Forward with NACCE

Empowering Change: How SolveCC Transforms Students into Social Innovators

August 02, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Empowering Change: How SolveCC Transforms Students into Social Innovators
Show Notes Transcript

 In this inspiring episode, we delve into the transformative power of Solve Community Challenges (SolveCC). Our guest, Adrean Cajigas, a student at Modesto Junior College, shares his firsthand experience with SolveCC and how it shifted his perspective on leadership and social change. Mojdeh Eskandari, the Founder of SolveCC, explains how the platform provides a sandbox for students to experiment, collaborate, and apply classroom learning to real-world problems. Dr. Eva Bagg, the Superintendent President of Barstow Community College, and Dr. Caron Sada, a Psychology teacher in the Maricopa County Community Colleges, highlight the impact of SolveCC on student engagement and community connection. Discover how SolveCC is driving meaningful change and igniting the spirit of entrepreneurship in students and communities worldwide.

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Adrean - 00:00:10:

SolveCC really shifted my perspective on that, on how you can use your own leadership, your own ability to make change and take a bigger part in the world because of that. You know, it doesn't have to be just textbook and writing and computers and coding because I'm a computer science major. It can be using that to change the lives of other people.

Announcer - 00:00:34:

Welcome to  Forward with NACCE: Inspiring Entrepreneurial Action. A podcast that shares the stories of everyday entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders, and the communities that support us. We hope that this diverse collection of stories brings you inspiration, inspires you to take action, and ignites entrepreneurship in your community as we make our way forward together.

Rebecca - 00:00:58:

Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. We have a very robust team coming to us today that are doing a lot of innovative work and I'm delighted to welcome them. What I'm gonna ask them to do before we get started is as we tackle some of these questions, I'm just gonna kind of go around the horn as they say and just ask people to just give a real quick introduction and then I'm going to begin with Mojdeh. So let's begin where we should always begin with our student who is with us today. So Adrean , why don't you tell us who you are and just we'll get started that way and then we will go to Dr. Caron Sada after that.

Adrean - 00:01:40:

Yeah, of course. And thank you for having me on the Podcast. I am Adrean Cajigas. I'm a student at Modesto Junior College pursuing Computer Science. And I'm also part of the SolveCC team community ally. I'm excited to be here.

Rebecca - 00:01:54:

Fantastic. And we loved seeing you in action at the last NACCE Conference. Dr. Sada, do you want to introduce yourself?

Caron - 00:02:01:

Sure. I'm Caron. I teach Psychology in the Maricopa County Community Colleges in Arizona. And I also work part-time for our District Office on some Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programming. And I volunteer for SolveCC and NACCE because I think they're both amazing organizations.

Rebecca - 00:02:20:

And Caron, you've been a long time member and a really good friend to so many of us in this work. So it's always good to see you. Dr. Eva Bagg, we have a College President with us today. So maybe just introduce yourself. I think your background's interesting. So you may wanna just share with everybody what your academic background is.

Eva - 00:02:40:

Well, thank you so much, Becky. It's a pleasure to be here with everyone. My name is Eva Bagg. I'm Superintendent President of Barstow Community College. And here in Barstow, we're in the high desert, kind of midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. And yeah, my academic training is as a cultural anthropologist. And it's just been a pleasure working with NACCE and SolveCC. Looking forward to our conversation this morning.

Rebecca - 00:03:08:

Thank you. We appreciate that. And so we will end our introductions. with Mojdeh, who has such a fascinating background. So before I ask you the first question, please introduce yourself, and then we'll jump right into talking about SolveCC.

Announcer - 00:03:26:

Thank you, Becky. And thank you for having all of us. I'm Mojdeh Eskandari, the Founder of Solve Community Challenges. My background is not education. I have been in High Tech, high performing companies, and now I'm following my passion basically.

Rebecca - 00:03:45:

That's wonderful. And I think that's always the best line to success is really embracing your passion. So Mojdeh, we talked about a year ago in the podcast trajectory, and you've made some remarkable progress since then, but just remind our listeners about SolveCC, how it works, how it benefits the community and what's happened in the last year.

