Thanksgiving in May
Jada Wyatt shares the impact that being a Social Innovation Fellow had on her college experience.
It’s my belief that true change starts with reflection. To be a great change-maker is to be a deep contemplator. In addition to many other things, this can allow you to practice gratitude for the people and experiences that have supported your development. As I grow as a change-maker, I have the pleasure of continually gaining people and opportunities to deeply enjoy and feel grateful for. I want to take some time to articulate my thoughts of reflection and feelings of gratitude.
Social Innovation Fellows
It took three years, but I finally got my certificate for my Social Innovation Fellowship! Every part of this experience has been special to me- in both expected and unexpected ways. There have been many people who have helped shape me during this experience, but I’m especially grateful for the role models I’ve gained along the way, and there’s been many. I’ve never fully expressed how impactful each of them has been on my education, so I’d like to take a moment…
Thank You (& you & you…)
I remember that Haley Hall was one of the first people I looked up to in the program. She was so kind and passionate, and focused on her interests in such a pure way. That was the first time I saw a peer demonstrate such a selfless and driven mindset. Thank you for being that person for me, Haley. I continue to be impressed with how you bring sensibility and positivity to the rooms you’re in!
I also quickly grew to respect my first-year teammate, Danika Huizinga, for her leadership and drive. She was a D1 athlete at the time and tirelessly put everything she had into everything she did. She encouraged everyone around her and made people smile. I think about her from time to time and I’m reminded of the authenticity and light that she radiated. Thank you for sharing that with me, Danika. I have been working hard to be that dedicated person you showed me how to be!
I also remember meeting Katie-Gray Jackson for the first time and learning how she turned her favorite parts of SIF into a career. She has always impressed me. I’ve been in awe of how she commands a space and allows the thoughts of everyone to be heard. Thank you for the influence you’ve had over SIF, Katie-Gray. I see myself growing into someone with similarities to you and that makes me proud and hopeful!
I’ll never forget the encouragement given to me by my first-year mentor, Jahmal Pullen, P.E.. He saw me struggling that year (2020) and he celebrated small steps with me. He let me redeem myself when my commitment waivered and showed me what it means to be a part of something that cares more about you than the expectations that are placed on you. SIF doesn’t focus on the deliverable you have at the end of the year, it focuses on the discovery and transformation that happens within each of us as we learn what it means to deeply understand social issues. Thank you for showing me that acceptance and support, Jahmal. I strive to show people that level of kindness- kindness that meets people where they are and helps them get where they’re going.
I’m also very thankful for the multi-faceted, multi-talented R. Craig Prince. He has been a really beautiful role model for listening to your heart and pursuing what makes you feel whole. He is fearless, except for when he’s not- and when he’s not, he is absolutely honest about it. I admire every part of that. He leads with vulnerability in a way that is refreshing and remarkably true. Thank you, Craig, for always bringing your whole, authentic self, and allowing the space for others to do the same. I admire your courage and humility.
Meeting Ben Dudley through SIF has been one of the most special parts of my college experience. He is enthusiastic and personable, and he carries a sense of optimism with him that always lifts my spirits. He is the type of person to make you feel embraced, included, and energized about life. When I met him, I didn’t know how, but I was sure he would be important to me. Now, I get to watch him find passion, even in small things, and I have the pleasure of celebrating his successes by his side. I am constantly impressed with his ability to put himself in so many spaces and how people always grow to love him. I look up to him in so many ways. He is so special and makes me so proud, especially through his learning journey with SIF. Thank you, Ben, for being who you are. I could never ask for anything more.
I would also like to thank Luis Jimenez for being such a dedicated Senior Fellow. The position is complicated and unlike any leadership role I’ve ever had. There is a balance that we must strike to give guidance without too much influence and to let the team experience problems and setbacks when we know they’re coming. You kept your team in mind throughout the year and acted as a true role model. Thank you, Luis, for showing what a second year of commitment looks like. I will work to support you and other Senior Fellows in the year to come.
Though I’ve never had Raj Narayan as a team mentor, he has absolutely shown me support just as Miles Wright and Andrew J. DiMeo, Sr., Ph.D. have. I appreciate all three of these men and their different approaches to mentorship. Raj specifically has taken a heartfelt interest in the connection of my dissonate interests and sought to amplify my reach. Thank you, Raj, for signing my praises, because it’s much easier to sing along than to try to set the tone myself. I admire your joy and the hope you have for each person you meet.
When I joined the program, I didn’t know the extent of effort and advocacy that went into raising SIF. As I’ve been able to work more closely with our leaders, I have grown to have such a high level of appreciation for our Co-Director Alisha Brice. Alisha is selfless and outspoken. She is caring and can take charge. It’s hard to balance compassion with determination as a woman, but she has shown me how. Thank you, Alisha, for all the tireless work that you do for SIF and for being a strong woman I can look up to. I will always work to embody your emphasis on advocacy and the greater good, and look to you to remind myself that recognition isn’t the best metric of impact, it’s the change that can be felt.
And of course, Elizabeth Benefield. Elizabeth radiates grace and compassion. She wants to help each person in their journey of being a change-maker. Her every word and action is heartfelt. She’s like a moment of calm in the middle of a storm; She inspires you to push on and reminds you that you are safe- safe to be yourself and safe to explore possibilities. She pours herself into her passions in an admirable way. Thank you, Elizabeth, for being everything to everyone. You see the beauty in complexity and teach others how to see it too. For this reason, you’ve been my biggest role model over the past few years. I love you and I’m thankful to be loved in return.
