An related metaphor to explain how changing ourselves can change the system comes from Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:31-32).
vulnerability.” We don’t want to be vulnerable because that might expose our true selves, our fears, and our weaknesses. That, in turn, might keep us from being accepted into the group. Thus our “love and belonging” need, if we let it, keeps us in “shackles.” Yet we must become vulnerable in order to enable others. To be vulnerable, we need to first “embrace the hypocritical self.” When we embrace who we are, we admit our weaknesses and invite others to complement us with their strengths, and a team is born. We are hypocritical when we seek what we want and blame others—dissociate— when things don’t go our way. We are hypocritical when we try to remove the “speck” from someone else’s eye when we have a “log” in our own (Luke 6:4142). We are hypocritical when we’re judgmental, pointing out what is wrong with someone else and thereby putting that person “down” and forcing them to the “margins” of the group. An example of becoming vulnerable is asking for forgiveness. The act of asking for forgiveness changes systems. The group experienced this on the retreat when we asked forgiveness for being late and missing a meal. Admitting this mistake invited the Ranch staff into a relationship. The ideas of “transcending fear” and “enabling others” dovetailed into the fourth large group session, which focused on motivation. What motivates us? What holds us back from becoming leaders? What do we do that holds others back? We discussed how one of our primary shackles is the fear of pain and boredom. For example, we will do anything to avoid the pain of not being socially accepted. We will also do what we can to avoid silence because in silence we come face-toface with how we really are. But we couldn’t escape it in Montana—Two Moose Ranch was designed to make us face the silence! Spending our lives trying to be accepted in order to escape the pain of loneliness is no way to live, as the death of Michael Jackson attests. Knowing what is right and living the tortured life of guilt is also not the answer. Eventually we must realize that we don’t measure up, that we don’t deserve the blessings we enjoy. Do we honestly believe that the fact we are at the Two Moose Ranch (or the director of CFL) is the result of our personal efforts alone? The knowledge that we are not alone is freeing. The realization that everyday and every accomplishment is a gift is the truth that sets us free. God is in charge, and that makes all the difference, no matter what happens. Because God is there we can transcend fear and enable others. There is no reason to be selfish. Being selfless, ironically, can meet our personal needs for a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Finding Joy Joy comes from seeing others act selflessly. The facilitators experienced joy when the students worked late one evening in lieu of sitting around the campfire—a joy that brought tears to the director’s eyes! At a deeper level—one that connects us to a God that is mysterious and much bigger than we are—joy comes from doing the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (see Ephesians 2:10). God has gifted us for a reason. He wants us to use those gifts. He wants us to find joy. In finding joy, we bring him glory. Looking at motivation in this way puts a new perspective on pain and problems. They are not to be avoided, but looked at as opportunities, even necessities, to bring us joy. As the Lord says: “Call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). For a few moments, we experienced joy at Two Moose Ranch. We learned about the problem of hunger and the pain of transcending fear. In response, we acted selflessly. Those selfless acts resulted in three plans—three plans that become one! Those plans became the “Flush Away Hunger” project, which is being implemented during the Fall 2009 semester!
ASI and Systems Flush Away Hunger is an ambitious plan. They will no doubt be refined by the fire of experience—as all plans should be. That experience depends on the students. The facilitators have little control over the students. Whether the students “perform,” and whether they hold each other accountable and get results, depends on the students themselves. The students, in effect, hold the joy of the facilitators in their hands. The retreat facilitators gave students the space to make a difference. The success of the retreat will be measured in terms of whether the students made a difference, and if their lives were changed. Leaders develop from the inside out. As of today (September 22, 2009), indications are that the retreat was successful. Even though the students working on raising money for food pantries aren’t earning academic credit and aren’t getting paid, they are still meeting at 7:30 AM on Wednesday mornings and, more impressively, they are implementing plans. A new community was formed! Because a new community is being formed, behaviors have changed. Because behaviors have changed and are continuously changing, the system has to adapt. We hope for the better!