- Continuing the Road to Social Innovation: Yonsei Student Workstations July 13, 2020
Yonsei supports 163 teams of 706 students to bring positive impact on society
With the world currently in turmoil during these unprecedented times, it has never been a better time to empower people to address the problems of the domestic and international community with social engagement and innovation. And Yonsei University is stepping up to play its part in contributing as a socially engaged university.
2020 is a crucial year for Yonsei University’s social innovation efforts. It’s the third year since the Institute for Higher Education Innovation (IHEI) at Yonsei University launched its flagship extracurricular program Workstation, where student teams conduct projects to bring a positive impact on society with innovative, sustainable solutions to challenging issues.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, IHEI successfully recruited 163 Workstation teams for 2020 while also introducing new initiatives such as Workstation-Pro teams and Ambassadors to further develop the university’s ecosystem of social innovation. The IHEI office and two Workstation team members share how their innovative efforts for social impact will continue this year.
IHEI: Self-learning and Self-coaching
First established in March 2018 as a key university initiative led by the Yonsei University President, the Institute for Higher Education Innovation (IHEI) aims to nurture creative, motivated talent and develop a driving force for social innovation in higher education. IHEI strives to identify areas to support student innovation activities, and its most popular program among students is the Workstation program. Every year, IHEI recruits student-led projects as Workstation teams and provides administrative and financial support in the form of scholarships.
This year, IHEI recruited 163 teams of a total of 706 students under six main categories: Public Value Learning, Global Social Entrepreneurship, Social Value Management, One Team One Task (OT2), Social Innovation Network, and Social Venture. The teams officially began their projects with the opening of the 2020 IHEI Workstation Partnership Agreement Ceremony held virtually on May 19, 2020, and will continue until February 2021.
With record-high annual support funds reaching 550 million won (about 460,000 USD), this year serves as a significant turning point for the organization. IHEI administrative director Lee Wang-Sub commented, “In our initial launch back in 2018, we first aimed to identify students who had already been conducting social innovation projects to gather them in one group. Last year, we made efforts to promote our organization and the Workstation concept to expand the program by recruiting new student participants. And now, as we enter our third year, we hope to establish a self-learning and self-coaching environment where existing and new students can actively interact with each other.”
To create this ecosystem, IHEI has introduced two new program concepts: Workstation-Pro teams and Ambassadors. After examining accumulated questions from student participants over the past two years, IHEI selected Workstation-Pro teams to serve as precedents to newly joined teams’ innovation efforts by answering questions or offering help. Ambassadors are individuals who have been working closely with IHEI, and they will advise students seeking assistance in various areas, including funding and contracting. Workstation-Pro Teams and Ambassadors will overall serve as part of the “self-learning and coaching” ecosystem that will be fostered in joint efforts with all other Workstation teams.
“We aim to foster young scholars and young innovators.”
Tae-Ho Kim (entering class of '17, UIC* Sustainable Development and Cooperation)a seasoned member of two Workstation teams and is one of the ten students selected as this year’s IHEI Ambassadors. He has been working as an executive member of the Korea Scholar’s Conference for Youth (KSCY) and a general manager of the Young Scholar-ship and Social Innovation Lab (YSSIL). Both organizations have been selected as Workstations since 2018 for three consecutive years. Kim shared his experiences of working in the two organizations affiliated to IHEI and also how he has been coping with COVID-19 to sustain innovation efforts.
Q. Please explain the core values of KSCY and YSSIL.
A. KSCY is an organization that helps high school students engage in academic discussions and research in their fields of interest. We hold conferences twice a year, and it is the biggest youth conference in Asia, with each event accommodating more than 1,717 participants from over 15 countries. YSSIL was created by KSCY in a joint effort with IHEI to explore opportunities for social innovation by teenagers and nurture young social innovators. During one of our forums, we met high school students conducting their own projects, and we have stayed in touch to help them develop their ideas; in fact, they attended IHEI’s 2019 SHOW-OFF FESTA II to present their projects. Both KSCY and YSSIL share the inspiring vision of nurturing young scholars and young innovators, respectively.
