June 9, 2016

ChangeFest 2016

by Morgan Brown '16

Morgan Brown '16 is a co-founder and co-leader of the Changemaker Collective. Previously she was a student ambassador for the Social Innovation Initiative. She was awarded the Brown Venture Fellowship in 2015 for her venture Gazella, an online system for customized all-natural hair care products. After her fellowship she served as a mentor for the current fellows. She is a Science and Society concentrator with a focus in cognitive neuroscience.

"I felt inspired by the participants because so much work was done in such a short amount of time with people they just met."

Finally, the day had come.

On April 23rd, 2016, Brown University hosted the first ChangeFest, an intercollegiate competition with other institutions in Rhode Island to find solutions to campus issues, such as health, diversity and inclusion, and accessibility. ChangeFest was the product of months of hard work from the Changemaker Collective, the Brown Entrepreneurship Program, the University of Rhode Island’s Thrive Academy, and Bryant University.

Solutions varied from murals made with marble to represent stories of human perseverance to remodeling the way we do college education. One team saw that freedom of expression is stifled when college campuses have a certain climate and those who don’t agree with certain viewpoints feel isolated. So they came up with a website that was an anonymous forum for people to debate intellectually on controversial topics.

The biggest thing we stressed to the participants was that they could not work on an existing issue while at ChangeFest. All of the solutions submitted through the competition had to be ideas that came from their time at the event. We wanted participants to feel inspired by the struggles they see regularly on their college campuses. People gravitated towards issues they felt most passionate about and formed teams by shared interests. As a result, teams had members from different colleges and had only met that day. This created ideas that weren’t just applicable to one campus but had insights from every campus.

Although it was a competition, we wanted to focus most of the event on learning. We were lucky to have great speakers and workshops throughout the day. Brown and RISD’s Design for America group came in in the morning and hosted a design-thinking workshop for the participants to learn more about how to research ideas and prototype with the user in mind. We even had laser cutting and 3D printing classes provided by the Brown Design Workshop for teams who wanted to create physical prototypes. No team ended up making physical product solutions, but the classes were still fun and enjoyable.

We decided the winner by letting the participants vote. The winning team developed an app idea that created maps of campuses with accessibility points so people with disabilities knew the best ways to get around. Users could also rate and review buildings based on their accessibility. Institutions could use these reviews to help improve their buildings.

As I reflect on my experiences while working to plan ChangeFest, I remember vividly the difficulties of trying to plan an intercollegiate event with people from campuses around the state. However, being able to meet and collaborate with people from different schools was one of the most valuable takeaways from the planning and execution of ChangeFest, and I wouldn’t have changed that for anything.

I felt inspired by the participants because so much work was done in such a short amount of time with people they just met. I could only imagine what could be done with a team of passionate people with even more time than just a day.

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