Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has

– Margaret Mead

Weeks 7-8 : Turning the City Into a Classroom


aced with a senior design project, Avery Bang and four of her civil/environmental engineering classmates proposed a radical idea to their professors: “What if we actually built something?” As Avery says now, “To see a project from concept to implementation was not an experience I had ever had, and I was about to graduate as an engineer.” What Avery and her fellow students had in mind was to design and build a footbridge near the rural community of Yavina, Peru. To a population cut off from the only school, healthcare facility, and marketplace, this proposal promised profound change.

Now the Executive Director at Bridges to Prosperity, Avery understands just how important that early decision was to her professional trajectory. “It was the first time I realized that I could have a team outside of sports”, Avery recalls. “That I could rely on people. I had these four individuals who would do anything for me, and I for them, in a setting where we were moving towards a common good.”

While smart corporations rightly identify ingenuity as their most precious commodity, far too often higher education is stuck in an old Industrial Age model that rewards students with the best memories and bubble sheet exams. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The great Kurt Vonnegut, author of such classic works of literature as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, understood the spirit of a true academic adventure. Addressing his 1965 class as “Beloved,” Vonnegut described the twist and turns their inquiry together might take. “As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend,” Vonnegut wrote on the course syllabus, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

While 20 somethings have a unique generational “voice” to offer society, a lack of opportunity, resources, and experience often holds them back. This is a loss on both sides. Not only do our cities and communities need their energy and idealism, but young adults need mentored opportunities to start constructing their contributions as well.

Young people also have the capacity to dream BIG! While frequently dismissed as youthful innocence, those who find a way to protect that fragile quality often make the greatest difference in the end.


Watch my profile on Avery Bang – Making a Difference
Watch here

Andy Stoll Biography – Andy Stoll recently founded Seed Here, a social good startup designed to connect and grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem and creative communities in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City regions (still recovering from the massive 2008 Iowa Floods); is in development on a reality-based around-the-world travel show for a major network and is serving in advisory roles with a number of startups. Stoll recently completed a 4-year trip-around-the-world and is presently launching a multimedia collegiate speaking tour built around his travel experiences.

4 Years Around The World in 4 Minutes (See:


Watch my profile on Andy Stoll – Community
Watch here

Question #4

After watching the profile piece, what questions would you like to ask Andy Stoll? Please submit three possibilities, and Andy will respond to the ten best questions from the class. Andy’s answers will be forwarded to everyone.

(Three questions) Deposit on ICON

Here you'll find some of my musings that I think will help support the narrative, and provide some additional information. Check it out here

  • In the spring of 2012, I proposed to teach a semester-long, interdisciplinary class that focused upper-level undergraduate students on creating something “real,” and once again, my new course found Tony Hsieh.

    At that moment, Tony was in the midst of leasing Las Vegas’ old City Hall – in the heart of the struggling downtown – to become Zappos’ new company home. But instead of reconditioning it into yet another stunning corporate campus, Tony decided instead to invest his money elsewhere… to the tune of $350 million dollars… in the community around it.

    • $50M – Small businesses
    • $50M – Tech Startups
    • $50M – Education, Arts, Culture
    • $200M – Real Estate

    In August, I decided to travel to Las Vegas and see, what is now known as the Downtown Project, for myself.

  • Tony is a fascinating character study in contradictions: An introvert, who invites nearly 700 people a month to tour his condo; a multi-millionaire, who takes the time to not only read 2000 emails a day, but personally respond to most of them; a CEO, who values statistics, yet is willing to invest heavily in passion alone.

    The boldness and vision of Tony’s Downtown Project undertaking was inspiring, and by the end of that week, the University of Iowa’s Reimagining Downtown class was born. Tony provided the students with a $50,000 budget and charged them with creating an idea that would contribute to the Las Vegas community. He also requested that the class spend its Spring Break exploring the city, learning both what it needs and cares about.

    After a rigorous application process, fourteen students were selected to participate in the journey. They stretched from a dance to a finance major, and dispelled every myth that implies young people are somehow self-consumed or unmotivated.

  • Mid-way through the semester, the students presented their ideas to Tony and two of his senior leaders. The gathering took place in what is now the shopping, dining and entertainment destination known as Container Park. But on this day, the students stood on fake grass, sandwiched by a couple large trailers, as the three executives eagerly listened from a kid’s picnic table. It was a great moment.

    By the end of July, the students had completed the groundwork for a community-based business serving raw, vegan treats, while inconspicuously educating Downtown Las Vegas on eating right. The initiative was branded “Sugarcoat,” with the educational component called “SugarcoatED”. As the students explained, the verb sugarcoat means “to make (something difficult or distasteful) appear more pleasant or acceptable.” To help insure the initiative’s sustainability, they partnered with Las Vegas author and nutritional mixologist, Shane Stuart.

    While the course was called “Reimagining Downtown,” the larger discussion may have been about reimagining education. The lesson was simple: When given a chance, young adults will do amazing things. It behooves all us to create a world in which they can.

    Watch our story – During the course of our journey, the Reimagining Downtown students made two videos: One early in the process to express the challenge before them, and the other as closure to the experience. (Created in the first six weeks of class.) (Produced after the project's completion)


Journal Assignment #5– Return to the starting point

If possible, talk to your parents about the day you were born. Not how or when, but what they were thinking and feeling when they first held you. Try to get them to be as specific as possible. What were their dreams and hopes? What did they fear most? What perspective does this information give you? How closely does your current path align with this information?

Note: If you are unable to discuss this with your parents, please pick someone who has known you since you were young. What were their early thoughts of you?

(Minimum length: One page.) Deposit on ICON
(Inspiration: Conversation with Daniel Pink)

Please note that classes close for Spring Break on Sunday, March 11th and resume on Monday, March 19th.