Forward with NACCE

Revolutionizing Mental Health and Entrepreneurship: An Innovation Jam Story with Dr. Kim Freeze

June 21, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Revolutionizing Mental Health and Entrepreneurship: An Innovation Jam Story with Dr. Kim Freeze
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Corbin interviews Dr. Kim Freeze, the Dean of Science and Applied Technology at Rogue Community College in Oregon. Dr. Freeze shares her journey from being an entrepreneur to her groundbreaking work in mental health and entrepreneurship. Discover how she leverages the entrepreneurial mindset and her innovative approaches to address mental health issues among community college students. Get insights into the transformative power of the Innovation Jam, a national model for promoting creativity and growth. Join us as we explore the intersection of mental health, entrepreneurship, and education.

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Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin and I'm really happy to be here today talking to one of my favorite champions who works for one of our community colleges out in Oregon, who's doing some really ground breaking work in mental health and also entrepreneurship.

So I wanna welcome, Dr. Kim Freeze to the show. And I see your beautiful mountains in the background. So why don't we just begin by you introducing yourself to our audience. Tell us a little bit about you and, and maybe a little bit about your background which led you to, to being and working and living in Oregon.

Kim: All right. good morning. Everyone. my name is Dr. Kim Freeze. I work for Rogue Community College. I'm the Dean of Science and Applied Technology which really aligns well with my workforce history. I was an entrepreneur prior to going into higher ed. I had gosh, about 23 businesses, about 13 startups.

So I would say that I was infused with the entrepreneurial spirit early. I started my first business when I was 19. And then continued through that process. And along the way I mentored youth that were incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and other individuals that were struggling with mental health issues.

And I found that just being in this space of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and being involved in something entrepreneurial seemed to help these individuals. that prompted me and motivated me partly due the, the youth I was working with. we all made a challenge to go back to college, so I went back to college with a group of about 15 students.

Absolutely loved psychology. I spent 15 years in education, achieved my doctoral degree in 2019 in clinical psychology. I continued this work at college of the Siskiyou, actually in California and throughout California bringing entrepreneurial mindset workshops and classes to students and embedding entrepreneurial mindset through activities and project-based and design-based learning in my psychology classes, which is quite unusual, but it really seemed to work and it took off.

And so the basis of my dissertation was the benefits of entrepreneurial mindset in community college students with mental health issues. So that brought me here and moved to Oregon to take this opportunity and to hopefully bring the work to more individuals so they can benefit from this.

Becky: I mean, it just strikes me knowing you over many years, you know, your compassion and your drive and you know, what we talk about too a lot in our work of, of trying to move things forward, cuz I look at entrepreneurial mindset a lot as growth mindset because sometimes people aren't all like you.

You know, they're not gonna start 19 businesses and they might not start any businesses, but they can, they can innovate, they can grow, and they can really achieve and build a life that's, that's meaningful. And I think I I see the work that you are, I know your title is Dean, which is really impressive, but I think I, I see you as somewhat as a guide of, of showing people that sometimes, you know, what others might perceive to be a disadvantage can be turned around and, and become an advantage.

So let's talk a little bit about mental health. I mean, it's, it's really come to the fore of just. You know, common discussions at Chambers of Commerce and places where it was never discussed, at least in my experience before. Maybe share with us a little bit, Kim, what are some of the mental health issues that college students struggle with and how do you know, in your work seek to, you know, kind of get your faculty to support them, and how do you provide that support to faculty and students together?

Kim: You know, I think that we're all aware that mental health issues have become very prevalent in society and more so we're seeing more mental health issues in our students much more than ever before in history. And I would say that post, you know, pandemic really elucidated the need to address mental health issues because so many individuals, all of us, were affected by the pandemic, and it was such tumultuous and uncertain times that we saw you know, increasing levels, students really struggling.

There's different data, but probably 40 for 50% of students suffer from some type of mental health disorder. But about 71% struggle with mainly stress and anxiety. Or emotional distress. And what we're finding is that because it continually researched, because it's just a fascinating subject, You know, what, what can we do about it? Because sometimes, you know therapy is just not enough, and we always have other options. but we are very limited in most of our colleges with counselors as perhaps maybe one counselor to every thousand 1500 students. 

So there's really just, it's a, it's a, it's something that I don't feel like the colleges are completely prepared to address. when I looked for adjunctive complimentary treatments and a more holistic approach to treating community college students that have mental health issues, I found that there were so many stigmas and misperceptions about mental health and labeling that was associated with that.

So, you know, we've fast forward to the post pandemic and the, and the world just feels uneven and, and changes happening at a rapid pace, and I don't feel like individuals are able to keep up with that. So, add the workload of college, life, many are caregiving juggling, you know, multiple jobs, children, caregiving for parents, and we're seeing these stress and emotional distress, anxiety levels just, just es escalating.

