Holding Experimental Events with 50 Alumni in 3 Cities in 2 Weeks
“Connecting with friends around ideas.”
“Learning through community.”
“The opportunity to persevere through problem solving .”
“A place to enter into experiences ignorant of expectations”
“A chance to have uncommon learning experiences that inspire serendipity.”
These are some of the themes that Georgetown alumni associate with the most formative—indeed transformative—experiences while at Georgetown. The context for talking about them was a series of Design Labs that we held in late February and early March as part of the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative.
In three events held in Palo Alto, San Francisco and Austin (at SxSW), more than 50 Georgetown alumni participated in an experimental Design Lab format in which we were addressing the question, “What kind of Georgetown education will be possible in the year 2030?” To address that requires diving deeply into two important questions: “What do you value most about your Georgetown education that you don’t want to lose?” and “How will the context of 2030 shape the kind of education that Georgetown can offer its students?”
The Design Labs flow in two parts: first we ask the alumni to represent, through some kind of visual, a “formative experience” they had at Georgetown. These pictures are inevitably filled with images of place (Healy Hall and DC), community (tables and chairs, dotted lines and arrows making connections and bridges), and opportunities to learn outside the classroom – in DC and abroad. We explore what binds these experiences, what makes them memorable. What makes them Georgetown.
Then we turn to developing the context for the year 2030: what will technology be like? Mobility? Access to information and knowledge? Networking? The complexity of global challenges, such as climate change, that will shape the world. This is the context for which we are designing the Georgetown of the future.
Everyone has experience with the future: how Netflix or Amazon personalizes their choices; how social networks extend their sense of community far beyond boundaries we ever imagined, sometimes uncomfortably; how information at our fingertips makes it possible to learn and problem-solve in a far more fluid manner than ever before. We also all have experience with what we might be losing: the ability to slow down, focus, dive in depth, create and sustain deeper and more meaningful relationships.
Georgetown alumni are in a perfect position to help us think through these questions: they are “products” of our educational experience; many of them work in fields that are innovating for the future. All of us live in a rapidly changing world.
How will these new conditions shape a Georgetown education? If our residential campus has been an ideal place to build community do we need to shift our thinking in a new context to optimizing for networking, inclusive of face-to-face and virtual community? If we now try and nurture both the formal curriculum and the co-curriculum, will the next stage greater integration of the two? Given the changing nature of knowledge and skills, might we create better ways to offer ongoing educational services to alumni, to see the boundary of “graduation” much more porously than ever before?
I feel privileged to have led all three of these events with our fantastic alumni. Their deep commitment to Georgetown is palpable. Their eagerness to yet deepen their connection to this innovative work was positively energizing. We look forward to doing more of these Labs in continuous variation and experimentation.
There is no clear map to the future of the University: only creative designs and our collective imagination.