A large turnout highlighted the St. Thomas-hosted Ashoka U Exchange 2020 event, which was virtual for the first time: 481 people representing 24 countries and 104 higher education institutions attended 75 sessions across April 16-17.
Many of those sessions featured St. Thomas students, faculty and staff, helping keep the host institution at the forefront of the global event. Sessions presented by St. Thomas community members included "Creating Leaders for Sustainable Systems Through University-Community Partnerships," "One University-One Breath: Changemaking Through Mindfulness," and "Ethics and Changemaking: Aligning Technology With the Greater Good."
“The virtual Ashoka U Exchange gave me new means of connecting and learning. Hearing about what other institutions are implementing during these times to continue connection was inspiring," said junior Aria St. James, a St. Thomas Ashoka U Changemaking Fellow and a member of the Ashoka U Exchange Student Agenda Council. "I was able to watch and participate in conversations about connecting with others through social impact opportunities. Growth was a central theme of the conference and in the sessions I attended people were enthusiastic to make the most of the virtual-exchange."
The virtual shift was extremely well-received by participants, with 85 percent of respondents saying the sessions were valuable or very valuable, and 90 percent reporting the Exchange as a whole was valuable or very valuable, which represents a bump upward from previous, in-person Exchange events. It was also the most sustainable Exchange event to date thanks to the lack of travel needed by participants.
“Hosting, or virtually hosting, the Ashoka U Exchange was never simply about staging an event. By engaging many students, staff, faculty, administrators, alumni and others in our community in planning and participation, the Exchange enabled us to learn about ourselves and about other institutions to help chart our future as a Changemaker Campus," said Christopher Michaelson, Opus College of Business professor of business ethics and Ashoka U change leader at St. Thomas.
Manuela Hill-Munoz, director of innovation and changemaking at St. Thomas, said a lot of planning went into site visits "that would have exposed participants from afar to the changemaking challenges and opportunities in our community – on issues like the opportunity gap in education, urban redesign, social justice in law enforcement, food insecurity, social entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability. While we could not replicate those experiences virtually, we plan to use what we learned to enhance our own students’ future engagement with the communities around us."