Mojdeh - 00:04:11:

Let me first start by sharing what specific problem we are trying to address. Community college students often don't have access to opportunities to experiment and to develop their soft skills. Collaboration, critical thinking, effective networking, problem solving. They have abundant supply of creativity, energy, and curiosity. All they need is a platform to put that into practice. Experimentations drive success. Today, Amazon and Uber of the wars are running thousands of experiments each month and basis their decision on data-driven mindset. If we believe that talent is everywhere, but access to opportunities are not always available, then this is what we need to focus on. And this is exactly what try to focus on at SolveCC. We offer students a sandbox with access to problem solving opportunities. A safe environment for them to test, to experiment and to iterate. Our vision is a world with engaged and connected communities where everyone can reach their full potential and feel a sense of belonging. We offer a collaborative platform where students are incentivized to create a team, including family members, community members, faculty and staff members. and to identify the problem in their local communities and design solutions to address them. This clearly connects classroom learning in real-world application. and turning challenges into hands-on learning, students gain confidence and skill they need. while they are following their own path. And there is really, truly nothing as rewarding as empowering the next generation. Now, SolveCC, the students led team are encouraged to research, identify and solve problems in a peer to peer setting. This is not about anyone teaching them just like the normal setting in the colleges. This is about getting coaching from each other to make progress. And this is a main difference between what's going on at the college and what we would like to offer outside of the classroom. For example, one team is working on social isolation and loneliness in seniors in Modesto. Another team is working on homelessness in Barstow. And there are really many more examples. This allows students to apply again classroom learning to real world situation and the community becomes the classroom. Both students and communities benefit from this. While one is getting professional development, the other gets engaged members and impactful solutions. For colleges, SolveCC boosts engagements and retention, and surveys show students feel more connected both to college and the community. It also creates new funding opportunities through community partnership. One student put it this way, this changed my perspective and now I believe I can make a difference. And this is all we were looking for. Now, what we have accomplished since last year, honestly, I can hardly be prouder. This was a major growth milestone for us. We expanded from 100 plus to over 1200 students, and this is a tremendous 10x growth. Student projects exemplifies our focus on purpose, creativity, and curiosity through experimentation. None of this would have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the SolveCC team. Caron is one of them. and the support from our partners, faculty members, and stakeholders who believes in our mission. Students' projects validate our experiential approach, and this is only the beginning. With the momentum we have built, the goal is to engage over 5,000 students in 10 plus community colleges within the next two years. And you don't need to listen to me in a few minutes. Adrean is gonna share his experience with SolveCC and Dr. Bagg and Dr. Sada are gonna share their own experiences with SolveCC. I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have, Becky.

Rebecca - 00:09:21:

Now that's fantastic. And I love how you're really connecting to the spirit of experimentation. And that's a wonderful way. And we're gonna hear from one of your students in a little while about really conquering that fear of failure. Because in experiments, that's part of the process. And that's probably Dr. Bagg, I love your background of being an anthropologist. You're kind of digging around and looking and being curious. So tell us, in your role as Superintendent and President, you have a lot of responsibilities. Why did you prioritize SolveCC? And maybe share with us some of what you've seen from your perspective coming out of the project.

Eva - 00:10:02:

Yeah, thank you. Right, so yes, you're right, lots going on. I start. to tell the story really coming out of the pandemic. and we were really struggling to bring students back on campus. And one of the things I was hearing from our student leadership, cause I meet with them monthly was, you know, how can we bring our peers back on campus? We want to get more involved in our community and revitalize campus life. So it was about that time when I met Mojdeh and the SolveCC team and learned about the platform for doing this kind of work in the community. So for me, it really meshed with what the students were asking for. And it made it easy to be able to launch kind of a volunteer program, but much more robust and also much more aligned with some other work that we were doing at the college, Becky, you know, being a member of NACCE and working to develop our entrepreneurship and innovation program and trying to find meaningful ways to extend that work, provide opportunities to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and not just our business students, right, because entrepreneurship typically sits in that department, but trying to provide cross discipline opportunities for students to be able to identify issues that are meaningful to them as Mojdeh described in their own communities, do the research to validate problems in the community and that's where I love it as an anthropologist seeing students go out like anthropologists being curious, talking to people, not just reading in textbooks or, you know, off the internet, but really collecting current community-based understanding of what's going on for people, and then to innovate and generate solutions to those problems. So SolveCC enabled us at Barstow College to really much more easily provide that opportunity to students. Hopefully that answers that first part of the question.

