Transcript, Part 2, Jessica Hunter and Kris Stanec

In part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Jessica Hunter and Kris Stanec of the Colorado College’s Creativity & Innovation Initiative, we discuss the Initiative’s innovative programs, from the Creativity Lab to the Creative Confidence Projects to student-initiated projects. We also talk about their impact on the College’s culture.

Elizabeth: As in our previous conversations, our Creativists in Dialogue podcast is framed in part around Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and professor and author Robert Franken. And Csikszentmihalyi focuses somewhat more on mastering and advancing a given field of endeavor and creating new approaches, whereas Franken focuses more on a situational context in terms of everyday problem solving that may or may not be [00:53:00] recognized or applauded. One of our interviewees previously, a screenplay writer and certified trauma professional, Laura Zamm, talked about, quote, “ordinary creativity” versus “extraordinary creativity.” And we talked a bit about the province of craft being in the departments, but do you think CC’s C& I embraces either Csikszentmihalyi’s emphasis on, quote, “extraordinary creativity,” or more on Franken’s focus on, quote, “ordinary creativity” that solves problems or both? You’re talking really about the fusion of both.

Jessica: Yeah, I think the short answer to that question is both.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jessica: And maybe to elaborate on it a little bit is that buried in there somewhere and then in other definitions of creativity is a focus on the product. And we identify what a creative process has been or evaluate whether a person has been creative by the product.

Kris: Even, and I have to say, back to Torrance, [00:54:00] saying originality is one of the criteria. That is based on a product that’s original, an idea that’s original. Sorry.

Jessica: No, that’s a very good point. So rather than thinking about extraordinary or ordinary, or any of these more sort of product-aligned definitions, at Creativity & Innovation, we really focus on the cultivating of creative thinking processes. So, what is the process? How do we get students to really understand how they tap into their creativity? What are the mechanisms whereby they can organize and express their creativity? So in that way, we’ve adopted Ronald Beghetto and Vlad Glaveanu’s definition of creativity as a principled engagement with the unfamiliar and a willingness to approach the familiar in unfamiliar ways.

And that just sings to me. Because it is about process and it is about describing creative process as something that unfolds over a lifetime. It’s a wave that just [00:55:00] keeps rolling, and you might find peaks of the process in particular products that you produce that other people engage with, but the process never ends. And that, I think that’s a beautiful way of thinking about it and one that is more accessible. And so that’s really where our focus is.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Michael: So is that, I just thought of Stanislavski again, I’m, my theater background and he is, method acting, it really is laying out the creative process of the actor, and he did it by studying all these actors in his troupe, the best ones, right? And he put, what did they do, and he wrote a whole series of books on it. And so, method acting lays out that creative process. Now each, from my own experience with actors, each actor ultimately develops their own methodology. And they develop their own methodology from what works for them in terms of creating, again, a product, the character.

So the evaluation process [00:56:00] is product-oriented, but the process is what they’re trying to formulate. But for them, the best process is that process that helps them create the most vivid character. So, yeah, I love the focus on the process as a director. Yhat’s why I entered theater, I love that communal process. But ultimately there is a show. And if the process that I have doesn’t work, then I’ve got to change it, because ultimately there is a product. So do you ever think about how the, what the process ultimately produces, I guess?  

Kris: I think that we have the beauty of being separate from a major. We’re not a discipline in and of itself. So the place where product is analyzed, critiqued, perfected, if you will, is in the disciplines of the arts and the humanities. So the theater department—our film and theater—does that all the time. Creativity doesn’t have to. We’re not [00:57:00] here to tell them what the final product should look like because we’re not in that discipline trying to teach that discipline-specific outcome.

Michael: Oh, okay. So it’s the professors of a particular course where, could say, “Wow, since you guys have been coming in my students have been coming up with essays or projects that are just wonderful.” That would be where you, the product is evaluated. That makes a lot of sense.

Jessica: Yeah, and it’s the arts disciplines that have to wrestle with how you evaluate a creative process’s output.

Michael: Well, but it’s, I think, a history course, if a person’s analyzing history using multiple perspectives and bringing in new insights, that’s creative too, so—

Jessica: Absolutely.

Michael: Every discipline would have it.

Kris: Yes.

Michael: That leads right into this next question of putting theory into practice. Now, there are multiple dimensions to the Creativity & Innovation Initiative, but spearheading it seems to be this Creativity Lab. Now, you’ve already mentioned the [00:58:00] Notebooks, the Visual Notebooks, and then the Confidence projects. Could you just describe what the Creativity Lab is and fill out what you haven’t already told us about its formal programs?

