As part of Centre College’s new CentreWorks program, 23 students recently participated in the Resilience Boot Camp, a fast-paced, immersive experience where incoming first-years come together to address complex challenges. CentreWorks Executive Directors, Andrea and Anthony Margida, designed the program around the “entrepreneurial mindset,” which aligns with the liberal arts philosophy and is at the core of CentreWorks. Andrew Patrick, assistant professor of history and associate director assisted in conducting the Bootcamp.
Developed earlier this year, CentreWorks, located in downtown Danville, will allow members of the campus community and the broader Danville–Boyle County region to collaborate, combining their creativity, expertise and experience to study and resolve complex problems, start new businesses, make connections, practice skills, develop knowledge and hone leadership.
“We started planning the inaugural Boot Camp in March, just as the pandemic began to shut down Kentucky,” Andrea Margida said. “At that point, we realized resilience was the key to not just surviving the pandemic but learning along the way and emerging even stronger, so we chose resilience as the theme.”
The immersive experience was initially intended to take place on campus, and the students were planning to move in early and interact extensively with the community during the program. However, due to COVID-19, the Boot Camp was transitioned to a virtual platform.
“The students who completed the program wowed Anthony and me with their capacity to form friendships, exhibit empathy, work as a team and build relationships with fellow students and with people in Danville—all over Zoom,” she added. “These first-year students’ ability to form genuine connections within the virtual realm is truly impressive, particularly when you witness the bonds they formed with so many people they hadn’t met in person and the connection they each developed with their community.”
The three-day Boot Camp was essentially non-stop. During the program, there were three teams that each completed a challenge, presented by a “Community Champion.”
This year’s “Community Champions” were Crystal McPherson, mental health counselor at the College’s Center for Counseling, whose challenge was transitional housing; Richard Trollinger, senior philanthropy advisor at Centre, whose challenge was reimagining nonprofit funding and HKUW; and Jeff Jewel, executive director of the Danville–Boyle Chamber of Commerce, whose community challenge was Danville as a food desert.
After a visit from Centre President Milton Moreland and Dean Ellen Goldey, the teams were formed and each began to tackle a specific challenge using design thinking, a human-centered approach that begins with empathy—listening to understand.
During this exercise, students reached out to individuals in the community who are most directly impacted by the challenges to better understand their perspectives before deciding how to tackle the problem.
“Students learned that solutions to complex challenges must begin with empathy and to be carried out with resilience,” Margida said. “Additionally, there are processes to develop to strengthen both attributes. Students also gained an appreciation for diverse perspectives, the power of collaboration and the value of the empathy-focused thought process. This human-centered approach to innovation means that voices are heard throughout the process and this results in successful outcomes for all involved.”
During the program, CentreWorks had student interns working with them, including Melissa Perello ’23 (Louisville, Kentucky), who served as the communications intern and managed social media.
“The Boot Camp was an amazing experience,” Perello said. “Although it was remote, we had first-year students who were heavily interested in the entrepreneurial mindset and actively shared their ideas and questions consistently. Being able to lead the conversation and relate our observations and nuances to what’s happening in the world with politics, culture and business allowed all of us, including myself, to be more in introspective about how we contribute to the world.”
Perello’s biggest takeaway from working with CentreWorks and helping with the remote program was to always have empathy at the front of my mind when working with others.
“Trying to understand multiple perspectives, even if I’m unfamiliar with certain concepts or beliefs, allows for a productive conversation to occur, and that’s something I’ve had to practice recently,” she added. “It was a nice reminder to always reflect and be extremely cautious about how I view myself and how I view others.”
First-year participant Ian Sexton ’24, a Grissom Scholar from Lexington, Kentucky, intends on studying in the engineering dual-degree program while at Centre, and he has always had a passion for creation and entrepreneurial knowledge.
Sexton said the Boot Camp was an incredibly informative process. Interestingly enough, he moved to campus in the middle of the program for the Grissom Scholar orientation, which forced him to have to balance both at once.
Whether he was moving into the dorm or running across campus to meet with his advisor, Sexton said his Boot Camp team was more than happy to facilitate this and allowed him to continue working with the group.
“The biggest take-away for me was finally defining and honing in some of those skills I had as a young child and figuring out how to apply them to my collegiate career,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing what CentreWorks does in the future and hope that they will have me back to learn more.”
CentreWorks will offer several programs throughout the fall, which are outlined on the website. Their next program, LIFTOFF, launches this month. Additionally, students have the opportunity to intern with CentreWorks, serve a rotation and are encouraged to reach out if interested in being a part of the program.
by Kerry Steinhofer
September 7, 2020