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Will DeVito ’20 tells a great story

Picture of Will DeVito

At any given day in the LaunchPad over the past four years it has been open, you might have walked in and seen a dozen or more different activities. People are sitting at tables furiously tapping away at their computers, partners are writing down wild schemes on blackboards, mentors are hosting coaching sessions or information seminars, and groups are bouncing their ambitious ideas of one another.

Another thing you might have seen is a student filming all of this hard work, imagination and ingenuity blossoming in the glass cube at Bird Library.  A creative entrepreneur with a camera and recording equipment might have been interviewing students on their thoughts, filming startup videos for student ventures, or figuring out how to best capture the spirit of collaboration, warmth and laugher that defines the LaunchPad community.

As the LaunchPad’s Global Media Fellow and digital storyteller, Will DeVito ’20 (Newhouse) is moving on to creating the next chapter in his own story.  Now it is our turn to tell a story about Will that captures his experiences and reflections on what it means to be an integral part of the LaunchPad family.

DeVito was introduced to the LaunchPad through a EEE70 class he took with Linda Hartsock at Whitman several years ago and went on to pitch the clever idea he developed in class for “Bonfire in a Bin” in campus competitions.  His own personal charisma and art of story telling was captivating. He became the LaunchPad’s digital storyteller and videographer over a year ago, and in that time, it has become so much more than a job or workplace.  “It wasn’t just work.  It was a place where I hung out and I also just happened to work there. It’s more than just a few hours a week for a job.  It is an identity for me.  It’s a place where I can branch out and share ideas.”

Through the LaunchPad DeVito feels like he has found a community ‑ a niche where he is free to explore ideas, share his thoughts with others, and become inspired from the constant creativity generated. It’s also helped him with his own professional and personal development, creating his own side hustle, WD40 Productions. Through his work as videographer for the LaunchPad, he’s made connections that have enabled him to film videos for other companies. This past spring semester was the first time he had so many work opportunities that he had to say no to some of them, which is a welcome sign of success and many open doors.

Though DeVito doesn’t think of himself as an entrepreneur who will eventually start his own company, the innovation skills he’s learned through the LaunchPad have been invaluable to him in his own pursuits. During his time at Syracuse, he’s produced several student-run comedy shows and the social and initiative skills essential to entrepreneurship have been essential to him as well. DeVito is an example that entrepreneurship isn’t just for those who study business or dream of starting their own company, but as a way to learn innovation and ingenuity as skills sets to build a better career pathway.

DeVito hopes to take the creative skills he’s gained during his time at the LaunchPad and utilize them for his career now that he’s graduated. His current goal is to work in the entertainment industry in New York City, with dreams of helping produce comedy shows. “Humor has always been my favorite thing. I always loved trying to be the class clown.”

While live entertainment is an industry that is unfortunately on pause during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to pivot and self-start work is an example of DeVito’s own inventiveness and enterprise.  So, he is being ingenious about how to continue to produce digital content.

Through the uncertainty and missed graduation experiences due to COVID-19, DeVito is grateful for the LaunchPad as a connected community.  He attributes it to being one of the first campus resources to adapt quickly to remote work and remain a source of support and inspiration for other students as well as himself.  “Being a senior, all of this has taken time to digest, but the LaunchPad has helped lighten that fall. It’s been a nice little parachute.”

Looking forward, DeVito is disappointed at the way graduating students have had to say goodbye to their campus communities, but he knows that the LaunchPad will always be a welcoming home for him even when his time at Syracuse is long past. “Even though I’m leaving feeling I have unfinished business, I know there is always a place to come back to when I’m at Syracuse.”

DeVito’s video tribute to the warm home that the LaunchPad has become for so many students is a testament to the welcoming, supporting, and loving close-knit network of the Blackstone LaunchPad.

You can find his other videos on the Blackstone LaunchPad video channel.

Though the LaunchPad is sad to say goodbye to our seniors, we know they are moving forward and writing incredible new chapters, and the “nest in Bird” is always a home for them to return, with roots and wings, to stay connected and share their triumphs.

And we hope Will comes home often.

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Claire Howard Photo of Will behind the camera by LaunchPad staff behind the camera. Here’s looking at you, Will!

Victoria Lawson ’20 on positivity, purpose, patience and passion

Woman in graduation regalia

Victoria Lawson, ’20, is a proud new member of the Blackstone LaunchPad’s 2020 Founders Circle. Lawson graduated from the College of Visual and Performing Arts majoring in Industrial and Interactive Design and minored in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprise at the Whitman School of Management.