Q. How did you join KSCY and YSSIL?
A. While I was in high school, I came across a KSCY poster promoting its conferences. I used to put it up in my room because I was inspired by its vision, which was and still is, “Anyone can conduct research through questions and challenges.” After entering university, I grabbed the chance to join KSCY since I wanted to promote the organization and its vision to as many teenagers as possible. I have noticed that a lot of friends around me were merely following what others were doing in terms of their career paths rather than actively pursuing what they really would want to do. I thought KSCY could help students proactively explore their academic interests. As for YSSIL, I am one of the founding members and currently serving as its general manager. We wanted to spread the message that any individual can bring about changes to society through questions and challenges.
Q. How are conferences run under KSCY and YSSIL?
An academic conference, KSCY invites professors as exports or “mentors” as we call them, to give academic advice and feedback to students. YSSIL brings in social innovators currently working in their respective fields, and they give lectures and answer students’ questions. University students are also part of the conferences as “facilitators.” Instead of providing academic feedback, the facilitators primarily focus on keeping students motivated while completing their research. They also advise teenage students in determining their future majors by sharing what they will be actually learning for specific majors and offering guidance.
Q. Do you also accommodate students from overseas?
Korean is the base language for these conferences, but we also have a global session, which is composed of Global Humanities and Global Science and Engineering. A lot of students from various backgrounds fly in from their motherlands to attend the conferences, with the majority from China, Singapore, and the U.S. With their diverse backgrounds, the overseas students bring in a variety of perspectives to the global sessions. I once had a chance to monitor one, and the atmosphere was quite different from the Korean-run sessions - it felt a lot more active and less rigid in comparison.
Q. How are KSCY and YSSIL responding to COVID-19?
We canceled our winter conference (due to COVID-19), so the refund process took quite a while. Ever since the outbreak, we have been operating with a minimal number of people in our office to avoid gatherings in large groups. Though COVID-19 is a tragedy socially, we do not see it as a mere crisis, but rather a spark for transition. We think COVID-19 will change the paradigm of our society and generations to come, and we are planning new projects to follow these altering trends. One of these projects includes attending Social Value Connect (SOVAC). KSCY was given a chance to run 100-minute long session during SOVAC, which will take place as a webinar, so we are holding numerous Zoom meetings to prepare for this session.
For our annual summer conference, we are thinking of holding it entirely online. It may not necessarily be in the form of ZOOM as we have been looking for examples of online conferences held overseas. Since the conference will be held virtually, it fits in well with the trend of non-face-to-face culture and also enables people to participate regardless of location or environment, in particular for our overseas students. Overall, as we are going online, we are re-constructing existing formats for the conferences.
Q. Could you explain more about the new format of the summer conference?
Before COVID-19, our conference had an academically-focused format. It was organized according to different majors, dividing students into their academic major of interest. However, for the summer conference, we plan to hold it according to Social Development Goals or problem sets. We expect a greater synergy if students from different majors are grouped to tackle issues together. Since the existing system no longer works nowadays, we are thinking of making more significant changes.
Q. When are you expecting the summer conference to be held?
The exact date hasn’t been fixed yet because there are a lot of things to consider. There are many different ways to go online, for instance, making it real-time or not. Another critical issue is whether to publicize students’ research and mentors’ feedback public or to keep them private. We are actively discussing these questions to prepare for the summer conference.
“I was able to meet like-minded students.”
Julie Yoon (entering class of '16, UIC Techno-Art Division) has recently graduated from Yonsei University and is currently a postgraduate at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). During her undergraduate years at Yonsei, she had run three Workstation teams and plans to continue her work next semester as a postgraduate.
