Students in Hollins University’s first-year seminar “Sustainability and Social Innovation” are focused on finding ways to address the world’s most pressing problems as they present themselves in our local communities. Class members this fall received inspiration and a blueprint on how to start finding their purpose as social entrepreneurs through “Head, Heart, Hustle,” an interactive workshop presented in September by the Sullivan Foundation as part of its Sullivan Roadshow.

“What we do is simply support young people who want to be changemakers,” explained Reagan Pugh, a facilitator with the Sullivan Foundation. Partnering with a network of 70 schools throughout the southeastern United States, the foundation inspires young people to prioritize service to others above self-interest.

Pugh discussed with the students the idea of finding “an intersection” between one’s own beliefs, passions and skills. “We know that we want that, but some of us are not one hundred percent clear what that looks like,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. The most effective young people are the most reflective young people.”

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Pugh urged the class to “take a minute and pay attention to what’s going on around us and make observations. Then, pick a path forward and do that incrementally over time. Move toward finding something that’s right for [you] and right for the world.”

In the “Head, Heart, Hustle” workshop, Pugh led the students in recognizing potential career pathways that employ one’s head (an individual’s skills and unique gifts) and align with one’s heart (the issues that matter most) in order to develop a hustle (a vocation) that fits the individual and serves others.

“If you leave here today and you have a clear step of something you might try, in real life, to bring you clarity about what you might want to do, that’s our goal,” Pugh noted.

Reagan Pugh at Hollins University

For his whirlwind, one-week Sullivan Roadshow, Pugh visited several other Sullivan Foundation partner schools, including Berry College, Warren Wilson College, Lees-McRae College and Mary Baldwin University.

At Hollins, all first-year students take a first-year seminar. These seminars allow them to participate in collaborative and active learning and to hone their skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, research, writing and oral communication. Each seminar also has an upper-class student mentor called a Student Success Leader, or SSL. SSLs attend the seminar, help students with advising, and answer academic questions.

“Igniting passion into people and seeing them transform will always be a concept that’s magical to me,” said Hollins student Zahin Mahbuba, a senior who serves as the SSL for “Sustainability and Social Innovation.” From her perspective, the workshop had a profound impact. “It was tremendous to see the students being struck by their own sense of inspiration and to ultimately want to build on their passions.”

this photo shows Hollins University students pay close attention during Reagan Pugh's Head, Heart, Hustle workshop

Hollins University students pay close attention during Reagan Pugh’s Head, Heart, Hustle workshop.

Assistant Professor of Education Teri Wagner co-teaches “Sustainability and Social Innovation” with Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael. “At the heart of the concepts of sustainability and social innovation is stewardship—the responsible use and protection of the environment around you through thoughtful and intentional practices that enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being,” Wagner said.

The concept of stewardship, she added, is applicable not only to the environment and nature, but also to economics, health, information, theology, cultural resources and beyond.

“In this seminar, we challenge students to develop innovative solutions to complex problems by applying design thinking principles while working in multidisciplinary collaborative teams,” Wagner said. “We challenge them to ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community.”

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the Hollins University website.

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