Kris: Essentially, the Creativity Lab was established more to be a space in which we can formalize and then really put a framework around some of the pilots. And the reason we would want to do this, right, is to scale it up. We found something that works, let’s find a way for it to reach more people for more people to be involved. So the Creativity Lab is essentially the name for the place where we decide how to formalize and scale up the things that we’re doing.

So, there is a lot of overlap between projects that had been started before the Creativity Lab came into being that are now we put under the Creativity Lab. Visual Notebooks—we just had four CC100 classes piloted last year. This year we had 15. Last year that [00:59:00] was, what, about… there’s 16 students in a course, right, this year. We had other courses also using it in Block One, and we had over 275 students using Visual Notebooks.

Really, the focus of the Creativity Lab is okay, what are the methods now that we can use to actually make this accessible to more people? Another example, I think, is the beauty of the Creative Confidence Project, which is offered both for students and for faculty.

Jessica: Yeah, this is something we’re really excited about, the Creative Confidence Project—and I want to acknowledge that we’ve borrowed the concept of Creative Confidence from David Kelly and Tom Kelly, who are founders of IDEO. Need to footnote our title. Thank you, thank you to the Kellys. But it’s a way that we are trying to pilot and formalize this sort of dual way that we’re thinking about creative development for the students.

And one is the student’s personal creative development. So, one piece of the Creative Confidence Project for students is a [01:00:00] completely co-curricular program—it’s outside of the academic program—where we have these immersion sessions that Kris described earlier. And then students take workshops for a semester where they can take all the things they learned in those workshops and apply them to situations in their real life. And we mentor them and give them additional skills and context.

And the other piece of it is the Creative Confidence Project for faculty where faculty members have an immersion session similar to what we do with the students. So they’re getting the same exercises. They’re putting themselves in the same risky situations. They’re having the same conversations around creative process and practice. And then we work with them for the rest of the academic year. We do that at the beginning of the academic year. And then we work with the faculty members, giving them additional workshops, giving them mentoring sessions, discussion sessions, where they can figure out how to take some of those activities and creativity-building [01:01:00] explorations and embed them in their curriculum. So how does something like Visual Notebooks tie into a particular course topic? To dig in and figure that out. Or how do I create a creative final project assignment for a chemistry class? What does that look like? What are the elements of that? How would I parse out how to guide students through a creative process so that they could come up with something that maybe communicated a concept in chemistry in a very different way?

So, what our hope is that when enough students and faculty go through these programs, what will end up happening is that the students will encounter and work through questions around their own creative identity, and understand how they solve problems, and how to access those skills in their personal lives, and then they’ll also encounter it in a class, [01:02:00] and see it play out in a disciplinary perspective. Because there is, there are questions of transfer in the world of creativity studies that, do skills and aptitudes that are cultivated in a personal sense, do they transfer when people are asked to solve a problem or access a creative process in a completely different context? And because creative work processes show up differently in different disciplines and use different languages, then it’s difficult maybe sometimes for people to recognize that when you’re developing a laboratory experiment in chemistry, it’s a creative process. And it’s using the same kinds of divergent and convergent thinking skills as building a sculpture in the art department. But the languages are different and what we want to do is help the students understand that it’s all the same thing. It’s the same set of skills. The same [01:03:00] ways in which you bring yourself into everything that you do, whether it’s in your personal context or whether it’s in a disciplinary context. And it gives a way for professors to talk about what creativity looks like in their discipline.

Michael: So it sounds like that part is moving from the pure domain of creativity where it’s all process and connecting it to the production—

Jessica: Exactly. That’s the place where—

Michael: —of certain experiments or whatever they might be that are creatively designed, etc.

Jessica: When the faculty are able to embed this, these kinds of activities and practices into their courses, then they can start to understand how the practices might inform a different outcome. Again, we really encourage that creative processes are not graded themselves. But I think it becomes much easier for faculty members to see how breaking it down, perhaps, and helping the students understand what that creative process looks like in their discipline could, can lead to better products [01:04:00] when, at the time when those assignments are made.

Michael: We interviewed a chess master, a Nigerian chess master, and when he works with students, he says, you have to lose if you want to learn. It’s only in losing a game that you then learn and create new ways of approaching the game.

