Off in the distance I hear Da Vinci X students Michael and Tristan laughing. As I get closer, I see they are comparing their product pitch ideas for the presentation they will be giving to the Truth team at 72andSunny, a top advertising firm with offices across the globe. There is a sense the holy grail is in this building - students laughing, learning, and creating with high level industry professionals. As I took in the scene, I became very aware of just how incredible it is that students have this level of access, opportunity, and support. The level of possibility and opportunity in this chandelier clad room was palpable.
Then, a sense of dread enveloped the moment. How will we recreate this magic as we scale? How will we find more partners who want to offer this level of engagement and student support? How will, how, how...
Breaking the silos between education and industry is complicated and often scary. While there are some great resources out there, as a teacher, nobody ever taught me how the industry world works, and how to bridge the gap between these silos. At the same time, ten years of teaching taught me that it so very important for students to get have these relevant opportunities. So, while I am no expert, here are some things I remind myself as I go back out into the world to find new industry partners.
Start small. Don't be the creepy guy who tells you he loves you on the first date. Be open to getting industry partners into your space, and getting your students into theirs. Find opportunities to build a relationship. You will find starting small helps you get deep roots you can continue to build upon throughout your partnership.
Feel the love. Be the slightly creepy guy who says I like you a lot on the first date. Seems contradictory, I know. But, as much as you need to start small, don't be afraid to tell your potential partner the connections you sense. Work should be fun, and good vibes are contagious. When there is a real synergy between you and your new industry partner, don't be afraid to share your excitement.
Realize they want to help, they just don't know how. So often, when I personally donate my time and money, it is when an opportunity has presented itself to me and there is a low barrier to entry. It's not that I don't think other volunteer opportunities have value, or that I don't want to seek out meaningful engagement, In reality, I just have a hard time committing the time to find the opportunity, and don't always know where to look. (note: saying this makes me feel like a horrible person). Yet, this is the reality of most people's busy lives. The point here is this: make it easy for people to engage. Invite them, make the commitment clear and defined, and you will find they will show up en mass.
Get stuff done. The industry world often runs at a very fast pace. You are as valuable as you are able to ensure the time they are committing has a value.
Choose highly visible outcomes. When choosing your first opportunities for engagement with an organization, think about ways to make that engagement be easy to organize with a high level of employee/student engagement. It may be tempting to have the first event be a tour, but take a second look before making that the default. At 72andSunny, our first event was a mentor meet-up. 72 invited 35 employees to meet 35 students. We brought the students to 72 and everyone meet outside the offices. The students and employees were not just looking at each-other through an invisible tour barrier, they made real connections, and when it came time to poll the employees about engagement, they were excited to connect with students again. This set the stage for deeper partnership opportunities and made the partnership feel less like an agreement between a few adults, and more like a meaningful connection between two siloed worlds.
Recognize your students value. When this all started, I assumed all industry partners were doing my students and me a favor. While we are very thankful for their work and all they do for us, the benefits are not only ours. Our best industry partners recognize our students have infinite value. As Evin Shutt, COO of 72andSunny often says, the students bring energy and diversity to their work-space. There is an unbridled curiosity and excitement that comes with working with young people. They bring life to the office, and the act of mentoring allows people to escape their computer and feel more fulfilled and productive at work. They also bring a real opportunity to diversify and secure a talent pipeline for years to come. Remind industry partners that there is a long game, and an investment in students today is an investment in tomorrows competent workforce.