Psychologist Dan McAdams posed in a 1995 journal paper the question “what do we know when we know a person?” According to his research, there are multiple levels at which differences in personality may be described. One of them is the life story that we “[continue] to author and revise over time to make sense, for [ourselves] and others, of [our] own life in time.” (McAdams, 1995) For myself, that story takes shape somewhere around the time I’m 16 years old. I’m working in open source software communities. And I’m mistaken by one of my closest co-workers (who had not yet met me in person) for a teacher. My path since then has been shaped by a nontraditional educational institution: I’ve spent my time at Olin College of Engineering, a small school outside of Boston with the declared mission of transforming engineering education. At Olin, students engage in a largely problem-oriented, project-based curriculum and enjoy a significant amount of autonomy, allowing them to pursue their passions. These experiences have naturally shaped my relationship to my learning, which is exhibited in my narrative. As I’m about to graduate from Olin and leave this place that has made up so much of my life over the last four years behind, I want to reflect on my story in this portfolio.
People are more likely to improve themselves, their communities and the world if the change is simpler, more desirable, cheaper and easier than the current option, and the activation energy to switch is low. We are creatures of habit. Society has inertia. Changing the world requires changing people’s minds and altering their behaviours. My conscience compels me to try to improve my environment. Over time, I have developed my philosophy for enacting change, and refined my approach. In each of the experiences I will describe below, I identified a behaviour in my peers worth adjusting, created a desirable and simple solution to alter their actions, and gave them the tools to enact change. The scope of these experiences may not be global, but in each, my actions attempted to cause people to improve themselves as individuals, ameliorate their community or have a lesser impact on the environment. Through these, I learned how to lay the foundation for a real behavioural change in my peers, I learned how to lay the foundation for real behavioural change in my peers. This mentality scales up for Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenges cannot be resolved with technology alone, or solely through social pressures, or by simply passing a bill. They cannot be solved by throwing money at them, nor by holding hands and wishing they would go away. Grand Challenges demand all of these things together -- and more: an interconnected ecosystem of scientific innovation, an enlightened social paradigm that welcomes the change, strong political will, ample economic resources and yes, a dash of optimism. With all these elements acting in concert, we can change our behaviours in meaningful ways and be able to achieve great things.