It really took a lot to get to this point, to have so many people to be thankful for. Truthfully, the thank you’s shouldn’t stop there. So many people in SIF have touched my life in impactful ways and I could never show enough gratitude. Since I’m taking the space to reflect, I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight some of my journey as a Social Innovation Fellow.
As a sophomore, I learned about the tools needed for intentional change-making, such as design thinking principles, project scoping arrangements, stakeholder mapping, and so much more.
As a junior, I took on the role of Senior Fellow for the first time, which is the most tedious leadership role I’ve held to date. It’s complicated to understand the difficulties of social equity work and also know that your team must confront those struggles in order to gain the skillset they need for pursuing related work later. In that first year as an SF, I was a bit overbearing and struggled to let my team take ownership of their experience.
I was adamant about not repeating that approach this year as a senior. Instead, this year, I struggled to guide a team that didn’t need much guidance from me. You see, it’s not the role of a Senior Fellow to direct the projects, but rather to provide clarity on the tools and experience. My team this year took ownership in an admirable way and I’m so proud of the journey they stewarded together as a team!
My Community Anchor in 2020-21 was People-First Tourism, a company designed to connect people with meaningful and authentic cultural experiences. My team worked with a division of P1T called People First Provisions, more specifically targeted to connect East Coast vacationers with local farmers. This served a dual purpose, both supporting farmers and increasing access to healthy food. We learned about the experience of farmers and ideated different business models. My team faced a lot of challenges during that first year, including COVID. I learned a lot as a result, both in terms of project work and social innovation, but also personally as a young collage student looking to make meaningful impact in the world of business.
In my first year as a Senior Fellow (21-22), my team focused on UNSDG 13, Climate Action. I learned about the breadth of climate-related issues and how members of disadvantaged communities disproportionately experience the effects of these issues. This was an especially challenging year, as my team faced many setbacks and personal conflicts related to the widespread burnout felt on and off campus as a result of COVID. Ultimately, the team worked to uncover the unsettling truth about low-income areas as being the hottest places in Raleigh. They worked to understand what pain points are associated with excessive heat, including but not limited to heat stroke and related health complications. They worked to identify resources for people experiencing unhealthily high temperatures. The team looked deeper to understand why, despite being available, people in these conditions don’t take advantage of city resources. Ultimately, they created a resource hub that addressed the language barrier issue uncovered and created a distribution plan to make gaining help more accessible to those who need it.
This year (22-23), my team set out to fight a battle that has been present since the dawn of democracy: how to increase the rate of young people that vote. They partnered with Common Cause North Carolina to examine this issue and understand the political implications of youth engagement. I’ve never seen a team do so many iterations of stakeholder interviews. They truly aimed to understand why this issue exists. Their learning journey was incredible. They balanced leadership by rotating roles and each individually pursued ideas to make truly thoughtful team decisions. They each used their respective disciplines to create a realistic, sustainable, and transferable result that was born out of dedication to the process. They sought a way to capitalize on the work of other successful organizations and to unite them under their common goals. I am so proud of every member of SIF for their growth, but this team was special for their ability to remain self-reliant and curious.
During my time as a Fellow, I’ve gotten the chance to represent SIF multiple times, like at events such as Entrepalooza. I love speaking to prospective Fellows about the resources and tools that are granted to us. Over the past two years, I’ve attended our virtual information sessions to speak on the experience of the Fellow and how meaningful it is to be a part of something so focused on your learning and growth!
I’ve met passionate and compassionate people from different backgrounds!
I have worked on several cross-disciplinary teams to define a common goal before ever reaching for it. I have been fortunate to hold multiple roles in this sort of team structure, which has allowed me to see its value.
I’ve been able to share my thoughts- truly share my thoughts. If you know me, you know how important this is to me. SIF gave me the chance to get deeply involved in something I’m passionate about. I was granted a seat on the Application Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, which allowed me to contribute and learn in such a special way from experienced members.
I got to learn from my peers, which is such a gift. I wasn’t always surrounded by motivated people and I can feel the difference it makes in my outlook, in my studies and in my life.
I got to find answers and express my thoughts about so many questions. Fortunately, I’ve been able to ask even more questions than I’ve answered. Something I really love about this program is posing thoughtful questions.
I was able to dive deeply into program concepts, such as Theory of Change pictured to the right. I worked to dissect the ideas and deliver them to teams in ways that are more clear. This was a challenge and a pleasure and has helped me insurmountable in my ability to communicate complex ideas. I began putting together materials for Senior Fellows to better support their teams. Specifically, I started a monthly Agenda concept outlining lab topics.
I got to celebrate several program milestones, including a five-year celebration hosted by Chancellor Randy Woodson. SIF exactly matches our North Carolina State University strategic goal number seven. The celebration was held to recognize our program as a valued part of the University. I also got to celebrate our new home under NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship with the distinction of Social Entrepreneurship.
I also got to practice delivering curriculum myself. In addition to the Agenda materials I worked on for Senior Fellows, I created a presentation for this year’s cohort to address the common experience of Fellows. We have a variety of disciplines, however, we all want to find a role where we can use our skills to make meaningful change. It’s difficult to know where and how you can make impact, but by leaning into your identities and using intentional storytelling, you can create appropriate perceptions and connections to get yourself in the right places.
I’m committed to continuing to challenge myself in social equity and innovation as well as leadership. Social Innovation Fellows continues to allow me to practice these skills so that in the future, I can handle the pressure and navigate complex global problems with cross-disciplinary teammates.
I will continue to use the lessons that I’ve learned, build on them, and strive to share them with others. THANK YOU, Social Innovation Fellows and all of our stakeholders!!