Bounding around in the middle of the ballroom at College Park Hall, Jonathan Angelilli gathers 50 students in a circle.
“There’s one thing I want you to take away from this class,” says Angelilli, who bills himself as an exercise alchemist and peaceful warrior. “I want you to become masters of play. It’s always in your system.”
For the next hour or so, the New York-based Angelilli works to prove his point. Dressed in gray jeans, a black T-shirt and white socks, the taut tai chi instructor and storyteller leads the shoeless students through a series of dizzying physical and mental exercises.
He introduces Qigong, an ancient healing art form that uses movement to heal the body and calm the mind. He engages the class in improv games to help them reconnect to their inner child and spontaneity. He closes with a healing ritual to help invite more joy and health into their everyday life and career path.
By the end of the class, students, exhausted but smiling, should be at their creative peak.
Welcome to the ICE (Innovation, Creativity and the Entrepreneurial Mindset) course.
Each year the College offers an interdisciplinary course open to all students that focuses on a single topic and is taught by a variety of professors. Known as the Minerva Course, the class also includes lectures by accomplished guests. Past topics have included presidential elections, income inequality, oil, food, technology and society, and globalization.
This year’s course, which enrolls 91 students across a broad range of majors, is unique and unconventional from past Minerva classes. Working with faculty since last spring, the College’s University Innovation Fellows helped design the curriculum. Funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell, the Fellows is a highly-selective program designed to help foster entrepreneurship and innovation among students nationwide.
“It's not only a class where students get to learn how to get things accomplished, but also a class where they get to actually practice accomplishing things,” said Lakhena Leang ’18, a biochemistry major from DeKalb, Ill.
Adds Robert Barsamian ’17, an Organizing Theme major (Entrepreneurship) from Newton, Mass., “As a student and faculty team, we decided to create a course where students could learn a new approach to problem-solving through design thinking. It should drive innovation at Union for years to come.”
Other Fellows who assisted include Sean Farrell ’17, a mechanical engineering major (with a minor in mathematics) from Amsterdam, N.Y.; Luke McCaffrey ’18, a bioengineering major from Baldwinsville, N.Y.; Arielle Singer ’18, an Organizing Theme major (Marketing Engineering Products) from Culver City, Calif; and Vera Marsova ’18, a bioengineering major from Vologda, Russia
During the 10-week course, students will hear from 16 speakers, including alumni, faculty, staff and outside experts. This includes a graffiti
artist, an early stage technology consultant, an artist, a social entrepreneur, a writer, a composer and a yoga instructor.
Alumni guests include Les Trachtman ‘77, Bill Mehleisen ‘97, Chris Rill ‘04 and Josh DeBartolo ’08.
Faculty and staff guest lecturers include Patricia Culbert, senior artist-in-residence, Yasmine Wilt, Our Shared Humanities postdoctoral fellow, Charles Batson, professor of French, and David Ogawa, associate professor of art history and chair of Visual Arts.
In addition to the lecture, each student is assigned to a team and required to complete group assignments. The idea is to help prepare them for the workplace by learning how to collaborate with those with different backgrounds, skills and viewpoints.
Students share personal reflections, essays, photos and inspiring materials through a new e-portfolio software called Pathbrite.
“Our hope is that students will learn for themselves where their passions lie, figure out the skills and knowledge that they need to pursue a career that suits their passions, and see how their past and future courses and experiences at Union can be tied to their interests,” said Shane Cotter, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. He is one of the faculty members overseeing the course.
The other faculty members are Hal Fried, the David L. '39 and Beverly B. Yunich Professor of Business Ethics, and Erika Nelson Mukherjee, associate professor of German.
“It's an exciting time to collaborate with colleagues, students, alumni, community members, entrepreneurs, innovators, and creatives and dialogue across differences to find common ground,” said Mukherjee. “This course has allowed us to teach differently and explore ways to cultivate new ways of communicating and sharing knowledge, experiences, insights and wisdom with each other collaboratively.”
The course also provides opportunities to use Union’s seven Minerva Houses as an intersection for academic work that reaches outside the classroom. Following each class, there are dinners and discussions in one of the Minervas with the guest speaker. The houses will have a deeper involvement with the course than in past years.
“The idea is, that after hearing from one of the lecturers, a small team from the class will conduct a workshop based on what they’ve learned, that is open to other students (outside of the class), said Tom McEvoy, director of Minerva Programs. “One of the teams will work with our Minerva House Council chairs on creative leadership and motivation, for example.”
ICE is supported by the Minerva Programs, Mellon Our Shared Humanities grant and the Dean of Academic Departments and Programs.
“In a world where increasingly complex tasks can be simplified and outsourced and where artificial intelligence can ‘think,’ satisfying work is tied to the ability to think differently and to be creative,” said Fried. “This is the underlying principle of ICE. The course happens at the intersection of art, music, technology, ethics and management. ICE is an immersive disciplinary melting pot that prepares students for the future.”