Friday, May 25

Self-Innovation lab


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It creeps up in family calls back home and casual friend hangouts. It tortures seniors night after night as graduation comes closer and closer. It’s the dreaded question no graduate can escape… “What are your plans after college?” The road after college can be frightening, but a new pilot class through Partnership UCLA called The Self Innovation Lab, aims to provide students the tools to successfully make the transition from college to career. Created by Nandeet Mehta, a fourth year History major, and UCLA alumni Om Marwah, the class brings in Forbes 30 under 30 panelists to offer students a new perspective on what their academic education could mean and how they can successfully apply it to their future careers.


BHARIL:  A college degree doesn’t seem to hold the same value as it used to. And for recent grads, the probability of landing a job that uses your degree is low, making the answer to that all too familiar question of what you are you doing after graduating, that much harder.

A new six-week pilot class through Partnership UCLA called the Self Innovation Lab, helps students successfully apply their degrees to different industries. Created by Nandeet Mehta, a fourth year History major, and UCLA Alumni Om Marwah, a Forbes 30 under 30 winner and the Head of Behavioral Science at Walmart Labs, the class attempts to provide a unique set of tools to make the transition from UCLA to career a little bit smoother.

MARWAH: So the Self-Innovation Lab is a course that aims to turn students who have an academic interest into industry experts by giving them the power to understand how to think about their academic discipline creatively with new technologies and how industry problems can be solved by using their academic insights and their academic passions. We really try to help students bridge the gap between academia and industry.

BHARIL: Om was able to use this exact method in his own career success. Majoring in cognitive science and geography at UCLA, Om found a creative way to apply his academic knowledge of these two fields to his current job at Walmart Labs, a position he created himself.

Om says that after teaching an unrelated class at UCLA, he was inspired to create the Self-Innovation Lab after many students reached out to him asking about how they could apply their education to industry. The class is different from other classes at UCLA as it emphasises application and creativity.

MARWAH: It’s about academic ideas, and how people have applied academic ideas in industry. It’s about creatively rethinking your academic discipline so you can create your own job. So somebody doesn’t say, “Hey this is a position do you wanna apply?” it’s like this is my expertise I wanna go do this.

BHARIL: The class also brings in other Forbes “30 under 30″ winners from a variety of industries ranging from fashion to technology, to give students insights into how other recent graduates were able to use unconventional methods to become successful in their career. Om hopes to inspire students that being successful after college is a matter of just applying the right tools.

MARWAH: These people are changing their fields directly after graduation. … Oftentimes we see the Forbes list and go that guy just has it. There’s just magic there. But no, let’s bring in 30 Forbes “30 under 30″ and have them decompose the strategies and tools they used to reach success, something super important for recent graduates.

BHARIL: The class is offered through Partnership UCLA, under the leadership of Lin Young, the director of Alumni Career Initiatives. Her role is to enhance UCLA Alumni programs to help develop UCLA students through their career development even after college.

YOUNG: Students here get world-class academic training. If we can bring in the real world synergy into courses like this and intersect the two and create something better, why not? I saw Om and the Forbes “30 under 30″ as a model that these people have paved their own way and successfully done that. Translating academic learning into career niches and problem set where they can thrive and really be passionate about. So we just wanted to bring that to our students.

BHARIL: Many students found this method has led them to see other possibilities in their career instead of traditional routes, such as Anshul Aggarwal, a first-year studying computer science engineering.

AGGARWAL: I knew I always had a passion for CS, but I have always had a passion for film and philosophy as well, and before this class I thought it was always be me doing CS only and then maybe doing film and philosophy on the side, but one of the biggest things this class has taught me is that it’s OK to have other interests than engineering which isn’t a common idea in the field. I can combine all of my interests and find myself a niche.

BHARIL: Other students, such as Anna Spallino a second-year economics and Japanese major, saw the class as a vital link missing in their education.

SPALLINO:  So UCLA and the UC’s are more research-oriented which is hard because we all want to leverage this to a career. I think there is a hole in our education for those practical hands on experience, and I think this class filled that gap.

BHARIL: The Self-Innovation Lab covers unconventional topics such as networking strategies, branding, and pitching; many tactics Om says he had to learn on his own. Many of the lesson plans taught are based on commonalities between Forbes “30 under 30″ personal stories and Om’s own journey after graduating UCLA.

MARWAH: I was a student. I was sitting in class and I was in lectures, and I was in geography classes and cognitive science classes and I was learning those disciplines and I loved them. … I was zoned out a little bit just like everybody else because there’s like 300 people in my classes. But as soon as I started thinking of my education from an applied context and started participating in my classes then I became very fascinated with my field … and then when I got in front of technologist and I started thinking about where I was going to apply my discipline and understood what was industry and understood where the growth was and understood what the technologies were then I was able to figure really where I could go drive impact.

BHARIL: Anushka Bhatia, a fourth-year economics major, says the personal stories from recent graduates have left an impact on her.

BHATIA: It gave me the green light to take more risks. That’s something that I wasn’t very use to. I was like I’ll graduate, have a job, and do that for a couple of years and maybe go to school again or something but what this class showed me was there have been people like Alex Banyard, who had an idea and just went for it. So I think having the guts to take a risk on what you want to do is what this class gave me.

BHARIL: And for Anna the stories changed her perspective.

SPALLINO: The biggest thing for me was the change in mindset. … You start to envision your dreams and they are so vivid that they kind of pull you towards them. It kind of changes your mindset and the course of your future.

BHARIL: Om also discusses how he gained the mindset to get to where his now.

MARWAH: I have traditional Asian parents who were like you have to go down this road, Mom wanted me to be a doctor; they wanted me to go down the road of traditional routes and I did like a consulting internship and I did these other internships and I just wasn’t as engaged… I knew that my genius lived somewhere else. My dad was talking to me on the phone and I was like, “Dude I am in this position I know if I get a job as a behavioral scientist that would be a home run for me, and it was kind of nerve-racking and he had told me in that conversation but many times before it to “be patient”. And that changed the game for me. When I was given permission by my dad to be patient and explore my interest my north star changed. My North Star was no longer will I get a job and be employed and be able to earn money* my North Star was be patient so you can live your dreams.

BHARIL: And as for the future of the class? Lin has the answer for that.

YOUNG: We would love to continue this program in the future and so we are going to regroup, recap and then move forward with it.

BHARIL: Bridging the gap between college and career after graduation can be challenging but sometimes finding that career jackpot might just take a bit of time, passion and creativity. With more classes like this, hopefully building that bridge will become a little smoother.

For the Daily Bruin, this is Sarika Bharil.

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