On April 5, 2019 Shipley hosted the Quasquicentennial Symposium, featuring six change-making panelists. They explored what it means to be a changemaker, the shift towards lifelong learning, the changing needs of employers, and making the world a better place.
In this short excerpt of comments made at the Quasquicentennial Symposium, we share our panelists’ thoughts on how to be a changemaker, the future of work, and trends in K-12 and higher education.
Raffi Gregorian ’81, Ph.D.
Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism
U.S. Department of State
Paolo Malabuyo ’91
Director of UX
Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley
Karlene Burrell-McRae, Ed.D.
Dean of the College
Former parent & Trustee
The Shipley School
National Association of Independent Schools
Mary Osirim, Ph.D.
Provost and Professor of Sociology
Bryn Mawr College
Jason Wingard, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor of the School of Professional Studies
Q: What does it take to become a changemaker?
Malabuyo ’91: The most important thing that enables anyone to change the world is the ability and willingness to change yourself. The human mind and body are amazingly flexible. We can shape them to an incredible degree. That’s what we do as educators, right? Just how physical exercise is difficult in the beginning, it gets easier over time as your body changes; our minds do the same thing, we have the same ability to change our minds. You can also exercise your mind by tackling new, different, difficult ideas, and by employing your ability for critical thought to learn and grow.
I was a very unhappy teenager who felt stuck. I was insecure, angry, misunderstood. When I went to college, I took the opportunity to make some changes to the way I saw myself and in the choices that I was making. I did the same when I spent a semester living abroad my junior year, and again when I graduated and moved to California. I took advantage of each of the opportunities to learn, to change, and to grow.
I feel like I’m the best, most authentic version of myself now and I plan to continue changing as I grow older and experience new things. So, being authentic to who you are doesn’t mean that you never change. It means taking advantage of every opportunity to harness your potential.
We all change, as we should, but it’s powerful when you make it intentional, not accidental, through deliberate practice. That’s all it takes. So, changing our minds is one of the most powerful things we can do, but it takes deliberate bounds of humility and confidence. Start there and you can change the world.
Burrell: Being a changemaker is about collaboration. You can’t be an innovator if you’re not willing to be a part of an iterative process, but it means you have to be able to listen. You have to be able to ask difficult questions.
Many of us as adults talk about this and think it’s easy, but we’re not doing so well in terms of public discourse. Our young people are looking at that and that’s what they’re modeling. We need to create the kind of environment where students can challenge each other and therefore challenge themselves, to be able to build a set of skills and life lessons so that they can go on and be lifelong learners and changemakers.
We each have a set of privileges, and with that comes responsibility. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are not living or acting in a way that creates fear, for ourselves or for others. I challenge us to think about how we can use our identities, understand our history, and push the bounds of fear to create space for each person to use their voice.
Gregorian ’81: Some people lack the critical thinking skills to take in what they’re seeing and hearing to determine what is correct, what is truthful, what is not truthful, what is manipulation, what are lies, what is right, and what is wrong. Critical thinking skills are absolutely fundamental to that and to being a changemaker. Human rights are absolutely fundamental to what we do in counter-terrorism.
We observe those human rights and the rule of law as Americans because they matter to us, and we believe they matter to the rest of the world. I really believe that those kinds of values, which were imbued in me here at this school by some of my remarkable teachers, are the kind of things that help us survive as a nation. We must look forward constantly to progress, to maintain our continuous learning, to be able to make the world a better place, and to strive to perfect America. After all, while America is not perfect, it is perfectible, which encourages people to try and make it so. That’s part of its genius.
Orem: We often think of changemakers as these big icons, but, in fact, every single one of you here is a changemaker. Identify a problem and figure out how to solve it. What can you change today? All of us want a world that is safer, kinder, more equal, and gives our kids many of the opportunities that we hope for the world. I would like to see education be mission-driven from the beginning so that it’s more about community service, driven by the difference that you as an individual want to make in the world. I think we can all be changemakers. We just need to do it, we just need to get started.
Osirim: If you have connections with young people in any way, try to continue to inspire them, to push the limits—whether it’s the limits of knowledge or experience. The students at Shipley have incredible opportunities and those are not opportunities that exist for the vast majority of those on planet Earth. And this issue of having responsibility is very important.
So I guess I urge you to continue to inspire and foster creativity in our young people. And also inspire in them the sense that we have a responsibility to give back. So, when you have that opportunity, whatever small way, give back yourselves and encourage others to do the same.
Q: How are the needs of the workplace and the nature of careers impacting schools and the future of learning?
Wingard: According to employers, the education system is not preparing the talent and skilled work force that they need to be able to do the work—especially in the areas of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, and deep learning. There’s a gap between what employers want and what people are learning in schools, which is much more specific to the industrial society that lives from yesteryear.
Learning should be continuous. It used to be that you could go to high school or college and your learning would take you through your career. Now, technologies shift so quickly, and innovation transforms so fast, that contemporary workers need to learn new skills, constantly, in order to keep pace with performance expectations in the workplace. This applies across the board—sectors and industries. Continuous learning is critical in the new market economy, but higher education, unfortunately, isn’t satisfying labor needs and demands. As a result, corporate universities are being created to fill the gap. In my mind, the big question is: How can we, as a country, produce an education system—through policy, through curriculum, through practice—that is better? How can we satisfy what the employers are looking for in the future, and making that all more available to everybody?
Orem: We’re now in what many are calling the third education revolution, which is a time of continuous learning and challenges the notion of what a student is. Most of us have had education front-loaded in our lives. What does it mean to think of a life where you tap into education at many different points in your lifetime? That’s where education is headed.
At the same time, the nature of careers is changing. Many refer to what we’re in right now as the “gig economy.” Many young people deciding that instead of having one career, they want to have many careers and many careers at once. There’s still the necessity to have that knowledge and certainly to pursue that passion, but also to have a real understanding of systems and, most importantly, to have boundary-crossing skills. This starts with early childhood education.
Social and emotional skills are the ones that are most sought after in this changing economy. The ability to relate to others, empathy—all of these things are going to be the bedrock of the kinds of skills we need. Now, what’s really interesting is these skills today are often called the “soft skills,” which really undersells them. These are essential skills and we will start to see this in the changing economy.
The other thing, considering the amount of change that’s on the horizon, is how we give kids the skills they need to deal with risk and failure. We need to open our minds to these kinds of skills around resilience, flexibility, and adaptability that are going to be so important for our kids.
Q: How should higher education institutions adapt to meet the changing needs of our era?
Osirim: Through the extension and expansion of the liberal arts. [At Bryn Mawr College we] are trying to prepare young women for whatever career, graduate school, or whatever it is that they are committed to pursuing, by understanding the incredible importance of applied knowledge in the 21st Century. Being able to continue to cultivate the life of the mind and the ways in which education is a lifelong experience, are very important to us. But at the same time, we’d like to think about the applications of the knowledge that we’re providing in the classrooms.
We also realize the critical importance of quantitative literacy in the 21st Century. So we are in the process of beginning a Data Science program, thinking about data science in the broadest of ways—not just within STEM, although STEM’s important to us, but also thinking about how the person in literature, how the historian, how the person working in digital humanities, can participate in and gain the skills of computing and statistics that will enable that student to enter the world of work with this very significant credential.