Lauren Thomas develops a student workshop using SolutionsU

to introduce more students to solutions to social problems and how they can help.

Lauren Thomas is a rising senior and public relations and business management major at Brigham Young University (BYU). She has taken on several leadership roles at BYU, including participating in the BYU Summit Leadership conference and working as the events coordinator for the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance. It was through her work at the Ballard Center that she was first introduced to SolutionsU.

SolutionsU came to her campus in the fall of 2017 to deliver a series of workshops on the then brand new online teaching and learning platform. During the workshop, she says, participants learned about the mission and purpose of the Solutions Journalism Network and SolutionsU, and then the students broke into groups, each with a different story to read and discuss. Each group first tried to identify the key components of a solutions journalism story in the article they were reading, and then they discussed the issue and response (or solution), the key insights or takeaways, and the limitations and challenges of the approach.

“I [now] have access to ideas…the hardest thing for students like me is that we all like the idea of social innovation, social impact, and solving big problems but we don’t necessarily have the resources to say who’s doing what, what’s working, and what doesn’t work. Sometimes there’s not research that tells us what works but stories can tell [or show] us what works and what doesn’t work”

When the Ballard Center asked Lauren to create a workshop series for humanities students on how to leverage their knowledge and skills into a career in social change, she says she realized she could utilize and re-engineer much of the content from the SolutionsU workshop. She instinctively did what solutions journalism provides a platform for: not “reinventing the wheel” but utilizing what has worked for others and adapting that to one’s unique objectives.

With the help of her coworker, Alyssa, Lauren says she began designing a workshop using the basic structure and learning principles of social innovation and that utilized the SolutionsU platform as a database of stories, knowledge, and examples. She invited a handful of humanities students already involved in the Ballard Center to share their experience as social entrepreneurs during the workshop. She did this, she says, to help demonstrate to the workshop participants that there is a space for them as humanities majors in the field of social change.

Lauren took the topics each of these students were working on — “solar panels in Ghana” and a “food waste enterprise” are two examples — and plugged them into the SolutionsU database. Dozens of stories popped up in each field, she says, and on the night of the workshop, she used these stories for the small group discussion. Following the SolutionsU workshop format, she says she divided the 50 plus students into small groups, and then asked the participants to read the stories to discern “the whole picture: the problem, the outputs and impacts,” and transform these insights into actionable learning objectives.

Lauren says the workshop was “wildly successful” in terms of the students’ engagement amongst themselves, and with the material throughout the workshop. She says that the most beneficial aspect of SolutionsU is that is gives students concrete examples and an online resource that is easily accessible and searchable. It made the workshop seamless and the impact scaleable.

“It’s so helpful to have a repository, a database of solutions…to have a place like SolutionsU where you can say ‘this is a topic I’m interested in’ or ‘this is something I care about’ and then you know what’s working, and you know what kind of causes to support.”

Lauren says that the workshop taught her that SolutionsU is not only a valuable resource for research, but also for connecting and inspiring students. Since then, she has started using it in her own classes, initially for an assignment where she was asked to write an issue brief for a course on social innovation. But as she read more stories, she says she was inspired to use SolutionsU in other courses, as well.

One story in particular really resonated with her, and inspired her to investigate differing approaches to combating recidivism. “This article,” she says, “became the inspiration for a much larger research project.”

Click here for a detailed account of the workshop and Lauren’s process from her perspective.