Jessica: Structurally, as Kris was describing about the Creativity Lab, the Creative Confidence Project comes out of five years of exploration. Of trying lots of different things. Of going to many classrooms and working with faculty members. And now that we have all this data, we’re able to put a framework around it. And now it’s something that, through the Creativity Lab, we can scale and disseminate and iterate in this more formal way, right? So it is the way that our process works, from a lot of messy exploration to trying to understand, how do we systematize this now? If the goal is to get students to understand what [01:05:00] creativity looks like in their personal lives and in their academic lives, what framework do we need? And then how do we communicate the message and how do we train people? And that’s where the Creativity Lab really embraces that program and helps give it shape and form and accessibility.

Elizabeth: Speaking of some of these more tangible practices, I’ve also read about, quote, “Creative Mondays.” So could you tell us more about Creative Mondays?

Kris: Yeah, I love that because it’s a perfect example of how it started with a need. Our colleague Jane Hilberry was teaching a course several years ago, and when the course was over, the students in the course said, “We want to keep connecting. We want to keep getting together formally.” They created, the students and Jane, created Creative Mondays. During the pandemic, it went remote, and they still met on Mondays. The students who were in the course are now alumni and they continue to meet in a group. And so we’ve continued Creative Mondays as a formalized, every single Monday, there [01:06:00] is a space in our office in which we have all sorts of materials, and we just offer a place for people to come and explore, right? And that could be exploring an idea and conversation, that could be creating something, a card, a thank you card for someone, right? Sometimes there’s technical instruction, right? “Oh, here’s an interesting way to collage. Try this if you’re interested.” But it’s very free and open and the structure and consistency of the routine, having it be on a Monday, is what really allows it, I think, to be embraced and become just a consistent part of something that people can, if they want to, but it’s, there’s no enrollment. They can just show up when it works for them.

Elizabeth: Another pivotal feature of CC’s Creativity & Innovation Initiative, as I understand it, is the, quote, “Innovator-in-Residence.” First of all, can you tell us who these people are and [01:07:00] how they work?

Jessica: We’re moving towards longer residencies. We had been bringing people in for maybe a block, but now we’re looking to have maybe three, two to three blocks at the very least. But bringing in for a time period to really work across the campus and with, either by working in classes or by working on projects that involve different classes and different faculty members. And the idea really is that, that the Innovators are a place where those disciplinary boundaries can be transcended. Often, I mentioned before that there is a, sometimes a collaboration between the faculty, there’s a pivot point. Often that pivot point is an Innovator-in-Residence. Where somebody will come in and offer a methodology or a way of looking at something that multiple classes can join and have that conversation. But they’re really on campus to model creative thinking practices. What does it look like [01:08:00] in a person’s real life to think in an interdisciplinary way, to apply creative thinking processes in a variety of contexts?

We do have them often work with students, and I can give you an example of a way in which an Innovator-in-Residence can bring something completely different to a class. A few years ago, we brought Reiko Yamada, who’s a composer and a sound artist, who works with scientists a lot in her practice. And she did a workshop in a molecular biology class where students had sequenced yeast RNA. So I think they had 30, a chain of 30. And what Reiko did was that she and another person who we brought in, Jane Rigler, who’s a flutist and a composer, walked the students through a process of looking at their RNA sequences and thinking about what that would, how that would play as, or what that would look like as a [01:09:00] visual score. So we showed them images of a John Cage’s visual scores, which is a score, a way of musical notation that isn’t, doesn’t look like any other kind of musical notation, and it is highly intuitive and improvisational, like, how you would play it. Nobody would ever play it the same way, no two people. First, they made a visual score out of their RNA sequence. So they had to decide, looking at kind of the different values of the sequence, where do we see a pause? Where do we see—and how do we notate that visually? Where do we see a pitch change? How would we notate that visually? Where do we see a tempo signified? Where would we—very abstract, right?

Michael: And this is their personal—?

Jessica: Yeah, they have, they had gone through the process of sequencing the piece themselves. So they have an original laboratory experiment that they can work on.

Michael: That’s fun.

Jessica: And so they made these visual scores. And then we had them explain, what did you see in the sequence that [01:10:00] made you choose particular shapes or arrangements or colors. And then we had them play their visual scores using materials that they found in the lab.

Elizabeth: Oh, like found objects.

Jessica: Yeah. So, beakers, stuff like that.

Elizabeth: I love this.