Rebecca - 00:12:29:

It does, it does. And you know, for those who may not be aware and listening, there's about 1,100 community colleges around the country and the Inland Empire. Dr. Baggs' college is one of many colleges, but I think what I have seen observing the work that you do is you go together. So you hear people say, together we prosper. If you want to go far, you go on this journey together. And it sounds like SolveCC has really helped. And as we turn to Dr. Caron Sada, you've been doing this work for a long time. You're kind of an Entrepreneur in addition to many other academic disciplines, but share with us why you decided with everything on your plate in the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona, you decided to jump on board to SolveCC and how you might encourage other professors in a variety of disciplines to think about getting involved in this.

Caron - 00:13:26:

Right now, people are talking a lot about advancements in Artificial Intelligence and AI. So we went through COVID and, you know, wow, what are we gonna do? How are we gonna learn and change? Now we're talking about ChatGPT and how that's gonna learn and change. But it really was humans, two generous humans that caused me to start out with SolveCC. So I think Dr. Corbin or Becky, you know about my passion about organizational psychology because that's my specialty and thinking about how do we really become innovative and entrepreneurial and how do we get kind of out of that textbook version that Dr. Baggs' was talking about? So I think Becky, you connected me with Mojdeh and so we met and I was so excited to meet Mojdeh because I was so excited to meet Mojde It's, she's living the design. So SolveCC is living the design of what we're all talking about. We hope for where we're going, our aspirations in higher education and in community colleges, because it's not silos, it's not textbook learning. It attracts the most engaged people on campus, not by their title, but people who are actually interested in engaging students, engaging employees, engaging community members. So by design, it attracts people who are intrinsically motivated to do this actual real and meaningful work, as opposed to, oh yeah, we do that. Someone is assigned service learning. Oh yeah, we do that. Someone is assigned entrepreneurship. And then because by design, this SolveCC model leads to integration, that's how we attract Presidents like Eva or Dr. Bagg. I think we've got a lot of people with really good intentions that are still stuck in 20th century management design, where they're trying to figure out how they can control people into engagement, and engagement will never work that way. So it takes an entrepreneur, what I would call an entrepreneurial leader of change, and you need a CEO, a President, a Chancellor like Eva or Dr. Bagg in more formal terms, because you can't delegate innovation and entrepreneurship. And you can't have a CEO or a President or a Chancellor who's trying to purchase or outsource leadership or purchase a solution. It's going to take humans to make these human things really happen. So again, you have to have a President, which is part of the design that attracted me to SolveCC. And then for faculty, and you hear the numbers with that 1200 students. So you think about, and I think if anyone listening to this podcast works for a college, think about if you've got entrepreneurship programming, how many students are actually engaged in that? How many students' lives are being touched by that, wherever they are on the entrepreneurial spectrum? They don't know their strengths yet, or they do, or they have an idea, or they have a dream, or they actually already have skills, or they've already started a business. In a lot of cases, we have entrepreneurship programming that's really only reaching like five students through a pitch contest once a year. And typically those are students that are already entrepreneurs, as opposed to us developing entrepreneurial students wherever they are on that personal continuum. So that SolveCC already has 1200 students whose lives have been touched is really amazing. And they go back to design. So students are invited into this, and they're invited to design. It's not just students in the business department that hear about it because there was an email blast that went out the week before some opportunity is available or they heard a speaker talk about entrepreneurial mindset. These are students that are being invited into real experiences. And I think that attracts faculty who want students to have meaningful experiences. And then because by design will SolveCC, it's not, hey faculty, this is what you have to do to do this program. This is specifically what we're telling you to do because faculty might hear about and go, sure, I'll tell my students about it in an announcement. Or faculty might say, sure, I would do that. And I would offer my students extra credit or I would build that into my course design or yes, I'll mentor students and I'll help them connect with community partners too. So again, that goes to intrinsic motivation, not top-down control. And I might sound like I'm talking in circles about these things, but there's a really big difference between 20th century management, top-down control. And a lot of our innovation entrepreneurship programming around the country is still designed from a 20th century management perspective. But SolveCC is what I would call real design because everything's designed, but not everything is designed well. And SolveCC has brilliant or genius design that I would call more 21st, 22nd century leadership. That also gives our CEOs or Presidents or Chancellors like Eva an opportunity to not delegate a topic to a person like, oh yeah, we have a DEI committee. Oh yeah, we have a civic engagement group. It allows Eva to invite people who are already motivated. And it allows her to invite, engage the innovators and early adopters into SolveCC activity at the beginning. And this by design is really different. So if somebody listened to this podcast, which will be brief, they should come to the NACCE Conference because if this is kind of a different way of thinking and being coming and being together at the NACCE Conference could help people see how this is really so different. And it's the design that our aspirations are really hoping for.