I took upon a few students that knew I was working towards my clinical psychology degree and work with 'em because they really had nowhere else to go. And this is what prompted the work that I do now. And I found that there were a few things. One was really capitalizing on the characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset. It's not just about starting a business, that's the side benefit. It's the work that happens in that space and then also the characteristics that you build or resiliency self-efficacy, perseverance just being in a creative space is really healthy for the brain.

So I started piling it with some individuals who were struggling, and the results were just outstanding. So I embedded activities and entrepreneurial mindset, evoking projects, team based, I threw them into like right in the deep end and had them create things and, and just work as a team.

And they were very uncertain. They were very uncomfortable. And I found this a lot of times when we have a mental health issue, we are uncomfortable. You know, we, we try to hide it. We don't wanna show the world our real self. And, and that's an extra burden when you're already struggling for self-identity and, and to build self-efficacy.

And we are so much of what, you know, our environments and how we were raised and even our workforce. The, you know, the mindsets are interesting. Rebecca, I wanted to share that, it's a concept that came about in the 19th century. And it was really interesting in that, you know, there's this theory that you know, we don't see images in our mind, and that a lot of things that that happen are really outside of our thought process. So these are these thoughts and things that happen and we process really outside of our awareness.

I found that by altering and not altering maybe is not the best word, but in looking at the mindsets from perhaps a fixed mindset and this rigid structure to more of a growth mindset that students were able to process information better to not fear failure. you're familiar with Effectuation, so I drew in a lot of theories flow theory, Positive psychology. So I brought in several theories and research to just kind of back this up. And so anyway, I've been teaching this theory within my psychology classes for about 15 years now. 

And so it's just, it's really exciting to see the students in a space start to grow. And the funnest part is when I get into a class, if I can share this they're, they're expecting a typical class and I get a diverse group of students in all ages, which is wonderful. They get in a space and they wait for me to lecture and talk about the syllabi and all the rules and all the things that they have to do and what I expect and what I want from them.

And I don't do that. I bring him in a space. Dr. Corbin is fantastic, and there's this like wild look, and some of 'em are bored and they don't wanna take psychology and they don't wanna be looked down. They don't wanna be assessed. And so I just share out that you're just gonna grow and you're gonna figure it out.

You're gonna do all these things. And the first thing I do is I give them something to do and they say, well, are you gonna give us directions? Are you gonna tell us what to do? No, you're going to figure it out on your own. You're gonna work with teams and you're gonna problem solve. And if you fail, it's gonna be really great.

There's no, no worry about a grade, and I don't test. They get the space and oh, it's hilarious. And it takes them about two or three weeks. I have two high school students I'm still in contact with, and they said it was the first time in their educational experience they, they were ever able to think for themselves.

And so it was really interesting how they continued to grow and really entertained even entrepreneurial aspirations. And they built self-efficacy and we mapped out their journey. And I had several students that were either veterans that were suffering from PTSD or some form of mental health issue. And also some other students. 

And so we were really able to take, as you mentioned earlier, we took what they viewed as a weakness and something that they felt ashamed of or embarrassed about. We took all of that and we built that into the strength of who they are and to capitalize on that because oftentimes with mental health issues, even depression.

Um, you know, and anxiety and stress and even more, you know, bipolar personalized disorders, there are these really hidden gems of strengths that individuals possess. Perhaps it's creativity or they've already built up so much resiliency from surviving that what we do in the classes, we take all that we capitalize on, that we allow them to have this space that they can grow in.

And through design-based and project-based learning, they just, it's amazing. So I wish I could fill in one of the classes and by the time we get done with the 11th week they're ready to pitch. They take on a capstone. We look at building a nonprofit. We do all kinds of things. We draw, we color mandalas, we do it all. And it is just so funny. It's so funny to watch.

Becky: Yeah, it's, it's transformational really. And it strikes me that that's really why we want people to go to college, right? Is, is to expand the mind, and maybe rather than labels that are negative, they come up with their own sense of who they are. it also reminds me when I was doing my doctoral work, which is like, I don't know, 10, 12 years ago, I had to take a class at Wilmington University.

It was called Pluralistic Communities, and it was the same thing and we were all working professionals, you know, doing this at night and there was no textbooks. So we went, went in there and there were, these were grumblings, a lot of higher ed people and they're like, well, how can we have a class with no textbook and she pushed us and we had to go and experience different kinds of communities. Like you had to pick one, you could go to the Holocaust Museum. But if you ha, you know, if you were Jewish or had that in your family, you couldn't pick that. Cuz then that's not a new experience.

And I still keep in touch with that cohort today, and we still talk about how that was the most impactful class and every single one of us complained about it, like for the first week or two. And to think about like the work that you're doing, that we're doing as a community at NACCE. It's just, it's exciting. And I, I wanna get into a really cool thing that you're working on, that kind of extends.

I think something that is gonna be stood up as a national model, I'm guessing is this innovation jam. That is really cool, and so I want you to talk a little bit from our audience who you know, may or may not be familiar with what even that means, or a pitch competition. Talk about sort of what you came up with and kind of where you're headed with that idea.