Jessica: Yeah. What is the point to this, right? Obviously, one was fun. One of the points to this was fun. And it was something that the professor pointed out later. She said they were laughing in the lab. Biology is really intense. This was an upper-level class. And she said, “We need to have them laugh more. We need, that needs to be part of this more.” So I think that was one tangible outcome. But another was, we had a really interesting conversation after they performed, talking about the value of radically shifting your perspective. Of coming at something from such a completely different place. Thinking about how an RNA sequence is data, musical notation is data. In some ways, musical notation [01:11:00] is arbitrary, there’s no reason why it has to look like that, and it evolved into a conversation about how, potentially, when these students go off and design original experiences of their own and experiments, who do you want on your team? Do you want people who have the exact same background that you do, the same training that you do, who will look at this experiment from the same perspective? Or do you want to try to find people who can bring something really different into the mix? They may still be a molecular biologist, they may need to be, but to really think about that question, to really think about, how does this reframing offer insights that we might not have had otherwise?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I want to find out more just about your process for finding your Innovators-in-Residence. Do they find you? Do you find them through your own research and referrals? Is there some sort of criteria? And a more [01:12:00] specific question: Is there a difference between a, quote, “innovator” and a non-innovator?

Jessica: We find the Innovators-in-Residence in various ways. All the ways that you mentioned. Sometimes they come to us. We have our Innovator-in-Residence who will be here in January for most of the spring semester, Shodekeh Talifero, just emailed me out of the blue, and he’d been working in an innovation program at Townson University. And it was just like a cold call, and we got to talking, and discovered that he is a perfect fit. So I brought him out here to meet him and have him do some test classes. And he’s wonderful and we’re excited to bring him back.

Sometimes it’s referrals. Reiko Yamada was somebody that Professor Jane Hilberry had worked with before and recommended that she would be a really good fit for interdisciplinary connections.

We like to bring people back. And that’s something that I’ve [01:13:00] discovered running this program for the past five years is that we get more benefit out of having fewer innovators for longer periods of time and people who come back so that they can develop relationships with the faculty. We’re not always reinventing the wheel. And we’ve gotten some very rich projects out of that. Erin Elder, a current Innovator-in-Residence, is someone who’s been working on a project for three years that has involved students and faculty, and it is now coming to its culmination in an exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

So it really, it happens variously, who they are, the criteria really is this does the person have a practice that draws from maybe multiple disciplines or multiple methodologies or combines those things in interesting and different ways. So again, we’re not really looking at product, [01:14:00] not an innovator who has created something blah blah blah, although many of them have. Many of them do have products and processes and pieces of art that are really exemplary and innovative. But what we really are looking for are people who can model the process and allow the students to see the process unfold.

So, we had an Innovator-in-Residence collective that worked with us for four years and they came back multiple times and we were able to follow their creative process from the very beginnings, where they were workshopping ideas together. And the group comprised Senga Nengudi, Eddy Kwon, and Degenerate Art Ensemble. So, Senga Nengudi is a well-known and well-regarded visual artist, and Eddie Kwon is a musician, and Degenerate Art Ensemble is this performance duo that just will blow your mind. They do amazing things. They’re very different in their practices. They’re very different in their approaches. And [01:15:00] so we brought these four people together. And they knew each other and were interested in working together. But we were able to watch the creative process from just the early days of discussion, the sort of messing around in the studio with different instruments and different art materials, through developing one iteration of it, which they presented, I think, in the second year that they came, got feedback, right? All along, they’re working with students when they were here doing workshops and sharing parts of their practice. And then we had the performance, the final performance. It was last year, I think. Yeah, it was in February of last year. So those of us—and there were students who were here the whole time, obviously who were there were faculty who were there the whole time, there were community members in Colorado Springs who came to the various share-out points because there were multiple points where the group talked, they showed where they were in the [01:16:00] process and talked about how they had gotten there. And then at the end we had this brilliant performance. So here’s maybe where we get to an outcome, right?

Michael: Sure.

Jessica: But it was a very long and circuitous path, and the project changed multiple times. And the artists were able to talk about, in the end, how it wasn’t that they each brought something into the collaboration that they executed, but that each of their practices changed as a result of working together. And I think that’s a piece that’s really important to be able to model and share with our campus community and the larger community.

Michael: Are most of the people you bring in artists or do you sometimes bring in people that work in the technology field? They have a very distinct kind of process—you’re obviously looking for people that are willing to share their process. And obviously every field has a process. Do you bring in people outside the artistic realm?

Jessica: Yes. We [01:17:00] have brought other people in from other fields, but it is difficult because if we want them to come for a block or two or three, most people have day jobs, rights? So, a professional artist, that’s part of their job. Is to go other places and get paid to do these other things. But that’s not part of the job when you—

Michael: Sure.

