Laspa Center for Leadership: An Alternative Spring Break: Scripps Students Meet with Bay Area Business Leaders and Creatives

CLAREMONT, California - April 12, 2017

By Samantha Nuno ’18 and Anna Karen Paz ’20

Sunday, March 12

Settling In

Our group of 10 students drove six hours from Claremont to San Francisco to reach our beautiful Airbnb, a Victorian penthouse apartment located in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Many of us, being Southern Californians, felt glad to be on the trip because we finally got to see the famous city.

After settling in, we gathered in one of the community spaces to discuss trip logistics, such as dinner plans and the grocery stipend. We ordered dinner in and feasted on local Chinese food while getting to know one another better. After dinner, we had a lax but engaging conversation about problems in the world that we might propose to work on at our Design Thinking Workshop on Monday evening. We discussed college access, workers’ rights, student-to-student communication, and decided to focus our workshop session on planning improvements for our Scripps community. Although we were only in San Francisco for a few hours, we already had meaningful conversations and new Scripps friends.

Monday, March 13

Meeting with Laura Satersmoen, Executive Director, Fisher Art Foundation

We kicked off our first full day in San Francisco with a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) to learn about the innovative collaboration between the Fisher Art Foundation and the museum. We met with Fisher Executive Director Laura Satersmoen, who gave us a tour of the museum and some background information about the Fisher Family and their contributions to the art world. She explained that the Fishers, founders of the Gap, Inc., loaned, rather than sold, works in their art collection to SFMOMA to ensure that the majority of their holdings would be displayed at all times. We saw many captivating paintings and sculptures by artists, including Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Sol LeWitt, and Andy Warhol. We loved learning about Agnes Martin, an Abstract Expressionist painter who dealt with the many difficulties of being a queer woman with mental illness, yet flourished with an intersectional feminist perspective on art. Satersmoen shared how she had reached this point in her career, curating and working at many different museums before landing at the foundation. She advised, “Even if you don’t think a job or something is going anywhere, be open to the possibilities.”

Meeting with Marc O’Brien and Sarah Harrison, The Determined

We then trekked to the Laundry, an “experiential space fostering creativity, connection, and community” that the Laspa Center rented out for our workshop with the Determined. The space epitomizes San Francisco hipness and gave us a taste of the ways the city fosters creativity. We headed downstairs to a large, open basement with tables, Post-Its, markers, and poster paper to meet with Marc O’Brien and Sarah Harrison, co-founders of the Determined.

The Determined takes a “punk rock approach” to social innovation and “empowers visionary leaders and makers to create a better world by changing paradigms and challenging the status quo.” This especially appealed to Samantha Nuno ’18 because of the DIY ethic and independence that reverberates throughout the punk community and resonates with her personal leadership style. O’Brien explained how he has been influenced by the punk attitude of the music he listens to and how it has affected his career in design. Harrison talked about how her work as a yoga instructor led her to a successful career in prototyping.

O’Brien and Harrison led a four-hour design thinking workshop, where we explored unconventional ways to solve social problems that resonate with us. We split into three groups, and each chose a problem that affects the Scripps community. One focused on student relations and communication, another looked at college accessibility, and a third at campus worker justice. In our groups, we jotted down notes on the subject as we attempted to “ideate” and “think wrong.” Thinking wrong, according to O’Brien, is a way of cultivating new ideas and solutions by purposely thinking differently by following different thinking paths than those paths your brain usually takes. Thinking wrong is not going from A to B, but from A to fish—or to something similarly unconventional. Each group went through multiple steps in the design-thinking process before reaching the prototyping stage, when a student from each group visited another group to prototype their design. With the feedback, groups amended their designs, and presented to the room. The workshop was an engaging experience that has shifted the way we go about problem solving.

Tuesday, March 14

Meeting with Marina Gorbis, Institute for the Future

On our second day, we travelled to Palo Alto to meet with Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a nonprofit research organization with “a nearly 50-year track record of helping all kinds of organizations make the futures they want” that works to “provide practical foresight for a world undergoing rapid change.” The organization strives to convince people they have agency over the future—the future does not occur independently on its own. Gorbis gave us a tour of the facility, including the Howard Rheingold Art Collection, where we viewed a virtual reality simulation of the collection’s artwork installed in outer space. One of the IFTF employees explained his interest in virtual reality, predicting it would change our lives as much as the invention of the television did, affecting our news, entertainment, and media consumption.

While we were there, Howard Rheingold stopped by to talk with us. A cultural theorist who looks at mass media and communication, he advised us that despite the forces that are pressuring young people to specialize, we should treasure the breadth of knowledge we are receiving through a liberal arts education. Gorbis elaborated on the importance of interdisciplinary education, noting how IFTF employees have to think across boundaries and how experts from different fields come together to collaborate. We had a fun and engaging experience that reassured us the liberal arts education at Scripps was the right choice in terms of its desirability to employers.

Meeting with Ana Thompson, The Opportunity Fund

After visiting the IFTF, we met with several members of the Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit microfinance organization whose mission is “to advance the economic well-being of working people by helping them earn, save, and invest in their future.” Founder and Chief Executive Officer Eric Weaver and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ana Thompson presented an overview of the organization, including the role that the Opportunity Fund plays in the San Jose community, and its expanding national impact (the fund’s first out-of-state loan was made that same day!). They gave us statistics about the breakdown of their loan clients; most are ethnic minorities, and approximately 40 percent are women. Vice President, Research and Policy Gwendy Donaker Brown (PO ’01) discussed how the organization works on policies that affect them as a nonprofit as well as their clients. A human resources representative spoke about how the experiences of women in STEM fields may differ from those women who work in nonprofits, especially in terms of work accommodations and flexibility. As someone who is considering economics as a career, yet hopes to work with people, this portion of the trip was especially helpful for Anna Paz ’20—it gave her a new perspective on the power of finance to help people and make definite social change.

Dinner with the Laspas

To end the day, we went to Eureka Restaurant in the Castro District, where we had the honor of dining with Eileen Schock Laspa ’67, P’95 and Jude Laspa (HMC ’65, P’95), founders of the Laspa Center for Leadership. The Laspas were very engaging and humble, and we sensed their eagerness to give back to the Claremont community that had impacted their lives so much. They emphasized the importance of experiential leadership, and they talked about how they hope to ensure that all Scripps students are able to grow their skills as leaders through real life experience. It was an enjoyable evening and very inspiring to meet the Laspas.

Wednesday, March 15

Meeting with Melinda White ’91, Tesla

The last day of the trip, we packed up and drove to Danville to meet with Melinda White ’91. A Scripps alumna, White described her role in staffing and human resources at Tesla. She detailed how Tesla, like many other tech companies, is moving away from a top-down, hierarchical leadership structure, and instead embraces parallel leadership.

Our conversation with White was on a more intimate scale than the previous meetings—we asked for advice on marketing ourselves to potential employers, and we discussed what to tell hiring managers who may not be familiar with Scripps College. White reassured us that many companies are becoming more and more aware of the College and its unique liberal arts education.

During our last few minutes of the trip, Laspa Director Lisa Watson asked each of us to share what our most valued part of the trip had been. While it was difficult to choose just one, Nuno shared she valued the many successful female leaders who stressed the value of a holistic, liberal arts education in the professional world.