By Patrick Little and Dwight Whitaker
More than anything, the Hive is the creation of many, many people working toward a common vision of increasing the creative capacity of the students and faculty at the 5Cs. While we want to thank all of the people who made the Hive possible, it is impossible to thank each of them. In this, our last post as interim co-directors, we want to call out a few individuals who exemplify the generosity of spirit and willingness to work that characterizes all of you.
We start with Rick and Susan Sontag, whose extraordinary generosity makes the Hive possible in its present and emerging form. Our appreciation of them, however, is not based so much on a signature on a check or even a name on the door as on the inspiration they provided from the earliest stages. Rick and Susan are alums from Harvey Mudd and Pomona Colleges, and they challenged us to find ways to unite students from all the 5Cs in a genuinely creative environment. Their recollections of student experience profoundly influenced our own approach.
The students are, of course, the central characters in what the Hive is and is becoming. Starting from their enthusiastic engagement in the 5C Student Advisory Committee in 2014-15 and continuing into essentially every activity during our first “live” year, students have shaped the Hive. It was students who taught us that they longed for new experiences that would introduce them to knowledge outside their major and to people outside their traditional orbits. Literally hundreds of students designed, led and participated in the various workshops. Students serve on the Steering Committee that advises us on policy, hiring, and even faculty grants. Student staff members create the welcoming environment that characterizes the Hive. Although we face limits of time and space, we want to call out several students who have most profoundly affected this place. Estela Sanchez not only engaged and found a home here; she literally named it the Hive. Gail Gallaher took the reins for our programming, guiding peers to put active into our activities. Nicki Maslan worked tirelessly at supporting other students’ experimentation and demonstrated our process by designing and conducting several workshops. We cannot name all of the students who help make the Hive what it is, but we invite you to explore our web pages to see a little of what they do and ask you to stop in and meet them.
Faculty also profoundly shaped the Hive. From the outset a small group of faculty expressed their deep hopes and aspirations. They were insistent that the Hive should be a collaborative space that prepares students and faculty to work on great, messy problems. Deb Mashek, who participated in founding the Hive from the earliest times, described a vision of “a really great party with all the people you want to meet and be with, full of energy and life.” What started as a series of conversations over lunches led us to a vision of a place that welcomed each of us and encouraged us to share our passions. Other faculty inspired us with proposals to make their courses more active, collaborative, and creative. Again, there are too many faculty to mention each by name, but several must be called out. Fernando Lozano was relentless in his support for the Hive, offering visions that would tie us to academic rigor. Lance Neckar, Brian Keeley, Raquel Vega-Duran, Ronnie Brosterman, and Dave Bachman all faithfully participated in the early planning and transitioned into the prototype that was our first year. There is a list of Friends of the Hive that includes many others who to whom we are grateful, and even that list comes up short.
Tom Maiorana and Vida Mia García of Red Cover Studios guided our design process over the past 2 years, and cannot be thanked enough. Never allowing us to be captured by “paralysis by analysis,” they relentlessly moved the process along, surprising us with their insightful summaries from the previous meeting and inviting us to continue to progress. Once we were up and running, they hired and trained the student staff, ran workshops, counseled us, and provided presence in the building. It is hard to imagine the Hive without them.
Linda Shimoda has supported us almost from the start. Linda brings an artist’s eye, curatorial experience, and administrative rigor that was hugely important to getting things off the ground, welcoming and displaying student work, tracking faculty grants disbursed across five colleges, and providing a steady, warm and humorous presence. In many ways we moved from a concept to a center when she joined us from Alexander Hall.
Alexander Hall is, of course, the starting point for the vision that became the Hive. Pomona President David Oxtoby realized the need and opportunity for a creativity center, encouraged faculty, staff and students to articulate what that might look like, and provided exceptionally generous support. Part of his support included the tireless efforts of other people from his team, including Pam Besnard and Mary Lou Ferry. No one, however, gave us greater help than Teresa Shaw. Teresa liaised with David, but did much more – she insisted on high standards, found resources whenever we needed them, took part in leadership meetings for the full two years of the startup, and was obviously deeply committed to our success.