Jessica: Yeah. We did bring in for a shorter, much shorter period, Ban Ku, who is a surgeon and someone who has, he and a collaborator wrote a book on design thinking in healthcare. And so he talked a lot about how the creative process shows up in ways of challenging the medical profession’s status quo way of doing things. So we have brought in people like that, but usually, we can only get him for a couple days.

Michael: Alright, clearly, you’re attempting to establish creativity in the minds of the students, where it becomes a primary, or a necessary ingredient [01:18:00] to the whole process of living, if you will, or thinking and doing. And so, I was interested in the role that projects, particularly student-initiated projects, what role they play.

Kris: Definitely. We have a program called SSIG, which is student-based. It’s a donor grant funded program that’s designed specifically to empower students to investigate questions and solve real world problems. What interests them, what do they want to do? And we do help them figure out where the alignment is in their question with CC’s priorities of anti-racism and sustainability and mental health and wellness. So there’s a lot of mentoring that goes on when a student comes to C&I and says, “I would like to apply for an SSIG grant. I have a question. I have a problem I want to solve.” And we work with them to craft a proposal. That proposal goes to a committee that is, consists of alums and parents and [01:19:00] other students and such. And then we set them up with a mentor on campus to work through that problem, to problem-solve. To apply their creative methods that they’ve learned—

Jessica: Can I interrupt you? Yeah. The mentors are not necessarily on campus.

Kris: Oh, thank you.

Jessica: You might want to say that again. Mentors are mostly off campus.

Kris: Okay. I’ve mentored a student, is how I, which I can share in a sec. So we work with them closely to develop their proposal, and then we set that up with a mentor who can be on campus or even off campus. Someone who is more familiar with the field that they’re investigating. And then they work on this and are funded to do the work.

A student that I worked with particularly before I was in C&I was, her name’s Alexia. Brilliant student. And she wanted to continue work that she had done in her psychology in a thesis that she had titled “Crafting a Culture of Innovation.” And she wanted to know more about developing, actually, [01:20:00] a place, a sense of community that is based on innovation and really supports innovation. So she used a design thinking model, and we came up with a very elaborate system for doing empathy interviews across campus with other students, alumni, faculty, administrators. And the question was really what’s going on with Colorado College in terms of being, supporting a culture of innovation and creativity. And at the same time, I was working on designing the Creativity Lab and what was needed here at CC. And so, her question and her desire to think about what can we do more of at CC to develop a culture really aligned with my own questioning and work that I was doing on designing the next phase in C&I to have a Creativity Lab.

She crafted a design infusion prototype, and then she actually, she and I presented a series of workshops on design infusion that were [01:21:00] in a class as academic engagement but could also be led by students or for students. And it was fascinating how in all these empathy interviews and then the kind of analysis that we did of those interviews, she answered a lot of questions that we based our Creativity Lab on because she looked into what are some of the barriers to creating this kind of culture. And when we looked at that, we said, “Okay, what can we do when we design the Creativity Lab that is going to be aware and try to work around those barriers?” This is a, I think her project was a great example of how students really do impact the work that we do at CC.

Michael: Right. And have you found that the number of students interested or wanting, desiring to do those kinds of projects has increased as you’ve—because it seems to be the natural outgrowth of all this Creativity & Innovation Initiative. That sounds extremely creative and there’s a lot of innovation there. [01:22:00] And initiative.

Jessica: Yeah, the program is really successful. We have more fabulous applications than we could—it’s, so it’s heartbreaking to—

Kris: It’s all based on funding.

Jessica: I know. Yeah it’s one of my favorite parts of the job and also one of the hardest is reading all these fantastic applications just the interesting problems and questions that the students come up and the ways that they think they’re going to solve them. And then the hard part is narrowing it down because we can’t fund everybody. But it has grown in popularity and, yeah, we do really see it maybe as the end point. If we were going to create a linear model of a student moving through Creativity & Innovation, it might start with Visual Notebooks and move through the Creative Confidence Project and then maybe end up with a student seed innovation.

Michael: Sure. Sounds like a lot of seniors might be the people that would apply for those kinds of things.

Jessica: Usually, yeah.

Michael: A graduating project, if you will.

Jessica: Yeah, and they can do the project in the year after. So a lot of students will [01:23:00] apply, get it, the final funding, I think, in block seven of their senior year. That would be their final opportunity. And then they would have a year.

Michael: Oh, I see.

Jessica: So that can be a transition into whatever is next for them. And a lot of students have done that.