Rebecca - 00:19:12:

I think that's really well said. And I think hearing from the three of you, because we're going to hear from one of the students in a moment, it shows you too, if you have a proof of concept, which when we met together last October in Boston, you had this idea, you brought some of the students and that was a big effort because you had to come up with the funding. And then of course the students had to get themselves out there. But I'm reminded, Caron, of a couple of years ago when you presented at another NACCE Conference, you brought a delegation of students from the Paradise Valley, which is where you teach. And you brought this big spoon. And for anybody who's listening, if you're on the video, I could like stretch my arms out wide. I think she's going to grab the spoon here in a second. But I thought this was an amazing artifact. So Eva will appreciate that. If you can get a concept of how big that spoon is, is we don't want to spoon feed students. We want to teach them, you know, teach them the art. So if we just talk at people and if we don't do that authentic work and get them engaged, we're probably not doing our jobs. So I'm really excited, Adrean, to see you again because the last time I saw you, you were on stage and with your student colleagues, you did a phenomenal job. So why don't you bring us and all the listeners who've heard sort of the reason for SolveCC, what faculty can get out of it and so forth, tell us, you won first prize, right? So that was amazing. So congratulations. Tell us a little bit about the problem that you tackled and what the experience was. So sort of bring us into your world. How did you find out about SolveCC? What encouraged you to compete? And what was the problem that was the genesis for your work?

Adrean - 00:21:00:

Yeah, of course. So in terms of the problem, the one I identified was pretty much the one that I was experiencing in my daily life at MJC, Modesto Junior College. And it was that there was a disconnect between students and their own campus and the community with it. And so originally, when I identified this problem, I didn't hear about SolveCC, I didn't know about SolveCC, and it wasn't until I was recommended to actually participate to SolveCC by a professor, and the professor said, hey, you should definitely join SolveCC and participate in their competitions because they can give you a lot of mentorship and guidance, and it gives you like a platform to share your voice. And I loved the idea of that. So of course, I joined SolveCC and immediately, it was such a unique experience. I will say, I remember I had to write up a whole application, a video, there was so much practicality to it, learning how to, you know, pitch to a whole audience at an NACCE Conference, that was so amazing. We got a lot of feedback in terms of how to scope in our problem into a more clear direction. And I definitely loved that about SolveCC and the team. There was so much engagement, so much talking and conversation that it definitely felt like there was that community inside a community college again, which is such a wonderful experience that I think every student should have the opportunity to do. And in terms of the problem we identified, we believe that there's a disconnect between the students and the community. So I really love that SolveCC allows you to kind of project your voice and address it to those who may not be aware of that problem. I've talked to several faculty that I've only been able to reach because they're part of the SolveCC team, which I very thank Mojdeh, and we were able to tell them, hey, as students, you know, we feel like we're not getting that community elements out of our education, you know, that practical experience, that entrepreneurship, you know, rather than just a textbook and writing learning based, you know. And from that, I believe so much has come out of SolveCC. It benefits students in so many ways because SolveCC opens the door to this opportunity of entrepreneurship. And I really think that the only limitation is a student's own dedication and commitments, their own will to really share this problem that they could experience themselves and implement a solution that can make a difference to so many people.

Rebecca - 00:23:34:

I think that is fantastic. And just the passion that you have for that. We recently had the NACCE board retreat and our board, we have innovative Presidents and Chancellors from all over the country. And one of the things that they said wholeheartedly is we need to have student engagement at NACCE in the highest levels. And this is exactly why. And I think it just shows you when a small group of very committed, but very well connected people can come together. You can have amazing results. So Adrean, I wanna ask you quickly, how has SolveCC, how has that changed or has it changed your career aspirations for the future? Do you see a bigger future for yourself with more opportunities or different opportunities?