Quite honestly, there are not enough words in the English language to describe the wonderful friend, employee and supporter that Victoria Lawson effortlessly embodies. Her dedication to spreading positivity in all aspects of her life shaped her purpose to create inclusive and accessible designs that reflect her passion for service design work and helping others.

This mantra was not just used for a specific project or to even get through her arduous undergraduate degree; but is the way Victoria Lawson carries herself through life.

Lawson’s story of how she became involved with the LaunchPad speaks to her incredible empathetic capability to understand people, without judgment, and to help them without the expectation of receiving anything in return. A perfect example of this how Victoria met her boss at the LaunchPad.

During the first week of classes of her sophomore year of college, Lawson took a class taught by Linda Hartsock, the executive director of the Blackstone LaunchPad for her Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprise minor. On the first day of class, while going over the syllabus for the semester, Lawson witnessed her professor receive an emergency phone call that no mother ever wants to receive, about one of her children who was in imminent and grave danger.  Without hesitation, Lawson jumped into action and dismissed class. Although she had never met her professor before, she trusted her purpose in that indescribable situation and intervened.

“You got this,” Lawson affirmed to her professor, as she come to front of the room and stood by her side.

“Those three words saved me in that moment of crisis,” Hartsock vulnerably shared.

More than fortunately, at the time Lawson was a residence advisor at Lawrenson and went through comprehensive crisis management training. After dismissing the class, without missing a beat, she was able to pass on the skills she learned in training to a terrified mother in a dire situation. Lawson explains that her mantra positivity, purpose, patience and passion helped guide her and Hartsock through what could have been an even more excruciating outcome.

Hartsock personally experienced Lawson’s altruism and knew she wanted to keep an individual with that kind of compassion, purpose, positivity, and passion in her life forever. And, over the course of the semester, as Lawson emerged as a top entrepreneurial student with an amazing work ethic, creativity and innovative design skills, she also knew she wanted her to be part of the LaunchPad team.  Lawson’s “give-first” ethos was the perfect fit for the LaunchPad culture.

“She has the biggest heart and wisest soul of anyone I have ever met,” says Hartsock about Lawson.

Lawson put her amazing creativity and design skills to work as LaunchPad Global Media Fellow around the same time she founded Weird and Woke Design. While simultaneously working as a self-taught graphic designer for the LaunchPad; Lawson developed her passion and purpose for service design. Weird and Woke Design became her graphic and industrial design business. Originally, the brand was a clothing line where she sold space themed sneakers and t-shirts. She also put her skills to work for other student startups as a design consultant, helping them create brand identity elements from logos to marketing materials, product renderings and packaging, pitch decks, display signage and more.

Lawson remembers that at first, she did not have a lot of experience doing graphic design work. Remarkably, this did not stop her. Not only did Lawson accept the job at the LaunchPad, sticking to her mantra, Victoria made sure she stayed positive and patient while developing her graphic design portfolio while on the job. Her ability to comfortably put herself in a job opportunity where she did not have a lot of prior experience — other than growing up seeing her mom’s graphic design work — is a testament to her mantra.

It speaks to Lawson’s character that when she designs, she holds herself accountable to make renderings for products that are truly accessible for everybody. She has the patience to ensure that her designs are a true representation of her beliefs and mantra which makes her an extraordinary designer. When Lawson designs, each project showcases a different aspect of her mantra and that is what makes her work so uniquely special. It was a mindset that we saw every time she came to work and her company Weird and Woke Design truthfully reflects that.

Her positive attitude even transcended the LaunchPad on the first floor of Bird Library. Anyone who meets Victoria will immediately notice her grace and her dedication to her mantras in the way she treats everyone and the way she carries herself.

Simply put, since Lawson told Hartsock, “I am going to stand here with you” through a crisis, she become the heart and soul of the LaunchPad, working shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone she meets to exude calm and grace, and dispense wisdom.  She radiates sunshine, positivity and promise, each day, even in crisis. 

Victoria Lawson is an expert in service design and is looking for full-time employment as she moves back to her home base in the Los Angeles area.  The LaunchPad wants to help her connect, and encourages firms looking for incredible graphic or industrial design talent, to reach out to Victoria:

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Emma Rothman Photo supplied by Victoria Lawson

Build4Scale Workshop

decorative graphic

Build4Scale NY will host a webinar workshop June 8 from 1 pm. to 2 p.m. on the FuzeHub Build4Scale NY program and how it can assist and grow start-ups and small companies. Our live workshops provide key insight into difficult production issues and offer useful tools to help companies avoid common design and production pitfalls, as well as how to save costs.