Q. You are a founder of the Workstation EASED. Tell us about your project.
EASED was a startup project that manufactured solar bags. People use cell phones a lot in their daily lives for various purposes, but they feel much anxiety and discomfort as their phones get discharged during outdoor activities. I thought the way to tackle this problem naturally and unconsciously was to attach solar panels to bags whereby people could easily charge their phones when outside. There are already quite a few solar bags in the market currently, but they focus majorly on the function itself and lack the design aspect, so I wanted to create solar bags that encompass both the design and the function. Right before graduating, I finished making the products and took photos by recruiting a model. But because I went straight to KAIST for my postgraduate studies, I’ve put the project on hold and will resume my work this fall semester or maybe next year.
Q. What other Workstation teams did you run?
I have done EASED for almost two years in my undergraduate studies, and overall I have done three Workstations. One was the Solar Design Lab, which is in a similar vein to EASED, where I researched ways to utilize solar energy. The last one was a project that focused on reforming university varsity jackets. When I was in my junior or senior year at Yonsei, I had about six school varsity jackets that I was no longer wearing, and I had to throw them away to clear out space in my closet. Actually, many friends were also no longer wearing these varsity jackets toward the end of their freshmen year. But I noticed that these jackets had beautiful embroidery and I thought I could reform them to turn them into eco-bags or pouches, which can also serve as a small memory of my university years. So I collected varsity jackets, did some designs and samplings, but I had to put my work on hold as I had to graduate. I am thinking of starting again along with EASED hopefully next semester.
Q. Are you currently specializing in designs at KAIST?
I am currently focusing more on engineering at KAIST compared to my undergraduate studies at Yonsei as a Techno-Art Division major, where I studied both design and development. However, at KAIST, I am attending startup lectures at K-SCHOOL, which helps students create and develop startups. As part of the program, I have been a member of a startup that aims to create a customer-friendly application for cosmetics. I value design that gives happiness and comfort in our daily lives rather than merely for a unique or beautiful aesthetic. So, that is how EASED, and this idea for a cosmetic application was born.
Q. Would you recommend the Workstation program to Yonsei students?
I would definitely recommend Workstation. Firstly, it’s a great opportunity to get the initial funding to do projects that you have been enthusiastic about. You may be hesitant to use your personal funds or money you earned from part-time jobs to initiate projects, but the financial support you receive from Workstation can enable you to be free from those worries. Because you have the freedom to use the scholarship at your discretion, it is very convenient too. I have received a lot of external funding from the governments or organizations, and there was a lot of paperwork to fill in. Even for a simple payment, I had to fill in five to ten forms to get approval, so it was very time-consuming. But for Workstation scholarships, you are free to do whatever you want to flourish your project.
Another great thing about the Workstation program was that I was able to keep in touch with other like-minded students who were shared my passion for solving social issues outside of their academic studies and comfort zones. I used to have this prejudice that Yonsei students were quite passive, but while doing Workstation projects, I was able to get rid of that image. Once you graduate from university, you are on your own, and you have to initiate your own projects as others won’t be there to guide you. The Workstation experience enables that from an early stage. I was able to meet other students who were going through the same journey and was able to get really positive energy by interacting with them.
“Wind is not to be calculated; it is to be overcome.”
IHEI and its Workstation teams continue efforts for social innovation this year despite the challenges of COVID-19. The upcoming bi-annual 2020 SHOW-OFF FESTA I is expected to be held online this August to showcase the progress of the Workstation teams. IHEI administrative director Lee explained that the event itself will be concise and impactful to dedicate more time for students to discuss the process of their projects in groups. In addition, IHEI began recruitment for its new "Season" Workstation this summer - an intensive support program that aims to assist students in developing potential Workstation projects and maintaining social innovation efforts.
When asked for final comments for Workstation teams working amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Lee quoted an ending line from the Korean film War of the Arrows.
“During the ending when the protagonist defeats an enemy, he says, ‘Wind is not to be calculated; it is to be overcome.’ I think this line applies to our situation. If COVID-19 is the wind, it is something that we need to overcome in the midst of uncertainty. And to overcome this adversity, I think every one of us needs to do our duties faithfully. Once all our efforts accumulate, it will serve as the key to overcoming the wind.”
<Contributed by student reporter Chaewan Lee>