Adrean - 00:24:21:

Oh yeah, so originally, like I said, before SolveCC, I was originally just kind of pursue computer science and wanting to get a degree and become a software developer. That was kind of like the main aspiration of what I wanted to do with my life. But, SolveCC really shifted my perspective on that, on how you can use your own leadership, your own ability to make change and take a bigger part in the world because of that. It doesn't have to be just textbook and writing and computers and coding because I'm a computer science major. It can be using that to change the lives of other people, to share our voice that other students maybe can't project for many reasons. And I really want to make a big impact in the community. That is something that I'm so passionate about now because SolveCC definitely opened the door and allowed me to step up in front of many, many people, many conferences, many meetings, many events, and allowed me to kind of share something that I've been feeling at a community college for some time due to the pandemic, due to the lack of engagement, the lack of motivation to keep going with what I'm learning. And I think that's really, really big.

Rebecca - 00:25:39:

I think that is just hope served up on a silver platter. If you think of all of the things in the world that are unsettling, but as we think about your generation, Generation Z, and there's folks like the other four of us on the call that really need to sort of look to you and your peers as really driving social change and growth in that way. So I wanna thank all of you. And I just wanna end with maybe a question directed at Mojdeh. This has really been her passion project. If people listening to this podcast want to find out more about SolveCC, if they wanna get engaged with one of the teams, tell us a little bit about where can they find that information and how might any listener get engaged in this transformative project.

Mojdeh - 00:26:28:

Although our goal has always been to focus on underserved populations, SolveCC platform is open to everyone. Especially the minority serving institutions could easily participate. You can find more at or you can reach me via email, I wanted to add this is not Adrean's team won one of the first prizes. It's not just about winning. One of our proudest moment was listening to the students who just participated. And there is a two minute video on our homepage, voice of students who didn't win that competition. And they are saying how that changed their perspective and how that changed their self-confidence. This is important. I cannot finish without having a big shout out to Dr. Chad Redwing, who was a champion at Modesto, who's the President of Modesto today. Without whom none of this would have happened. And if we still have time, I think Dr. Baggs' has an amazing story of one of their teams to share.

Rebecca - 00:27:44:

Hey, well, why don't we end on that note, Dr. Bagg, if you wanted to share with us that story.

Eva - 00:27:50:

Thank you for the opportunity. Yeah, so we opened up a SolveCC challenge in Barstow and going with the whole entrepreneurial flow, things are just organic. They resonate with the community in a specific way. It turned out, I was invited in Barstow at a community nonprofit lunch to share something that I thought was significant that the college was engaged in. And I talked about SolveCC and it turned out that one of those attendees shared information about the challenge. And it was a sixth grade teacher at Barstow Unified School District that got excited about it. And once he learned that in order to participate, you have to be a student to be part of a team, he actually enrolled in a class at the community college so that he could then be eligible. And I'll tell you, he rallied up his entire sixth grade class. They did research in Barstow. They were out and about all over the place, talking to people and that's where they identified homelessness as the issue that they wanted to explore. Now they're out talking to the Barstow City Council, working with other nonprofits to address homelessness in a variety of different ways. So it's been really a pleasure working with him. And I just wanna say, Adrean, you're so inspirational. And I feel like hearing from you and you offer us such hope for the future. And I just shout out to all leaders, all educators, students like Adrean, they deserve this opportunity, right? To make change, to bolster their abilities and their confidence. I think the future just depends on this kind of opportunity and work.

Rebecca - 00:29:37:

That is a beautiful story and there's always a way, right? I mean, how? you know, what ingenuity. Sign up for a class at the community college so you can qualify. So and to that end, you know, we are very happy here at Forward with NACCE to be celebrating a number of different milestones. We're closing in 125 episodes since we've started our podcast. We're in over reach people in over a thousand American cities and 61 countries around the world. And what makes Forward with NACCE work are people like you. So if you are a listener, we thank you. I thank our guests and I encourage you to find out more about SolveCC and consider supporting this worthwhile endeavor.

Announcer - 00:30:22:

Thank you for joining us today. We hope that you will continue to explore the many ways to define entrepreneurship with NACCE as we celebrate opportunity, failing forward, and success, learning from one another along the way. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite platform and follow at NACCE on social media and learn more about us at Stay tuned for a new episode each week. We look forward to making our way forward together with you.