Build4Scale™ is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Energy and the NY program is administered by FuzeHub, a not-for-profit organization that connects the state’s small and mid-sized manufacturing companies to the resources, programs and expertise they need for technology commercialization, innovation and business growth.  It helps companies navigate New York’s robust network of industry experts at Manufacturing Extension Partners (MEP) centers, universities, economic development organizations and other providers. FuzeHub is the statewide New York MEP center, supported by Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology & Innovation (NYSTAR).

The June 8 workshop will help participants learn:

  • An overview of Fuzehub’s Build4Scale program and its membership benefits.
  • Key exercises about how to lower costs using BOM and BOP.
  • How to optimize product design using Design for X and Lean Design principles.
  • How to use these strategies together to create a successful business plan.

Learn more and register here.

Recap #1: Audience-First Products, Quibi, Roam and It’s About Damn Time!

This was originally published by Chris Guimarin on May 25th, 2020. Subscribe to his weekly collection of thoughts here!

📅 A weekly collection of thoughts and links from the past week.

Hello! I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. Every Monday, look for this Recap, a collection of my thoughts and links from the past week. The common thread will be how technology and design are changing the systems of our lives.

 “The Toolbelt” and “The Bookshelf” are two sections for each Recap. With “The Toolbelt,” this is where I’ll share a tool and how it enhances my process. With “The Bookshelf,” it is a window into what I’m currently reading and any interesting tidbits.  

Outside of this weekly email, I will be writing posts focused on a single topic.
Psst, it will be about Remote Work. 

Audience-First Products

There is a shift where creators focus on building an audience and then monetizing it. The previous modal was around creating an item and then convincing others to buy it. Audience building happens with blogs, newsletters, forums, discord servers, and many more. 

Throughout time we have created communities, and they have always been powerful, what we are seeing is that those communities are becoming a more substantial part of the individual’s identity. The amount of content is growing exponentially, and instead of trusting or engaging with faceless institutions, people prefer listening to people. For example, we’ll see individuals be more focused around a particular writer at the New York Times vs. just the New York Times. Similarily how content has become such a specific look at all of the content on Netflix and the particular genres in music, we will see people continue to pick the story that fits into how they view their identity. 

Arlan Hamilton, in her book, It’s About Damn Time, talked about how, when she had to switch her popular blog from MySpace to Facebook, she went from 50,000 subscribers to 5,000 subscribers. Losing the majority of the audience solely from not having data she could control. 

This idea isn’t new; it waxes and wanes with each communication channel. I’ve been watching Mrs. America this week, one of the powerful tools Phyllis Schlafly employs is the reach of her newsletter. Also, I’d highly recommend it. I’ve enjoyed learning about the ERA and some of the origins of today’s politics. 

David Perrel outlines his three-step process, build an audience, build a product, scale the solution. 


Speaking of content! I had a tweet gain some traction where I weighed into the Quibi content debate. For context, Quibi or quick bites launched this past month. There has been a huge traditional media push behind it, but it hasn’t taken off. 

Coincidentally later in the week, I listened to Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, where she interviewed Jeffrey Katzenberg, and he acknowledges this disadvantage and uses it to justify the amount of money they’ve spent and where they are in the market. I do not doubt that there is great content on Quibi; however, as part of their launch, the only reason to watch has been that it was free. According to him, they only decide to offer Quibi for free due to the Coronavirus. The value proposition doesn’t make sense, and I suspect it might be a two year flash in the pan as, after two years, all of the content is no longer tied to the platform and will be consumed elsewhere. Quibi is the exact opposite of an audience-first product, there is no audience for it, and they create no mechanism to kickstart the audience becoming invested.

Listen for yourself here and listen to the full episode here

🧰 The Toolbox

A look at a tool that has improved my workflow. 


It is the new home for my daily notes, my todo lists, a CRM, and a second brain. It is set up by daily posts, and I am using the Zettelkasten method to organize through Roam’s bi-directional linking. The Zettelkasten practice makes two things super easy: finding an entry point to a vast database of notes and making surprising connections between notes. You always have somewhere to start, and you never know where you will end up.  That is one of the beauties of it, is that I can reference an idea on one day and then click into it and see where else in Roam the topic exists. It is like falling down your personal Wikipedia hole.

