Two students participate in a glassblowing class. A male student in an orange shirt is holding a pole with a piece of glass on the end, while a female student in a yellow shirt uses a tool to hold the glass steady.

WinterSession Appeals to Students’ Entrepreneurial, Innovative Sides

Three-day program will feature fine arts & maker classes, workshops, courses, and breakout sessions

January 5, 2018
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When things get chilly, it’s good to heat up the creative mind and try something new.

The extracurricular education student group Launchpad has an exciting WinterSession planned, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation with an array of workshops, courses, and breakout sessions. And how many opportunities does one get to practice welding or fire ceramics?

WinterSession runs from Sunday, Jan. 7, through Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Students participate in glassblowing, one of
WinterSession's most popular classes.

The activities are a great way to venture into previously unexplored territory, according to Launchpad lead contact Vinny Sabo, a graduate student pursuing his master’s in construction project management. With the support of Debra Boucher, WPI director of special academic programs, Sabo has lined up a WinterSession calendar with workshops in areas of innovation; fine arts & maker classes; and value creation for student projects.

Innovation trail

On the innovation side, says Sabo, the goal is to give student attendees resources and tools to take their ideas further, with a design-thinking crash course—for example, “Core Protocols for High-performance Teams: Core Protocols for Psychological Safety,” which Sabo calls a holistic approach to innovation.  Guest speaker will be Richard Kasperowski, speaker, trainer, coach, and an author focused on high-performance teams. He is the author of The Core Protocols: A Guide to Greatness. There will be a breakout segment on market research.

The innovation events are meant to flow and sync.

“Monday is set up as a cohesive string of workshops,” Sabo says, laying groundwork for new student ideas. “The group starts in the morning, goes through design thinking, product integration, and testing with customers. It ends with creating a prototype and discussing different ways to engage customers early, and getting feedback.”

Students can then take their product proposals to a spring pitch contest at WPI, Sabo adds, or any pitch contest, furthering the reach of their invention.

Getting crafty

On all three days, the fine arts & maker classes are held off campus, at creative education center Technocopia (founded by WPI alumni Nick Bold and Kevin Harrington) and the Worcester Center for Crafts.

These sessions are always popular and fill quickly, note Sabo and Boucher. They offer participants a chance to make something using their hands and their creativity, with activities such as ceramics, laser cutting, metal inert gas (MIG) welding, metalsmithing, pottery, and flame working.

“Glassblowing,” responds Sabo when asked about the most popular event. “It was last year, too. Sixteen seats and I think we had about 50 students interested. There is a lot of demand for the unconventional.”

Monday’s agenda gets back to innovation with WPI Trustee Curt Carlson leading an all-day workshop on “Value Creation for Student Projects.” With a capacity of 50 people, the session runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will show students, among other things, how to create selling points for their products.

“With this opportunity for everyone to be a beginner, it’s energizing for the whole campus.” -Debra Boucher

Boucher says Sabo did much of the WinterSession planning. Though he will have graduated and won’t be part of WinterSession next year, she hopes to build on his solid foundation of work.

“This will still have a huge student-led component, and my role is to provide institutional support,” she says, adding that the team is focusing on the event’s sustainability—with many of the organizers graduating—and constant improvement of WinterSession. She is working with students to create a planning guide for next year, with timelines to keep organizers on track.

Boucher would also like to see more WinterSession community partnerships like the ones WPI has with Technocopia and Worcester Center for Crafts. And more involvement from faculty, both as participants and instructors.

“With innovation and creativity, there may be something else they want to share” outside the realm of the classroom, she says, “or faculty could join in and do glassblowing—we could open it up to a wider scope. With this opportunity for everyone to be a beginner, it’s energizing for the whole campus.”

- By Susan Shalhoub