Finally, on a personal note, we want to thank our spouses. They listened to our grousing, celebrated our successes, and made us remember what collaboration really means. Thanks, Tracy and Judy.
– Pat and Dwight (with genuine thanks to Sophie Zagerman for patiently helping us post the long goodbye)
Through programming, we design experiences that are in line with our core principles and make us better at collaborative creativity. All of the activities we sponsor at the Hive are active and engage students through working together to learn by doing. Programming is also part of our process of testing ideas through rapid prototyping.
As we mentioned in our post on process, we created an activity matrix of experiences that last from as little as an hour to longer than a semester and allow people to engage in a way that is suitable for them. While this matrix initially came from a participant desire for different levels of involvement, the chart can also be thought of as describing the level of risk for leading a new activity.
At the bottom of the chart, the stakes are low with mini-workshops that let participants try out new concepts, new skills, or even new problems. Student-led mini-workshops such as 3D modeling and printing by William Lamb, talking with strangers by Estela Sanchez and Michelle Sun, and creating a business in an hour by Quinntin Ruiz let students share their excitement and gain experience in guiding others. These workshops also provided an opportunity for faculty and staff to get involved. We hosted workshops by Terri Geis, curator of academic programs at the Pomona College Museum of Art, about slow looking and psychologist Deb Mashek from Harvey Mudd College about forming relationships. Finally, the mini-workshops provided a forum for experimentation and play with events such as making Halloween costumes or Valentines. As well as being fun, mini-workshops increase our exposure to a broader audience and build a community of people who are making things.
For a deeper experience than a mini-workshop, we also offered workshops and pop-up courses that lasted between two hours and a few days. The most frequently offered of these was a workshop that takes the user through the Design Thinking process in only two hours. The Design Thinking workshops were incorporated into the syllabi of several courses, including the introductory engineering design class at Harvey Mudd and the Senior Project course in Environmental Analysis at Pomona. Workshops were initially led by Tom and Vida Mia, with student staff support. This acted as training for staff who eventually led their own workshops, such as Gail Gallaher and Nicki Maslan’s winter workshop on designing your life. As an example of a longer pop-up course, student teams spent several Fridays working with Honnold Library on a project to reimagine the GIS labs.
Finally, at the level that requires the greatest investment from both the instructors and students, Human Centered Design (or ENGR 190AB) was a full-credit course team-taught by Pat, Tom and Vida Mia in the Spring. This course taught students to listen deeply to others and design responses to the needs they heard. Starting with a simple on-campus project, the students learned to unpack user interviews and translate their insights into prototypes. The course culminated in a design project in collaboration with the City of Hope to reimagine wellness among women over the age of 60.
We also strived to make connections to the community in other ways. The Hive provided a meeting space for a diverse set of student groups. We were proud to host regular meetings of The TEA, a 5C art collective of artists of color, and THRIVE, a student group dedicated to improving student mental health. Other student groups used the Hive for assistance at crucial moments, such as when the Quest Scholars prototyped their permanent space and when IDEAS jump-started an advocacy campaign in support of undocumented students. The Hive also supported faculty in their coursework, providing meeting space for classes, in-class modules on design thinking concepts, and course grants to add creative elements to existing courses. Over the past year, about 50 courses at all five colleges were supported by the Hive.
Programming provides a structure to help build a community of creative people who will nurture each other and go on to effect change. To do this, we need to offer opportunities for people to interact and share ideas as well as develop useful skills and generative mindsets. We evaluate the success of our programming by the impact it has on the college community. We will talk more about the centrality of people at the Hive in tomorrow’s final post.