One of my new favorite activities has been gardening my graph and notes. Roam visualizes how all of your notes are interconnect. It is like going through my thoughts, dusting off concepts, and organizing it all for faster retention. For the Harry Potter nerds, Roam helps build my Occulmency shields by organizing and categorizing all the ideas in my mind. 

📚 The Bookshelf

Notes and ideas from books I have read or are currently reading. 

As mentioned above, I’m currently reading Arlan Hamilton’s It’s About Damn Time.  I highly recommend it, her story is fascinating, and reading her journey shows how all the good times and bad times have built into her success. Essentially, all of the experiences became a filter for how she looked at investments, people, and products. The book shows how her system came to be and how all the ideas have woven together.

Without using the term Audience-First Products, she talks about the idea and how that has driven her work. I am only a quarter of the way through, and I have been finished each chapter feeling energized and inspired. 

Plus, there is plenty of humor like this line

“Believe it or not, that would be only the first of two times I was involved in lesbian drama at an IHOP in my twenties.”

I hope the second time comes up in future chapters of the book. 

📅 Thank you for joining me on the first Recap. I am excited to share more next week!

Hamza Hamid ‘21 is pursuing his dream

young man in a suit

In the 1931 best seller, ‘Epic of America,’ James Truslow described America as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” While Truslow’s book highlights the diverse history of America that has contributed to its status of ‘Land of opportunity’ until 1931, the theme of the book is relevant nearly 90 years later. A person who best exemplifies this is Hamza Hamid.

Hamid is a rising senior who is studying Finance at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management while pursuing a minor in Economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also a junior analyst at the Orange Value Fund of Syracuse University as well as the President of the Pakistani Student Association.

Hamid moved to the United States in 2014.  “Before coming here, the only thing I knew about America was from the movies. It was a lot of Christmas time and snow,” he recalls. Indeed, when he arrived from Pakistan in February of 2014, the cold and frigid temperatures of New York were an unsettling change of pace from the weather back home. However, the weather was not the only thing that Hamid found to be a startling realization. “It was a completely different culture, different members of my family and I knew no one here.”

Adding to that, Hamid was also a stranger to the English language. “It was very difficult for me. Unlike now, I had trouble keeping up with everyone because everybody spoke quickly, and I had to resort to observing their hand movements to figure out what they were saying. At times, I had trouble asking them where the bathroom was.” Despite the language barrier, Hamid was committed to taking advantage of the American education system, which was the primary reason for his move. “I didn’t care if I pronounced a word wrong, I took risks and I kept raising my hand.” He put himself out there and with the support of his peers, he was able to get the most out of his education.

As a finance major at Syracuse University, Hamid is able to gain a deeper understanding of finance. “I first learned about stocks in the eleventh grade and I didn’t even know that stuff like asset management or sales and trading existed, or that they were so vital”. Hamid was fascinated by this revelation and has since been curious about financial services, from different types of bank loans to trades and real-world effects on the capital markets. He is also a financial coach in the Whitman school, which allows him to work with individuals who seek financial guidance. “I had no guidance when I first came here. Nobody in my family was a finance major,” he shares. As a financial coach, he hopes to provide that guidance to others who are in a similar position as he was. As a financial coach, he has worked with students interested in investing money to people with negative amounts in their checking accounts. As a junior analyst at OVF, he furthers his understanding of the financial industry, which he shares by ways of being a financial coach.

Hamid is also the president of the Pakistani Student Association. He started the organization during the fall of 2019. “ I remember when I first got here, I was able to meet people like me, Pakistani students who came from a similar background, but I know of so many others and international students, who either transferred or went back to Pakistan because they could not assimilate into the culture and felt out of place.” With the Pakistani student association, he aims to ease the transition of international students, particularly Pakistani students so the culture shock that many of them experience is controlled. Furthermore, Hamid hopes for this organization to be a place where members form a strong support system for a multitude of challenges like preparing for interviews or educating members of the SU community to Pakistani culture.

Hamid is an individual who has continuously found inventive and intellectual ways of sharing his knowledge and experience with those around him. As a driven and ambitious student, he has also carved a path for himself, especially when no one was around to guide him to do so. “It is so rewarding when I sit down with someone and coach them for interviews or application processes and they come back and tell me that they got the job!”

For Hamid, the promise of a better education introduced him to the American dream to which he has been committed ever since he arrived in Syracuse. But for him, the promise of a better life is not enough. As a member of a community, he understands the importance of it and knows how challenging it can be to look in from the outside. “I know how it feels to be alone and without guidance.” He hopes to be able to provide advice and guidance to anyone who needs it, because for him, a better life is one where everybody succeeds.