Kris: Well, and I have to say that Alexia will share that when she entered CC as a freshman, she did not consider herself to be creative. And she was in courses, and she did workshops, and she did this project, and she ended up getting a job at an international company running design sprints. Yeah, her trajectory, I think, was a great example of impact, right?

Michael: Bring her back to campus and have her talk to students.

Kris: Oh, we definitely will. We have.

Elizabeth: I want to expand on something you said about empathy and about challenges. And as I’m sure we all know, we live in an era of profound polarization, politically, culturally, economically, etc. And as a body politic, in [01:24:00] so many ways, we can no longer talk to each other. The Aspen Institute, for example, I’ve  read somewhat about their quote, “Better Arguments” program to try to rebuild civil discourse. It does not sound like civil discourse is a challenge for students at CC, but can you talk a little bit about how, again, elaborate on how all the C&I processes create spaces where students are able to be vulnerable with each other and to learn from each other?

Kris: I definitely think that the building blocks of creativity that we focused upon give students an opportunity to be better at difficult conversations. So, when they can be open to new perspectives and different perspectives when there’s that tolerance of ambiguity and they can sit with discomfort, [01:25:00] when they’re willing to take risks or have to change their opinion, or it’s not about winning an argument, but instead being a participant, right? I think all of those skills that we provide students can lead to this better civil discourse in a way.

And I have a few examples of that, but one of them is in, I was working with the Southwest Studies course, so the interdisciplinary program, and the teacher had already done a beautiful job of creating a safe space. And the creativity exercise that I led was called Multiple Narratives in which we use art, images of art, to make unexpected connections. And it’s sequenced in a way that students start by answering questions that maybe are a little less vulnerable such as, “Find artwork that connects to something you value and then share that with somebody.” So again, we’re not doing the, “How many brothers and sisters?” And, “Where are you from?” It’s the “What artwork?” And this unexpected connection actually leads to really [01:26:00] interesting things because it’s not the thing that first comes to mind. They have to, they come up with things that might be different than what they would first mention. So we were doing this exercise in the course and a big part of it is learning how to ask questions and how to listen. And so a student, after we had done the initial part where we’re essentially close reading the image in the same way that you close read a text,

and the professor spent time talking about what texts have we been reading—it was a course on kind of thinking divergently about storytelling and narrative, and the professor wanted them to think more divergently, and she had presented a bunch of texts from a variety of cultures and people. And the student’s point after we ran through multiple narratives was she was surprised—again, reflection—on her own ability to truly and authentically listen. And she commented that she had always thought she was a good [01:27:00] listener but after this exercise, realized that she needed to be more curious about the person, about the story that was being told, and not just jump in with her own being able to sympathize or share similarities between their stories. That to truly listen, she had to open herself up to the other person and what was being said.

So I think it’s these types of things that then later give students the ability to sit in an uncomfortable civil discourse or be open to trying to hear and present different perspectives.

Elizabeth: That sort of leads into this ponderance, or almost a research mindset about if you’ve made any observations—CC is increasingly a diverse student body where each demographic relates differently to change and innovation, and I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any different [01:28:00] demographic groups or any sort of categories that relate to C& I differently. Or I guess what I’m trying to say is have you been able to discern if there are students who are more or less risk-averse? Are some more willing to jump into the unknown without fear? Is there a corollary in terms of students who are pursuing this discipline or that? Can you draw any observations from that?

Jessica: I’d say in general my observation of what we’re calling Generation Z, I guess for lack of a better term, is that they are more risk averse than CC students were maybe 10 years ago. And I think there are a lot of factors that play into that. The pandemic eviscerated parts of their lives. And personal relating skills really fell off. And maybe it’s also part of an increasing trend of using social media. And also [01:29:00] maybe the results of familial pressure from students by society and their parents to excel and be perfect.

There also are some differences in what constitutes risk for certain people. Some students may have more of a safety net than others. It’s riskier for some people to try something new or step outside of a perceived boundary or break a perceived rule, and we need to be sensitive to that. So we really try to talk about risk in a way that’s, where students can define what that means to them and define what a productive incremental risk looks like for them. Because it is very different for different people.

But I do think that once students have internalized the permission to be exploratory and curious, and when they’re in a safe environment, they do really jump in. And they’re very willing to try the things that we [01:30:00] offer.

Michael: And what about families? Having worked in alternative, innovative educational programs, you guys have, you mentioned joy earlier, that sort of this bringing back joy to the educational process. I’ve encountered parents and had to convince them that joy actually enhances learning. It actually makes students want to learn more when they can experience the joy of discovery. So how about dealing with parents and families and the family’s expectations of high achievement and rigor and pain, or whatever it might be. Have you had to deal with that issue?

