In this Approach blog post, the Rensselaer news team spoke with Rensselaer Lally School of Management student Sean Edward Wilson ’16 about his work in the classroom and the community.
Q: What drew you to majoring in business management at Rensselaer and how has this influenced your future career interests?
I transferred to Rensselaer from a college in New York City. My major is business management with a concentration in computer information systems. What drew me to management at Rensselaer was the world-renowned faculty and the location. Rensselaer also has a strong research background, which was lacking at my former school. Learning about research influenced my career goals as well. I am interested in working in a public or private sector organization (or business, etc.) regardless of size. My main interests are becoming a professor, researcher, and owner of a nonprofit organization.
Q: You recently completed a Rensselaer course called Art, Community, and Technology. What was something that really surprised or challenged your perceptions in this class?
Art, Community, and Technology is a 4000-level course taught by one of my favorite professors, Branda Miller. The class was not easy, but it was fun. We were required to work on individual projects that involved the city, citizens, or organizations of Troy. Students had amazing projects. One student assisted with the design of a building, another created a voice walk, even a video was made.
I was challenged by the dynamic process of working on a large-scale project. The professor stressed the idea of product and process and how we must maintain focus on both. Product is the end result and process is how you reach your end result. I realized that both are important and highly flexible. Processes constantly change for an initiative or organization, for a variety of reasons. My process changed continuously. For example, I wanted to work with a local organization and its greenhouse. Unfortunately, it was not ready for students to visit. Instead, I worked with Cynthia Smith, assistant dean of students at Rensselaer, to create an education program.
Q: How did GROW start? And how does innovation serve as a catalyst for GROW?
Gratitude, Respect, Objectivity, and We (GROW) actually started through my class, Art, Community, and Technology. My original project was to build a greenhouse at my former high/middle school in Troy. The team I am working with is still seeking to build a greenhouse at the school. GROW began to take shape after my class ended. This semester Dr. Kelly Grindstaff, project manager at the Rensselaer Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education, and I are working on Saturdays to provide a participatory education to local youth who are enrolled in the Rensselaer Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP). This program encourages interest and skill-building in STEM fields and serves disadvantaged youth in grades 7-12 in the local community.
Innovation is a catalyst for GROW because each school has a unique environment that is conducive to food production using a greenhouse. Some schools may have a lot of land, while others do not. We may build a hoop house at one school, while constructing a large rooftop greenhouse at another. It is up to my team to take into account many variables and determine which greenhouse is suitable for a site.
Q: Why do you think students should consider community service efforts that work with area middle and high schools?
Personally, I think a community service component should be required for students because it is highly important in one’s identity formation and learning process. That being said, many students at Rensselaer have younger brothers or sisters. We are role models and leaders to future generations. Many middle and high school students need someone at a top college such as Rensselaer who they can relate to.
Community service is a way to learn about yourself and your interests. GROW taught me that I am not as interested in a corporate job as I once thought. The students push me in ways that others cannot. Youth like to ask a lot of challenging questions. I do not have the answers for a lot of questions. So they help me learn or inquire into a subject or topic that I have little knowledge about. There is also a sense of gratification knowing that you can potentially help the lives of a younger generation.
Q: How has working on a sustainable community project played a role in your leadership experience?
First, it helped me realize that we are all leaders in some respect. I am working with people from various backgrounds (professors, engineers, college staff, residents, and teachers) who are knowledgeable in their own ways. Leadership is a highly reciprocal process. People provide insights regarding what to do and how to do it. In return, I provided insights they have not thought about. Second, it showed me how important it is to work with people from multiple disciplines and socioeconomic backgrounds. I am used to working with people from various demographics due to my upbringing in a public city school. Yet it reinforced the importance of working with others who you may not interact with on a daily basis.
Q: Can entrepreneurship help today’s society?
Yes and no. One question to ask is what exactly the entrepreneur is seeking to produce and sell to final consumers. I do not think it is beneficial to have an influx of entrepreneurs in the 21st century if they are focused on products with minimal intrinsic value (e.g. key chains, some phone applications, and shoe laces). Does society need an entrepreneur who sells colorful socks or fancy bow ties? In my opinion, not really, but others may rightfully disagree. Society does need a group of entrepreneurs who will create the next energy-efficient car, a prosthetic limb, or building that integrates greenhouses.
Second, entrepreneurs possess a skill that I believe is critical in the 21st century: thinking holistically or across disciplines. Entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are unique because they approach problems through multiple angles (management, engineering, legal, human resources, marketing, etc.). They can help society because they may engage in more thoughtful discussion before introducing a product to the market. In the end, the product or service may be high quality if there is intense deliberation.
Q: Collaboration is vital in business as well as education. How do you see collaboration create positive results?
Collaboration is important because it allows someone to think about an issue or topic in which they have little previous experience. Collaboration has personally helped me with GROW, hence where the W in GROW comes from (We). I am currently working with Dr. Grindstaff and Assistant Dean Smith from Rensselaer as well as Scott Kellogg, education director from the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center. The Radix Center promotes ecological literacy and environmental stewardship in the community through educational programs based around demonstrations of sustainable technologies.
I cannot thank them all enough. We have worked together for the past few months and will continue in the future. Many others are collaborating with me to help my dream become a reality.
Q: What does it mean to you to be “resilient”? How has acting with resilience helped you achieve goals and/or guide others?
I will use a simile to describe resilience. Resilience is like learning how to ride a bike for the first time. You may or may not fall many times (failure), but your persistence keeps you going. Life works in mysterious yet miraculous ways. Failures or tough times are natural; no one is perfect. It is up to the individuals to realize their mistakes, learn from them, and apply new knowledge to future challenging situations.
Q: As a Rensselaer student, how is your Rensselaer education preparing you for the future?
The amount of work is taxing and rewarding. I feel it prepares people for “real”-world scenarios and what is expected in a work situation. Rensselaer also helped me think like an “engineer.” I am able to break down a problem into small pieces and analyze each individually until I construct an opinion or hypothesis.
Q. What’s the single best piece of advice that you received from a professor, colleague, or mentor that you can share with other Rensselaer students?
The greatest piece of advice I have received is to “ask questions.” Sometimes we do not ask questions, whether in class or when in a conversation. Maybe someone is afraid or does not know what to ask. Regardless, next time you are in class, ask a question if you do not know an answer. It opens up doors that you did not know existed.