A Summer in Hashtags

What happened to the summer?! I can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks since we started this journey. This week, as the interns wrap up, I took some time to do some reminiscing on everything that’s happened…

Week 1: No hashtag, no nothing.

Honestly, I think this week was really much a “let’s just see what happens” week. We set our expectations at onboarding, but our goal for this summer was to always have the interns really internalize their mission for this summer. So for the first week, we largely left them alone… letting them venture into the unknown.

Week 2: #MakeItHappen

At the end of Week 1, we knew we had a killer team. There was energy, there was passion, there was… lots and lots of planning. Fueled off of our design thinking workshop, we then started to push them to “do” – to #MakeItHappen – even if we didn’t know (for sure) whether or not that would be the best outcome in the end. We wanted the entire team, not just the advisors, to move with urgency, knowing that each of their roles were intertwined with helping more students along the journey to community college.

Week 3: #MakeYourselfUncomfortable

Turns out, venturing into the unknown is not always as freeing that we thought it would be. Despite the urgency and #MakeItHappen week, my co-founder and I had to take a step back to really think about our leadership. Were we actually giving our interns the direction and support necessary for their success? … Probably not. This was the week we #MadeOurselvesUncomfortable by admitting to this leadership oversight and encouraging the team to go out on a limb themselves. We communicated 3 concrete, yet lofty goals for the next few weeks: increase our student enrollment, create a sizeable social media following, and begin a dual-credit collaboration.

Week 4: #OwnIt

So then, things started moving… just not fast enough. We had our goals in mind, but we thought we were going to hit them much sooner. We spent most of our team meeting this week asking interns to #OwnIt. We asked how each one of them was going to contribute to our larger goals of the week – and how they were going to hold each other accountable to the actions. Around this time, we launched our social media – a terrifyingly public move. All of the sudden, it was like we actually… existed!

Week 5: #WhateverItTakes

At our halfway point, had pretty much settled into our routines and expectations of each other. Now, we knew it was time to, again, kick it up a notch – and this week we challenged the interns to be creative about their use of time, energy, and mental power. We were getting to the point where working harder wasn’t getting us the results of finalizing our curricular resources or advising milestones. We needed to work differently, think differently. This was coupled nicely with Team Research & Development’s foray into the community college competitor landscape. Having seen how “aggressive” for-profit institutions are in attracting and retaining students, we challenged our team to think differently about what it means to truly do #WhateverItTakes.

Week 6: #Collaboration

This was a terrifying week. My co-founder and I went off the grid on vacation, leaving the interns completely unsupervised. For us, the vacation came at a great time. 5 weeks of Saturday morning work meetings and late night meetings were taking a toll on our excitement levels, and it felt like we had a long way to go until the end of the summer. For BridgeYear though, times were tough. We had a change in leadership on one of our teams, we were losing momentum on some projects, and our students seemed to be in the midst of mid-summer daydreams. We prayed that in our absence, the team would find solace in #collaboration and relying on each other.

Week 7: # FindJoy

Maybe it was post vacation happiness or maybe it was just what we needed, but the following week was all about #FindingJoy. We began to prepare to meet with local foundations, prospective board members, colleges, and CBOs, and in this process of gathering up our data and reflecting on our progress, it was so clear that there was so much to be joyful about. We had created something out of nothing – and we were positively impacting students along the way. BridgeYear was founded from our passion to do right by students, so we #FindJoy every day that we do so!

Week 8: #ForTheStudents

Week 8 of the internship came with the frightening realization that there was only one month left until Fall semester! We spent that team meeting role playing how to call students to remind them of the impending deadlines (who knew it could be so awkward to cold call!?). Thanks to this call bank effort #ForTheStudents, this week jump started many of our students to begin actively communicating with their advisors again, just in time to get them enrolled for the Fall!

Week 9: #LastStretch

With 2 weeks left and a clearer view of the data on our student’s progress, we knew there was much to be done and we were worried that the team might lose momentum as we neared the finish line. Ironically, this week was anything but! A series of fortuitous meetings with community college leaders, CBOs, and community members propelled us forward, allowing us to share our data and lessons learned. We were reaffirmed that there is a desperate need for work in college matriculation – but also challenged to think beyond getting students to Day 1. During this week, one of our prior contacts was also able to advertise BridgeYear advisors to thousands of local recent high school graduates… within a span of just 2 days, we more than doubled the number of students we worked with. My co-founder and I jumped in to ease some of the advising load from our current advisors and have since been spending way more time on our phones – but it’s been a nice change of pace (and perspective!) to remind us of our why.

Week 10: #FinishStronger

All of this stop-and-go has finally brought us to our final week. We started strong, but this week, we have #FinishedStronger. On Wednesday, the team got together for An Evening of Innovation, a chance for “Team Inno” to share the results of their interviews this summer and lead us through the design thinking process as we think about how to go beyond our current services to truly meet the needs of our students. Other teams worked on compiling their lessons learned for next summer’s interns as well as staffing our Open Labs at college campuses as our students meet their final enrollment deadlines. This morning, we will have our final team meeting and celebration!

It’s still crazy to me to think about this journey, and writing this reflection has reminded me of just how many ups and downs we went through together. It’ll be interesting to see if and how next summer’s progression is different – I felt like this summer was a lot of “Let’s try this!… [Insert motivation here]… Let’s try this too!… [Insert something else motivational here]” I think we’ll have a better sense of what to try (and what not to try) next summer, but then again, if I’m honest with myself, I think all the trying is half the excitement!

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