Jessica: Oh, we’ve had exactly the opposite.

Michael: Oh, okay. Good.

Jessica: We’ve had parents who are very enthusiastic about this program, and as a matter of fact, most of our donors are parents.

Elizabeth: Oh, okay.

Jessica: And they really want their students to learn how to tap into the dynamic sort of creativity that is uniquely their own. And just sort of to the point of rigor, [01:31:00] we’re not replacing course content with creativity building activities. It’s an added value. And that’s one of the reasons why we work so closely with faculty, is to connect what we do to what the students need to be learning. So there’s no, if this, we have to get rid of that. It’s an added on enhancement of the curriculum.

And I think creative problem solving is a highly regarded skill in many fields. And it’s, you can see that reflected in the World Economic Forum’s Top Ten Desired Job Skills. And these are lists that are compiled from surveys sent to businesses and industry leaders worldwide. And creativity moved from the 10th most desired job skill in 2015 to the 3rd most desirable job skill in 2020. And the forecast for 2025 just came out. And I think something really interesting happened here. Creativity drops, itself, drops back to position [01:32:00] five on the list. But the component parts of creative thinking are all over the list. So we have, there are five out of the top 10, analytical thinking and innovation is number one. Complex problem solving is number three. Creativity, originality, and initiative is five. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility is number nine. And reasoning, problem solving, and ideation is number ten. What we’re doing, we hope, is preparing students—

Michael: Preparing them for the world that wants these skills.

Jessica: Exactly, yes.

Michael: So I’m assuming you’re catching a wave here. And you mentioned earlier that you’re trying to systematize it so that you can obviously bring it to scale, if you will, and then maybe other universities, other colleges, other educational environments might begin to think about their own pedagogy. [01:33:00] Have you found it this sort of larger movement taking place?

Jessica: Yeah, I think it is a movement throughout higher ed. And there are some really interesting programs that are working in the same area that we are. There are many that I would forget to mention, but I could, just Elon College.

Elizabeth: Oh, right. Right. That’s in North Carolina.

Jessica: They have a really successful program of integrating design thinking into the curriculum in a really integrated way. So they’re thinking along the same lines that we are. But I have to say there are still a lot of other places where creativity is more siloed. There is the innovation building and the program that you take. I think we’re maybe, we may be different in that we have this holistic approach, that we’re really looking at the personal development of the student in tandem with how they’re experiencing creative thinking in disciplinary contexts.

Elizabeth: I want to go [01:34:00] back to something you said just a moment ago, Jessica, about how the safety net that a student has a bearing on his or her, their receptivity to out of the box thinking. It reminds me that the whole meaning of success shifts over time, depending on the times. In times of war and displacement, merely survival equals success. And there are other times in history, like the Great Depression, when being able to maintain equilibrium equals success. But, as you’ve mentioned, in recent years—and we’re from DC, which is ambition central—success is increasingly measured, at least by the external world, by greater and greater achievement, that your students are clued into that, but greater and greater prestige and greater profits or wealth. And, oftentimes, as a result, the ranks of the, quote, “successful” shrink to a smaller and smaller and more rarefied cohort.

[01:35:00] So, in some ways I’m wondering if the CC Creativity & Innovation Program has been pushed to respond to this distressing reality where people believe that creativity and fulfillment are something that are reserved for elite people with financial security and the rest of us just have to buckle up and keep our soul-sucking job? That’s a bit of a kind of pushback, but that world of shrinking opportunities for having a successful and creative life is really aligned with other factors of socioeconomic privilege, etc.

Jessica: Yeah. Unfortunately, we can’t change the forces of capitalism that create the dichotomy that you’re suggesting. But we hope that we can try to empower students to create their own lives. And maybe not step into preordained boxes. And maybe that’s one answer. That if students can build their creative confidence, we think they’ll find their [01:36:00] purpose in the world. And that may be as a chairman of a corporate board, or that may be as an artist or that may be as a social worker. The economic realities, I think, are beyond any of our control at this point, right?

Elizabeth: Unfortunately, yes.

Jessica: But I think that the skills that we’re trying to empower students with, we really hope that they’ll be able to draw on those skills to think about their lives as a creative process. And think about how they want to find purpose in the world and work within the world.

