Social Influence

UC Irvine’s Vision for a Brilliant Future

“Vision is a fascinating concept. To a scientist it encapsulates a process that gives light, shape and color to the world around us. To a strategist, it marks a goal, a plan of action toward an aspirational future.”

UC Irvine

My undergraduate major was Social Science. I share how I made that choice in this post however, it wasn’t until last year when I started reflecting on how I came to choose Design Thinking as my research focus for my dissertation that I realized how so many of those ideas had always been a part of me. Design thinking gave me the, “language and framework to take the light, shape and colors I saw in the world around me and turn them into goals, action plans and a desire to work with others toward building an aspirational future.” That description is how the School of Social Sciences at UC Irvine hope their graduates leave with. And indeed I did!

15 years later, I look back so fondly on my time at UC Irvine. When people ask me is college worth it and when I hear the debates that are taking place today I’m reminded of a quote from in Gravity’s Rainbow:

“If you get people asking the wrong questions they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

Thomas Pynchon

Personally I’d like to see colleges being the ones accountable for redesigning the experience along with the cost so that it is a pathway that everyone has the opportunity to at least consider should they want to pursue it. There’s no doubt that it may not be the right decision for everyone. However, if people feel it’s a decision they would like to pursue but are afraid of their ability to afford it, then we have a serious equity issue.

When the UC Irvine magazine arrived one day with a completely different cover I was intrigued and so impressed with what I read, that it inspired me to reflect back on my entire UC Irvine experience and made me so excited for what so many in the future will experience there. This vision is an incredible example of redesigning the role of higher education institutions for today’s learners and communities. In addition, it’s a powerful experience in the art of branding and communication. In an age of metrics where many are afraid to challenge the status quo UC Irvine is leading by example, showing that you can challenge the status quo and create a new one. Money Magazine have ranked UC Irvine as #1 on their list of the nations best colleges, making it the first public university to claim a top spot in national rankings.

Brilliant Future, a philanthropic campaign for a vision that came through “inspiration in the natural brilliance of the California Canvas that has emboldened generations of mold breakers to make waves, to step up, to reach higher, to do better.”

The entire vision reminded me of an exhibit hosted at the Design Museum in London about California. Since the exhibit is no longer around, I highly recommend the book. The entire Brilliant Future campaign is worth reading about, however as a current doctoral student here is one part of the vision that really spoke to me and made me so proud to be an Anteater.

UCI’s Center for Storytelling

I know right! When is the last time you heard of a University with a “Center for Storytelling.” The purpose behind this center is to help individuals express their own narratives. This recent episode on the AskGaryVee podcast demonstrates why being able to understand your voice and communicate it out is critical in today’s world. If you have been following me you know that, “Find and Be Found,” is a mantra I share loudly and practice myself.

The Center for Storytelling is a vision born out of the School of Humanities where they describe the program as an extension of their program in narrative non fiction writing. I love this example because it highlights how we can value traditional mediums and merge them with new ones. Barry Siegel who is the director of the program says that, “telling true stories helps us understand ourselves and connect with others, to shape our memories and to make sense of our world – especially today when stories are also being told to divide us.”

When asked, “What do examples of these stories look like?” Siegel says, “How about a scientist who conveys their research to the public in a way that captures the importance of their work? How about a public health worker illuminating a local crisis in a way that evokes empathy and urgency? How might students, teachers and parents express themselves in ways that engage the public on issues they are passionate about? Or how about a doctoral student like me, sharing her research about design thinking by interviewing people on her podcast

Click here to listen to the podcast

More and more high schools and colleges are being criticized for not meeting students needs and students themselves are speaking out more about the mismatch between their education experiences and the world they are walking into. The vision for the Center of Storytelling provides an opportunity to:

  1. Discover your interests and identify work that you are excited to do.
  2. Examine how to take the work you are currently doing and articulate your message through the art of storytelling.

Both of these areas make you an invaluable player in a rapidly changing world along with being a savvier consumer and citizen. While this should definitely be happening sooner at the high school level, this is a start for modeling what is possible. Think Transformation Economy meets Show Your Work. Pine and Gilmore first introduced the idea of the Experience Economy, now recognize there has been a shift to the Transformation Economy. This is an economy where people are always growing into something new. They have aspirations, they want to be more and do more. In Austin Kleon’s, Show Your Work, he says, “Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.”

The vision for the UCI Center for Storytelling gives students an opportunity to engage in problems they are interested in working on through telling stories that will help people, communities and ultimately the world transform.  Erica Hayasaki, an assistant professor in the program says, “Everyone has a story to tell, and writing it changes a person and it’s always possible that their story can begin to change the world.”

In an upcoming episode of my new podcast, “Sprint to Success with Design Thinking,” you’ll hear from one of the professors I met in Finland while visiting Aalto University – Tomi Kauppinen. Kaupinnen talks about the rise of “information visualization,” where each piece of data is an observation that we need to make sense of through stories. Who tells these stories, how we discern their trustworthiness and the art of teaching people how to create them are a few of the topics we cover in his interview.

Having the time and space to create these kinds of stories is a topic that will continue to grow in importance over the next few years as we think about civic engagement and the information we use to identify and solve challenges. A recent Stanford study shared, “more than 96 percent of high school students surveyed failed to consider that ties to the fossil fuel industry might affect the credibility of a website about climate change”

Leadership today requires risk taking and vision. As Jim Rohn reminds us, “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” Congratulations to UC Irvine on embarking upon a bold vision for creating a Brilliant Future for everyone whose path crosses with an Anteater #ZotZot. Let us never settle for the ordinary.

I’m Sabba.

I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.

Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities. 

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