Our Students are Revolutionizing the Way we Think about Debt

Wayfinding Academy is intentionally designed with a portfolio element for students to show the world who they are and what they can do. This week, Wayfinding Academy student Annie writes about a project that a group of students have been working on this term. This project on a mission has the potential for huge impact far beyond this term, the Wayfinding community, and Portland.

Hello Wayfinding Community!  

Well, it is hard to believe, but Term Two has just come to a close. And let me tell you, it has been an incredibly interesting, challenging, and rewarding three months.  

One of our main projects from Term Two was a team project that we all did in the Understanding Ourselves and Others core course.  Michelle told you all a little about the different projects in a newsletter last month, and I am here to tell you a little more about the project and the team that I have had the pleasure to be a part of: the Debt Free Student Society.  

The seeds of the DFSS were actually planted in Term One as a bunch of us got together to discuss creative ways to pay for college.  This discussion quickly transitioned into one about the greater problem of student debt in this country, and our desire to try to do something about it.  

Fast forward to the beginning of Term Two, when we began to form teams and think of project ideas for UO&O.  Ian, who had never forgotten the discussions from back in Term One, or the desire to act upon them, immediately suggested the formation of an actual society as a team project, and so the DFSS was born.  

"Debt-free should be the norm, not the exception.” - DFSS

The mission of the DFSS is to create a network of people focused on revolutionizing the mindset behind student debt, making resources more available and life more enjoyable.  Our intention is to create a forum for discussion and idea sharing, both online and in person.  Our web page will connect people across the country (and the world) and offer educational opportunities, a “chamber of commerce” for the entrepreneurial endeavors of DFSS members, and a place for people to share their stories and advice. Weekly meetings are currently being held in Portland, Oregon, where community members gather to discuss ideas and strategies.

The above vision was nowhere near as complete or concrete a few months ago.  First we had to go through the process of forming our team and establishing our vision and our goals.  But the great thing was that, as opposed to all the other classes I’ve taken in my life where we were assigned group projects but never taught how to work in groups, in UO&O we were taught about how to build effective teams and be effective team members.  

As our weekly DFSS team meetings got underway (and we began to sort out what the heck we were doing!), we were simultaneously learning about how to create team agreements, establish norms, and define and assign roles.  We were also learning about the importance of having a concrete vision and goals, and about different aspects of team leadership.  As the weeks went by, our vision and strategies went from vague and amorphous to clear and defined, we found roles that suited us (often different than the ones we started with), and our meetings gained structure and consistency.  

We were fortunate to have a team that worked together extremely well.  There were a few specific reasons for this: first of all, it didn’t hurt that we all really like each other!  But beyond that, we all have very complementary personalities and diverse skill sets and interests.  We used this diversity as an asset, and valued and capitalized on everyone’s different abilities. Encouraging everyone to find roles and tasks that were interesting to them definitely strengthened individual motivation and engagement.  Finally, while we didn’t have an official “leader”, Hailey naturally stepped in as our director of operations and helped keep us on task, and all members of the team displayed the quality of emergent leadership, stepping into and out of a leadership role as different needs and tasks arose.  I believe this kind of collaborative leadership model contributed to an increased feeling of individual responsibility and ownership, which I feel was one of our team’s particular strengths.   

Looking back on this process after 3 months, it all seems so obvious to me now, but that was not the case as we were going through it! It took us a lot of trial and error to understand how to integrate the concepts we were learning about in Understanding Ourselves and Others into our team process, and that integration is definitely still an ongoing challenge.  But, ultimately, I believe that team work will always involve an element of trial and error, and is something that can and will improve with more and more practice.  With the skills that I learned in this last term, I feel infinitely more confident in my ability to form and be a part of a functional, successful team, and am looking forward to future collaborations with my fellow Wayfinding students and beyond.  

The Debt Free Student Society plans to continue its mission to revolutionize the way we think about student debt.  We are holding weekly meetings in Portland, Oregon, and our Debt Free Student Society website is up.
Drop into our meetings or visit us online for more information.