Michael: And a number of the Visual Notebooks, a number of the sort of exercises that you’ve talked about have emphasized their personal being and the creation of themselves. Is that sort of one of the primary goals of the initiative?

Jessica: Yes, absolutely.  

Michael: This notion that Fanon said that he’s, every day he’s creating himself and that’s his goal, and so is that, sounds like that’s part of what the program is really after.

Jessica: [01:37:00] Yeah, absolutely. I think college is not just for learning facts and figures, right? It’s learning who you are and who you want to be. And what you can uniquely bring into the world and into a situation or into a creative process that nobody else can. And I think if we can help students tap into that and understand their creative identities, even if they have to have a soul-sucking job, they might be able to find a rich life in and around and between that job, right?

Elizabeth: Something—this has been so wonderful, ladies—something we asked all of our interviewees to do is to give some tangible, practical advice to our listeners on how they, too, can nurture and sustain their own creativity. Clearly, this entire interview has been answering this very question, but I’m wondering if you have any other perhaps personal or [01:38:00] other pieces of advice that you would give to young people, or to elders, or to anyone striving to manifest and—

Michael: Who are not at CC.

Elizabeth: Who are not at CC.

Jessica: You can come here.

Elizabeth: To realize your own creative energy and how to sustain it in this not always welcoming world.

Kris: I love the idea and want to really promote the concept of possibility thinking. Right? And it even goes back to what we were talking about the, in the beginning. Inquiry. Constructivism. Right? It’s being open and curious. And so if we were to encourage more possibility thinking and allow for people to ask the “What if?” questions and to be curious about each other and to sit in that space of ambiguity where they don’t know, right? All of that, I think, contributes to creativity because the possibility thinking expands not only your own perspective by listening to others but also truly trying to figure out what else is possible, [01:39:00] right? What more is there? What more can we do? What more can we find? Possibility thinking is what, for me, I would say. Really play with that idea.

Elizabeth: Sure. Jessica?

Jessica: Very much along similar lines. The motto of the Creative Confidence Project is “Stay curious.”

Elizabeth: Stay curious.

Jessica: To be able to cultivate that curiosity about the world and sustain it over a lifetime, I think, is difficult because sometimes we forget to make time for our curiosity because it’s not linear usually. Usually it’s something that is circuitous. But I tell students who are wondering what to do with their lives—and this just happened to me a couple days ago—to make lists of “Why?” questions. Every time you ask yourself, “Why is that?” “Why does that work?” “Why doesn’t that work?” Write it down. And often, we’ll find that a path to creativity lies in following the why.

Elizabeth: I love that. Follow the why. [01:40:00]

Michael: You need posters. “Follow the why.”

Kris: Yeah, I like that. We do have stickers that say “Stay curious.”

Jessica: Because why leads to why leads to why, right?

Elizabeth: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre.”

Finally, we always ask everyone to tell our listeners what’s next for you, for the program, with the proviso that this interview will probably not post until a little bit later in 2023. So, are there events or new changes coming where people—and also where can people find out more about Colorado College and its innovative Creativity & Innovation—?

Kris: So I know one thing we’re extremely excited about is starting a student facilitator development series. So, as students go through the Creative Confidence Project and take workshops, they can then take this series where they are essentially trained to be, to facilitate creative exercises. And then they approach other entities on [01:41:00] campus. It could be their RA in the dorm, right? It could be their, gosh, there’s so many student clubs, and they offer to lead what they’ve been trained in to bring creativity across campus even more broadly, but it’s done by our students. And eventually we would love it if this could even be offered to our Colorado Springs community where our students are going out to facilitate creative workshops for a broader community. So we’re, hope that’s a creative lab, right? We’re going to scale it up. We’ll see where it goes.

Jessica: Yeah, and if you want to learn more about us, we have a web page… with a very long address.

Michael: We’ll have a link to it on the Substack.

Jessica: I might suggest that you Google Creativity & Innovation at Colorado College and it will probably come up that way, rather than me making this very long thing. But we do keep our current workshops and activities on the webpage. And you can also do a [01:42:00] little bit of a deeper dive into our various programs there.

Elizabeth: The website is very extensive. You can learn a lot about the component parts that you all have been talking about.

Jessica: Our program coordinator, Madeline Brooks, shout out to her. She made it wonderful.

Elizabeth: Fabulous. Thank you, Jessica Hunter, PhD, and Kris Stanec, MA, from the Colorado College’s Creativity & Innovation Initiative in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thank you. Thank you both so much.

Jessica: Thank you.

Kris: Thank you, it was wonderful. Appreciate the time.


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