After only a few months on campus, Dwight Hall’s new Social Innovation Lab is seeing a steady increase in student involvement, and the lab’s directors expect more involvement once applications for the lab open next semester.
The new program at Dwight Hall provides intensive support and training to a student or groups of students who want to develop innovative ways to address social issues, from homelessness to education. These student projects must extend beyond Yale’s campus, and the students are encouraged to work on these projects after graduation. The new lab will also help students conceive of, plan and execute their ideas and will also provide the training necessary for a successful project. Currently, the lab is holding a biweekly speaker series to “drum up interest” for the lab, according to Dwight Hall Coordinator Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18.
“This semester we’re holding a speaker series, [with a] focus on talking about entrepreneurship,” D’Ambrosio said. “Next semester we plan on accepting applicants who have unique ideas with the potential to exist outside of Yale community.”
The lab held its first event on Sept. 28 with a workshop led by Patrick Struebi, founder of Fairtrasa, an organization aiming to empower marginalized small-scale urban farmers to lift themselves out of poverty, and the developer of a unique farmer-development plan that links sustainable agriculture with community empowerment and access to international markets. Roughly 15 students attended this first event.
But attendance grew at the lab’s second event, a documentary screening on Oct. 12, which drew 50 students. The documentary, called “How I Got Over,” was directed by Academy Award-nominated producer Nicole Boxer and focuses on a group of homeless women who shared their stories on the stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. While the event’s status as a screening event, rather than a workshop, may have increased turnout, the lab’s third event, an Oct. 26 conversation with an entrepreneur working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, attracted 30 individuals.
“The speaker series is designed to stimulate interest in creative ways of addressing the serious challenges our society faces and inspire our students to feel that they, like the speakers they hear from, can take on daunting challenges and make a positive difference in the world,” said Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish DIV ’09.
The goal of the lab is to “build a strong foundation” and “provide support” in critical stages of development, said D’Ambrosio. He also noted that the lab also aims to generate ideas and act as incubator for projects that have real-world applications.
The idea of the lab developed from discussions between by professional staff, student leaders and the board of directors as they envisioned Dwight Hall’s future approximately two years ago. They noticed that many social programs in New Haven, such as Columbus House, the Community Soup Kitchen and Marrakech, had been started by or in collaboration with Dwight Hall, said Crumlish. The launch of many programs that began in Dwight Hall and later became national organizations, also influenced the creation of the lab, said Crumlish.
“I hope that the Lab will enable students to design and implement creative projects in the public interest,” said Dwight Hall’s Social Innovation Lab advisory board member Simone Seiver ’17.
The lab’s advisory board consists of executive board members, students, professors and local entrepreneurs, who were brought together by Crumlish this year. Crumlish noted that after he observed substantive student interest in social innovation, he was motivated to gather a “diverse collection of people” to bring the lab to fruition.
According to Crumlish, the lab is funded partially through private sources and is actively seeking more support.
Seiver added that she feels prepared to help lead the new lab from her previous involvement with the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.
“The Yale Undergraduate Prison Project believes that the best solutions to problems are community-driven,” said Seiver. “This approach undergirds the lab’s mission to create student projects that thoughtfully reflect the needs of those being served.”
The admissions process to the lab will require a written application and several follow-up interviews, as well as conversations with Dwight Hall staff and student leaders. A previous affiliation with Dwight Hall is not required to apply.
Applications will be accepted starting in the spring semester. Admitted applicants will also be given the chance to showcase their ideas in case they want to launch or increase the scale of their projects.
Dwight Hall was founded in 1886 and is Yale College’s largest student-run organization.