–Pat and Dwight
Place is a loaded and complex term. It can signal domination (“know your place”) or freedom (“a place of one’s own”), or it can reflect the connection between our selves and the spaces we inhabit. Because the term is complicated and fraught with meaning, we often substitute physical space for place, looking at the size of a room, the assessed value of a home, or the presence or absence of desirable features like windows. As we reflect back on our time at the Hive, we are reminded that sometimes we did exactly that, but we also had the chance to experience what a place for collaborative creativity might feel like.
At the celebration of Rick and Susan Sontag’s gift, Estela Sanchez spoke of how she had not really felt she had a place at the colleges, and how she had questioned her own sense of belonging. She then went on to describe how the Hive was that space she had sought, and how it filled her with joy to be able to help shape it. Later, during the campus-wide conversation led by students of color at CMC, Estela spoke out at a rally and invited the students and their allies to the Hive as a safe space. Her spirit of ownership of the Hive reflected one of our core values of the Hive as an open and welcoming place.
The core values also informed much of our attitude about designing the Hive as a physical space, using a portion of the Seeley G. Mudd library made available by President Oxtoby. “Creating permission to experiment and play” translated into creating a space that is not precious, where mistakes, marks, or changes are welcome. We wanted students to be unafraid to write or paint on a wall, to display their creations, and to share their work and expect feedback. Clovis Ogilvie-Laing created an artwork that crossed several rooms and reminded us about embracing failure.
From the beginning, the Hive has been a prototype of itself where we learned what spaces were too big, too small, too dark and sometimes just right. Each of the rooms acquired an informal name, such as the Inner Meadow and Scandinavia. Scandinavia, named for its IKEA furniture, surprised us because we were sure that a room with a sink, cinderblock walls and no natural light would likely be underutilized. Instead, the room’s sense of enclosure provides students a sense of privacy that allows them to share personally significant experiences safely.
The rough nature of the physical space also didn’t keep people from using it in beautiful and imaginative ways. A narrow hallway became an art gallery for work from Rachel Levy and Ken Fandell’s fluids and photography class, and for Albert Dato and Sarah Gilbert’s class uniting materials science and sculpture.
Perhaps the most striking use of the space was by Christy Spackman’s food and culture class, which transformed the Outer Meadow into a tasting place.
The Outer Meadow also became the home for dozens of mini-workshops, which filled the space with sketches, 3D printed objects, sticky noted on foam core boards, and Haitian art dolls. These workshops and classes hosted in the Hive taught us that the space we were using was too small, so this summer we are expanding the space to more double its size.
Estela gave voice to students who come to the 5Cs looking for a place that is inclusive, welcoming and generative. Our hope has been for the Hive to be a focal place, where students have a profound sense of belonging, connecting, and creating.
– Pat and Dwight
The Hive emerged from conversations that began during the 2014-15 academic year among faculty and students at Pomona and quickly came to include the other undergraduate colleges. The central thrust of these conversations was to find ways to improve the creative capacity of our students. Guided by designers Tom Maiorana and Vida Mia Garcia, parallel faculty and student steering committees took part in a series of discussions of what a creativity initiative might mean and what it would look like. Tom and Vida Mia come from a background in Design Thinking and applied its methods to help the 5Cs create a vision for the center.
Through interviews with dozens of people, we learned that there was a deep desire to prepare ourselves to solve the “wicked problems” society faces. These complex yet important problems often do not fall easily into a discipline and are sometimes hard to even articulate. To make headway on these messy problems requires people to work across disciplinary boundaries and to share each other’s mindsets. It quickly became apparent that the participants wanted to cross these lines of discipline, department, college, and even between student and teacher. The act of sharing mindsets and expertise to generate previously unavailable solutions is what we have come to call “collaborative creativity.”
It was also clear that we wanted to find ways to lower the “cost” and “risk” of moving outside traditional boundaries, whether that entailed exploring new disciplines or addressing new problems. Lowering barriers to entry not only allows us to fail safely, but also to regain the delight of learning new things – exploration is fun.