Kim: So it started with the class. When I finished the classes, every time the students ask me, can we have more? Will you teach another class? What can we do? Can we gather? We, we, you know, it's really been life changing for us. And so I was really wanting to take this work to a more broader demographic and increase the, the ecosystem around entrepreneurship.

And so there's a group of us that started meeting and they're working collaboratively with a grant on an innovation hub, which would be a collated set of resources. So this was separate, but it feels like things were moving really slow based on the need for the students, the immediate need of the students, and understanding the benefit of teamwork and You know, problem based thinking and critical thinking and finding solutions, how good that is, honestly for the brain, and then just also for building and fostering that entrepreneurial mindset.

So I spoke to some individuals. I had worked with SVDC and SOU, and we had just partnered on some small projects and I asked them if they would help me launch this. I didn't know what it looked like. I didn't know how to really do this on my own. It's a, you know, huge effort. so we came up with the idea of an innovation jam.

And the, and the wording was just to really inspire individuals that this is a fun place to be you know, to ideate and to work together. So we put together an event, and then I work with Event Oregon. one of my colleagues, Dusty, a science faculty, we encourage participation in Event Oregon, which is a competition. students create a product typically it's engineering students around some type of climate-based issue or sustainability. 

And so anyway, I've been, you know, helping with that for, gosh, three years. I love it, but I feel like the work should continue throughout the year because it's one time. So anyway, came out this idea of an innovation jam. And so, and then Oregon was on board and they helped sponsor it. And then Portland Community College Entrepreneurial Center wanted to be involved as well. So together, we put through this event together in like three months. And so it was this space where the student show up. We actually had 35 sign up and we were hoping for maybe five or six first time. Yeah.

And so the idea was that they show up and we give them three pressing solutions from our region. And so they had three areas to choose from and their, their goal was during that whole day was to come up with a solution as a team. And we started 'em off with a, a Ro Shambo session to kind of as an icebreaker because they were all very nervous and quiet.

Some didn't wanna talk. And, you know, it was, it was really fun to be in this really uncomfortable space for them. And then to break it up in Ro Shambo, they, they found, they formed teams and they worked through the day through design-based thinking and they worked on they got to choose the problems.

We also had customers from the region come in and they interviewed the customers. They worked one-on-one with the customers and they had a, a mentor and a pitch coach. And it was really good for them to inter interview the, the customers so they really get that feeling and that interaction with someone and, and really help expand that design thinking.

And then it finished up with a pitch. And so they had five minutes to pitch their product, which, which really, I don't know. One of the things that I came away with was how in a space of two hours, and this was an eight-hour event, in two hours, you could go from people being uncomfortable and uncertain to the noise level in the room. You couldn't even hear it was, it was, yeah. It was great. 

So anyway, we, we pitch everyone. received something and some honor, but all of the teams approached all three pressing issues and addressed them. And a few of those individuals are moving forward into event Oregon with their inventions. And so and, and others are actually literally launching ideas that maybe they've thought about for 12 years. so it was just, it was fabulous. So the goal is to run it again in the fall.

Becky: Oh my gosh. That is, it's so exciting. I, I feel like I could talk to you for hours. Unfortunately, our, our time is running short, but I, I really encourage people to kind of look into the work that you're doing. Um you work at Rogue Community College at, which is beautiful. I've been out there Grants Pass, Oregon. just a phenomenally, you know, lovely place, lots going on there. 

And I just wanna thank you, Dr. Kim Freeze for joining us today. And if you just wanted to leave us with a, a last word of maybe something that you're hopeful for anybody who might be tuning into our podcast today.

Kim: I am very hopeful that educators will embrace new you know, teaching or pedagogical resources around entrepreneurial mindset because as you mentioned with the textbooks, it's a theoretical approach. It really doesn't allow students to broaden and be creative. And then, you know, and use their own thinking processes.

You know, we read and we just kind of, you know, adhere to what's being taught and that's okay and it's applicable in certain situations. But I would really like to invite educators to offer more design-based, project-based thinking opportunities for student and an entrepreneurial entrepreneurship. Mindset activities because you just don't know what you don't know and students don't often share.

And when you offer these opportunities, a lot of times students feel that they're in a safe space and they can actually really talk about what's going on with them. Because when we ask, they don't always share. But when you create these safe spaces, such as the innovation gym, we had several individuals with mental health issues and it was, they said it was the first time they felt like they fit in and that there was hope.

Becky: Oh wow.

Kim: Amy Chills and one of those students is in the event Oregon, and he really struggles. And so it's just your heart. It's just this, this great place that, we can prepare students to succeed. And just this. In this world that's ever changing. They can be fearful, but it's very good to install hope and it's exhilarating all the things that are happening.

So really thinking about what we do in the classroom and what we can do more to support our students with mental health issues.

Becky: I love that. Thank you so much, Kim. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Kim: You too. Thank you. It's been an honor.