On a recent weekday late afternoon, students in Professor Christine Henseler’s class engage in a spirited discussion about their group project.
The students – 14 women and four men – have been meeting once a week during the spring term. Working in teams, the group is pushing toward its goal of self-publishing a book of feature articles written for and by the students.
Two things stand out about the class, Millennials and Social Change: The Rise of the Everyday Changemaker. First, the student-driven and workshop-oriented approach allows Henseler, in her role as professor, to step back and give students the voice and decision-making power to move the project forward on their terms.
Second is the unique classroom setting. Instead of a view of the Nott Memorial or another campus landmark, students enjoy a prime view of downtown Schenectady and its iconic Proctors Theatre marquee.
Urban Co-Works in downtown Schenectady is the setting for Professor Christine Henseler’s class, Millennials and Social Change: The Rise of the Everyday Changemaker. The students spent the spring term working to self-publish a book of feature articles written for and by the students.
As part of an internal planning and priorities grant awarded in 2016 to foster innovation at Union, the College has been an academic partner at Urban Co-Works.
Located on the fourth floor of the Center City building on State Street, Urban Co-Works (formerly Electric City Innovation Center) offers an open-space environment to small companies looking to avoid the cost of operating an office and wanting to interact with other members for professional expertise. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, a dining area, kitchen and multi-media event space.
Since becoming a member, a number of Union faculty and students have taken advantage of the space. Nick Webb, assistant professor of computer science, lectured on robotics along with experts from General Electric and Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Physics Department held its retreat in the space. Students have participated in a business boot camp, networking with resident entrepreneurs. Some have also interned with other members in the building.
Ademilola Oyetuga '20 listens as students engage in a spirited debate over the cover photo of their book, “Generation Now: Millennials Call for Social Change.”
The relationship with Urban Co-Works is beneficial in other ways. When Ann Anderson, the Agnes S. MacDonald Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was awarded a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps grant to explore commercialization opportunities for the College’s aerogel research, she needed an entrepreneurial mentor for at least 10 hours a week.
She reached out to Urban Co-Works Executive Director Jeff Goronkin, whom she had met at a UCW event, for suggestions. He agreed to help, and the two have since flown around the country to meet with more than 100 people about the project. Elizabeth Donlon ’18 has been an integral part of the team.
“I did a similar program five years ago and really struggled to find a mentor,” Anderson said. “It was much easier this time around because of the Urban Co-Works relationship.”
Urban Co-Works hopes to expand its partnership with the College by working more with faculty and students interested in entrepreneurship. It also wants to connect students with not only the 20 companies now residing there, but also its advisory board, which features prominent business leaders, including Union alumni David Blakelock ‘83, Mike Newell ‘74 and David Dussault ‘00.
“There is so much potential for Union students and faculty in the space,” said Blair Raymond, senior director of external relations, who manages the space for the College. “It also gives us an important presence downtown.”
Henseler is the first to teach a course in the space. She said the course’s group structure made it imperative to move beyond a traditional classroom setting.
Hayden Paneth ’20, Kathleen Sinatra ’21 and Guiuseppe De Spuches ’20 were part of the writing team for the class project to self-publish a book, “Generation Now: Millennials Call for Social Change.”
“This class is about the rise of the everyday changemaker,” said Henseler, professor of Spanish. “It’s a class about millennials who are making a difference in this world. What social values drive their worlds as millennial students here at Union College? What change do they wish to see in the world? What matters in the communities in which they live? It’s exciting to see students who were inspired by being in such a hip professional environment discussing these important issues.”
For the students, leaving campus to take a shuttle several blocks to downtown once a week for 10 weeks made them feel special.
“We felt called to do something great,” said Hayden Paneth ’20, a chemistry major from Brooklyn, N.Y. “We’re coming here, we need to make it count.”
Kathleen Sinatra ’21 said the class wanted to dispel ugly myths that persist about their generation, including that they are entitled, apathetic and disloyal.
“We are a change-making generation,” said Sinatra, from Bridgewater, Conn. “We are very civic-minded. We are apt at breaking the status quo. We are not only looking out for ourselves. Even though we are young, we see the need for social change.”
Throughout the course, students learned about innovative millennials making a difference. For the book project, each student contributed deeply personal feature articles on topics that included poverty, pollution, mental illness, sexual abuse and income inequality.
Located on the fourth floor of the Center City building on State Street, Urban Co-Works (formerly Electric City Innovation Center) offers an open-space environment to small companies looking to avoid the cost of operating an office and wanting to interact with other members for professional expertise.
They were divided into five teams: writing, editing, typesetting, cover design, and marketing and social media. “Generation Now: Millennials Call for Social Change” is nearly finished. It will be available on Amazon for $9.50. All royalties collected will be donated to COCOA House, which provides afterschool tutoring and other programs to Schenectady children.
Guiuseppe De Spuches ’20, an economics major from Milan, Italy, said the unique setting for the course was ideal for the project.
"We're writing and publishing a book," he said. "The way the space is set up, it made it easier for collaboration."
“This class is not like any I have taken or probably will take at Union,” she said. “Professionals work here, so we were challenged to act and work like professionals. When we come here, we are not college students. We are a team working to create a product.”
As faculty ambassador for the space, Lorraine Cox, associate professor of art history and American studies and chair of the Visual Arts department, is a frequent visitor. She said the energy and vibe of the space, with its inspiring views of downtown, fosters and supports innovative and serendipitous collaborations.
Students in Professor Christine Henseler’s class, Millennials and Social Change: The Rise of the Everyday Changemaker, met weekly in downtown space operated by Urban Co-Works.