As it turned out, the approach of listening respectfully and enthusiastically became a central element of how people at the Hive approach almost everything. The early process also revealed a desire for action and fearless prototyping. During that pre-Hive year, Mark Allen offered a Studio Art course that moved his students into collaborations with art students throughout the region. Dwight led a three-day workshop on 3D printing. Tom and Vida Mia conducted several one-hour mini-workshops on topics such as visual communication and re-imagining an everyday object. Among the things we learned from these were that students would move quickly in response to opportunity and that these activities take time and other resources. These prototypes showed that engagement can take many forms with different levels of investment by the participants. Ultimately, this led to a menu of offerings as short as a one-hour mini workshop up through a multi-semester engagement with a project.
The process that we see at the Hive has its roots in human-centered design, design thinking, and simply listening and acting as a model for getting things done. We have come to respect process as a key element in approaching messy problems (and also fun activities), but at its core, process is an approach rather than an ideology.
The process that has emerged can be characterized as:
Anyone who has read a text in engineering design, design thinking, or problem solving will recognize this process and perhaps even want to name it as their own. We think that’s great. Frankly, we don’t really care much about what it is called so much as we care about empowering students and faculty. Listening, acting, and observing create the opportunity for the connections that are central to collaborative creativity.
–Pat and Dwight
In just a few days, we will stand down from our roles as interim co-directors of the Hive and turn things over to our new full-time director, Fred Leichter. For both of us, watching the Hive come into being has been one of the most compelling and rewarding experiences in our careers. The Sontag Center was designed to influence the entire 5C community by creating opportunities for students, faculty and staff to work together in a truly collaborative and creative environment. In little more than a year, the Hive has grown from an idea to a nationally recognized center for the development of the creativity of undergraduates.
Over the next few days, we want to reflect on the past year at the Hive, how it came to be, what people have done, and who made these great things happen. (We’ll leave it to Fred to talk about the future of the Hive when he gets here.) To add structure to these reflections, we’ve tried to align our thoughts in terms of 4 P’s: process, place, programming and people. We’ll start with process, since that gives us a chance to share some of the history (and rewrite it on our own terms). We’ll talk place next, since our space is where so much has happened, and it illustrates our approach to prototyping almost everything. The things that happened will be discussed when we write about programming, although too much happened for us to do everything justice. We’ll save people for last, because, quite simply, it is people who have made all the difference in changing the Hive from a concept to a culture. We also want to use that post to say thanks to the many, many, many folks who have participated.
Each of these goodbye posts is informed by the core values of the Hive, but in different ways. The central mission of the Hive is to “accelerate the creative development of students across the 5Cs.” To accomplish this, we seek to:
Tomorrow’s process post remembers how these core values created a dynamic culture.
– Pat and Dwight
Meet Sajo Jefferson, a first-year at Pomona who recently led a mini-workshop on the loop pedal. Her hour-long session was one of the highlights of our Tuesday Night @ the Hive series; almost every person there came in saying they had little to no musical experience, and all of us left amazed at the musical magic we accomplished together. We knew Sajo had lots of insightful things to say about collaboration, creativity, and how you best not come for her when she’s wrapping cables, so we jumped on the chance to chat with her some more.
I taught how to use a loop pedal, which is this technological box that you plug into musical instruments to make loops [a repeated section of sound]. The whole focus of the workshop was about how collaboration is everything in music. I talked about how parts of a song collaborate with each other. It’s all about creating space and making sure that the guitar, bass, and piano are building something and working together. I also talked about how musicians collaborate when they perform together. In every aspect of musical life you are working collaboratively even if you don’t recognize it. I decided to teach loop pedaling to help people recognize when they are collaborating and when it’s important to intentionally collaborate. I’ve played with a lot of musicians who don’t think about their part as a piece of the whole. And so I was like, how do we build those skills? Because it’s definitely a skill that you have to practice and the loop pedal is one of the ways I’ve been able to practice that skill. It really allows me to practice listening carefully, while keeping in mind that my contribution is only a piece of the song, and it’s the whole thing we are making that’s the most important product.
