Founding Innovators Prepare at Base Camp

PIN Points

  • Base Camp ensures students, families, and faculty prepare for the journey ahead.

  • Wachusett Mountain provided an expansive backdrop for teams of students and adults to get to know one another through an ascent to the top of the mountain, outdoor games, and a hands-on human-centered design experience.

  • We leave with a true sense of shared community, with the rare opportunity to co-create and develop NEIA together.

Preparing for a rigorous climb or multi-day hike requires agility and endurance. Hikers prepare for weeks, months, and even years before setting off on a strenuous journey. As they set foot on the site of their climb, teams generally converge at a base camp, an informal campsite used as a staging and preparation area.

At NEIA, we recognize the journey ahead and prepare students and families at a Base Camp of our own. We held our inaugural Base Camp event at Mount Wachusett, the highest point in Massachusetts. Wachusett Mountain is a popular ski resort, but this time of year base is lush and green, making way for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The summit provides outstanding views of Mount Monadnock in the North, Mount Greylock to the West, and Boston to the East. The location was ideal for having Founding Innovators meet each other, meet our faculty, and build community.

Students broke into teams and set off to participate in a range of activities. There were opportunities to meet and learn names, outdoor games like corn hole and KanJam, short hikes, and an ascent to the Wachusett summit on the Skyride. As students met, they forged bonds and conversation flowed.

Meanwhile, parents and guardians learned about human-centered design, a cornerstone of NEIA’s curriculum, and its purpose in building empathy.

We hear a lot about the importance of empathy and compassion, but when we need it most, we tend to come up short. Many people consider empathy a soft skill — one that we perhaps pick up along the way or learn in kindergarten. But that’s often not the case. We need practice, and practicing empathy is accomplished through human-centered design.

An opportunity to practice human-centered design involves interviewing and meeting with stakeholders. With this new understanding, we encouraged the adults to meet with students for quick interviews and design something meaningful for them. They broke into groups and interviewed students to create a sign that would symbolize what brought them to NEIA and make them feel a sense of pride upon seeing it. Through the interview process, they built empathy by understanding students as individuals, learning about their hopes for the future, any challenges they may be facing, and their interests and activities. Like any new challenge, the exercise was uncomfortable and awkward initially, but teams quickly got to know each other and the students. Then, they set to work designing, iterating, and testing ideas to create a sign that students would enjoy.

Later in the day, students had a chance to experience the same activity and created signs representing their journey in coming to NEIA. After an outdoor barbecue lunch, students and families had an opportunity to see all of the signs on display to reflect on the experience.

While one day cannot fully prepare everyone for the weeks and months ahead, it was an important step in building community and making connections. Our students, their families, and our faculty now have an opportunity to stay in touch and continue to build bonds over the summer months in anticipation of joining us on campus in September!


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