March 16, 2016
How can I be so completely exhausted yet so anxious to get moving all at the same time? Yet, here I am, on a ridiculously early flight back to Detroit from Austin, Texas feeling exactly that. I’m working on less than four hours of sleep after spending the last five days at my first South By Southwest, or SXSW, Interactive conference with thousands of other people. I went to 23 different sessions, walked about a million miles, filled my brain with knowledge and barely slowed down to eat. (I also managed to take a header on a crowded sidewalk in front of a crowd, fall into my seat twice and have a slight wardrobe malfunction. No, I wasn’t drinking. I’m just clumsy that way.) Now I’m just itching to get back in the office and put it all to use. (Well, maybe after a good night’s sleep.)
During one of my last sessions, public radio personality Ira Glass talked about doing creative work. He said, “It’s so hard to make anything, so just do it. Don’t put it off.” There are days I think I’m the queen of putting things off. (After all, I am on a plane writing something I probably should have written last night.) This quote goes far beyond just about making things. We all put things off that we probably shouldn’t. Life isn’t always easy. When we come up against a problem, it feels easier to quit.
At an earlier session, another presenter said, “Problems don’t stop the work, problems are the work.” I hadn’t ever really thought about work that way, but he is absolutely right. Honestly, that’s pretty much the way Spartans look at work. Environmental concerns? Disease? Education challenges? Clean water? Abundant food? Alternative Energy? MSU researchers and students don’t simply look at those very real problems and quit. They see solving those problems as the work they must do to make the world a better place.
SXSW is a pretty overwhelming experience. There is inspiration on every corner and creative ideas in every session. There are designers, storytellers, content creators, inventors, leaders, technicians and entrepreneurs everywhere you look. My brain is overflowing with ideas and my biggest fear is letting some of them fall out before I get a chance to try them out. I’m mumbling to myself, “Don’t put it off.”
You know who isn’t putting anything off? A creative and determined group of 20 Spartan students who traveled to Austin to network and pitch their entrepreneurial ventures at SXSW. Four of the students competed in this year’s Entrepreneurial Eight — part of the Student Startup Madness tournament, which gives student digital startup teams from colleges around the country a chance to pitch their projects to judges who are investors, entrepreneurs and other experts in digital spaces. This was the fourth in a row Spartans have made it to the final eight teams.
Of the original 64 teams chosen from around the nation to compete, 12 were from MSU — twice as many as the next closest school. These young entrepreneurs could have thought, “This is too hard. We’re just college students. We’re too young to form a startup. Let’s just put it off.” But, that’s not what Spartans do. Using their skill and with incredible support from MSU programs designed to help student entrepreneurs, they didn’t put it off. They jumped right in. Unfortunately, the team didn’t win first place, but they presented exceptionally well. They can take enormous pride in the fact that they didn’t give up. If you missed it the first time around, check out the MSU FEATURE: Driving a Culture of Innovation With Entrepreneurial Thinking to learn more about the programs that helped them.
Another group of students are looking at problems as their work. The will attend the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting in California next month based on their ambitious plans to address areas such as education, poverty and the environment. Former President Bill Clinton launched the CGI U to engage a growing network of young leaders who are developing innovative solutions to pressing world challenges. Read more about them in the MSUTODAY story.
Sarah MacLachlan is another Spartan student who refused to put something off. A senior from Pittsburgh majoring in zoology, she wanted to do research as an undergraduate. Instead of waiting until she was older, she began applying for research positions before she had completed her freshman year. As a sophomore, she began participating in research in Kay Holekamp’s lab studying spotted hyenas. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Undergraduate Research, to learn more about this intelligent and determined young woman.
Amy Ralston an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, is another Spartan who understands that problems are her work. She has made a key discovery that could advance research in regenerative medicine and have significant implications for fertility research. Read her FACULTY VOICE: Lessons from the Mouse Embryo, to learn more about her work, and learn some fun facts about the woman behind the lab coat.
So you’re not an entrepreneur with a great idea or a researcher working to solve a world problem. No big deal. You can still live by the mantra of “Don’t Put it Off.” Whatever it is you do, do it now. Make the problems your work and don’t put it off. Who will find the problems, make them their work and jump in to solve them? Spartans Will.