We briefly talked about the technical skill of loop pedaling, although I’m not super well versed in the tech side of it. It’s a cool gadget that musicians are using more often in performance and recording. I showed people the basics. We just sort of stomped on it and used a microphone, passing it around in a circle and adding our little pieces to make music.
We made several tracks. There’s a lot of tracks that you can record on the pedal. We made four loops altogether; I deleted one by accident, but it happens. They all were interesting and came out very different. The first one started with Tom saying “my name is Tom” in rhythm and we were like, “that’s funny.” People just kept going, and it ended up being really cool. You never know what’s going to happen!
Here’s an example of another one of the loops.
So many things! I connected with people who are also interested in making this kind of music, which was really cool. It was awesome to see people experiencing the loop pedal, and using it as a tool to not just make music but encourage collaboration in general. People said that one of their favorite things was how it encouraged them to actively listen. Also, when people asked me questions I didn’t know the answers to, it made me really want to do research to figure it out. I was like, “hmm I should really do some research.” I’ve been carrying around the manual to my loop pedal all day, reading it and discovering really cool things. So that’s always good.
Oh, so much! One of the things I love about the space is how it really centers people who have marginalized identities. This is a really cool space to connect people who generally don’t have access to certain [resources and skill sets]; they can find that here.
Actually, that was sort of another piece of the workshop last night: it was about in my experience as a woman musician and experiencing the most trouble with collaboration when I’m playing with mostly men. And our group was mostly women and there were two guys. And it was really cool to see how that happened sort of incidentally — but maybe not so incidentally — and I got to thinking about wrapping cables. Because a lot of guys don’t do it right, but usually women aren’t taken seriously when they do it even if they know how to do it. Every time I go to a gig and we’re doing sound, the guys always think I have no idea, that I’ve never wrapped cables before in my life. So I was thinking we could have a cable wrapping workshop, but it’s really for women musicians to talk about our experiences.
I was also thinking about doing another loop pedal workshop for people who couldn’t come, since there was a lot of interest. And maybe one involving instruments, because you can plug instruments into loop pedals too. At the very end of the workshop I showed the group how a lot of what I do is with the guitar and the loop pedal. I’d love to have people bring in random instruments to play together, or not even an instrument but just something that makes a cool noise.
I see the Hive as a place that feels really free from a lot of the constraints that normal college life inherently has because it’s so new and it’s been established so well by such wonderful people. I find it really exciting and wonderful that we can come here to practice or learn new things and we don’t have to be experts. One of the things I’ve noticed as a first year at Pomona is that people are always telling you, “it’s liberal arts, branch out” — but it’s still really hard to do that. How do I actually go about majoring in something but still have the opportunity to explore and learn new things outside of that? I think that the Hive has so much potential because it has no requirements or limitations, none of that. The Hive is just about letting people learn together and be intentionally collaborative, and that’s so exciting and so undervalued. It’s amazing to have a place that’s like that in college.
The official launch of the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity took place Thursday November 5th, and the boisterous, celebratory open house served to inform 5C students, faculty, and staff about the many resources and opportunities available at “the Hive.” Photo exhibits, art installations, and video loops of student reflections showed the multifaceted ways in which the 5C community is already engaging with the Hive, while colorfully decorated walls showed a mixed-media timeline of how the Hive came to be, including a space where visitors could add their own ideas for the future events and programs.
For more information about the event, check out the official Pomona writeup!
A great read for folks interested in some of the psychology behind some of the mindsets we should be fostering in this initiative.
We often talk about the need to be able to embrace failure. That’s much easier with a growth mindset.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
Awesome rallying cry for creativity across disciplines, economic standing and educational levels.