Story by Blackstone Global Media Fellow Krishna Pamidi  Photo supplied

Quarantine is the Time to Invest in Yourself: Here’s How

Photo Of Woman Wearing Denim Jeans

Thanks to quarantine, millions of people worldwide are being affected in several ways. Many Americans have made the transition of working from home and taking online courses. We are living through a global crisis in which, for the first time, everyone must stay home and focus on their health and safety. While this is an unprecedented time, this can also be a major opportunity for people looking to invest in themselves and their respective businesses.

Unless you’re an essential worker, you must stay home. And at home, you’re, more than likely, spending time learning TikTok dances, scrolling through Twitter, or watching Instagram live videos. However, it is crucial to realize that we have two things going for us right now that can help us tremendously: time and opportunity

This week, The Success Bug put together a list of how you can use your time at home to improve your technical and business skills, so you can use your time more productively.

Improve Your Technical Skills Through Online Services

a dart in a bullseye

In business, the more skills someone has, the more opportunities available to them. Resources are abundant out there that people can use right now for free. Many businesses have even decided to offer their products and services for minimal costs. According to Adobe’s website, they are offering free home access to their creative cloud services to students for up to 3 months. Also, Adobe is offering other free and paid services that include: 

  • Adobe XD, which allows users to share links and edit documents,
  •  VIP Renewal which allows current creative cloud VIP users to use Adobe’s products for an extended period of time 
  • Magento and Marketo training which teaches users the ins and outs of creating an enjoyable shopping experience for customers online and various other services which can be found here

These are excellent resources for business owners, marketers, designers, and students to utilize the various products and services that Adobe has to offer at minimal costs. Another resource is HubSpot, a CRM platform that provides in-depth courses for its users. These topics include inbound marketing, lead nurturing, conversion optimization of ads, social media marketing, and more. Many of HubSpot’s courses offer free certificationsthat can be put on your Linkedin profile and resume!

Here are some other websites that are perfect for skill building (and to boost your current resume!) 

  • Udemy offers classes on practically everything business-related. This includes marketing, global business, drop shipping, leadership, team building, management, entrepreneurship, public speaking, and more! 
  • Coursera allows users to take classes with some of the top educators in the world. Coursera has an abundance of courses on finance, computer science, personal development, and more. 
  • LinkedIn is the largest business networking site in the world and even offers certifications in various courses including Google Ad Words, leadership, Microsoft excel, coding languages like Java, Python, and more! 

Develop a Quarantine Fitness Routine

Man Push-up on White Floor

Have you ever caught yourself or someone else saying, “I would work out more if I had time?”

There’s no better time to develop a fitness regimen and improve your physical health than now. With quarantine in place, many of us find ourselves with more time than ever before. And if you are like many of us, you’ve probably even been snacking more than usual.

An excellent way to combat overeating and lounging at home is to build a daily schedule that includes fitness-related activities. Some trainers and Youtubers have created workout playlists specifically for people who are staying home to self-quarantine. Using this time to invest in your day to day habits and overall fitness can place you miles ahead once the pandemic is over.

Now Is The Time To Invest

tablet with stock chart on an uptrend

With the rise of COVID-19, the stock market took one of its biggest hits since the 2008 financial crash when the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 fell more than 12% in March. With many companies’ stocks plummeting, this is the perfect opportunity for people to invest in a stock portfolio.

Resources like Robinhood are an excellent user-friendly way to start investing in the stock market.

Investing will give you another way to increase your financial wealth. Apps such as Robinhoodand Acorns are excellent, user-friendly resources for young people to start investing in stocks. But make sure to do your due diligence first by researching the news surrounding firms before putting money into any company! Apps such as TradeHero and Best Brokers are great paper trader tools for beginners to learn basic investing.

Key Takeaways

Remember that time is what you make of it. With COVID-19, resources and opportunities are now abundantly available at your fingertips. Using self-quarantine to pick up new skills, expel negative habits, and create new ones will allow us to come out of quarantine more educated, skillfully wealthy and, productive individuals.

How will you use this time in Quarantine to better yourself? Let us know in the comments!

CEO of Rookie Road Michael Gursha ’10 (Whitman and Newhouse) joins us to talk about startup life on June 10

Join Syracuse University alumnus Mike Gursha for a Fireside Chat via Zoom Wednesday, June 10 at 3 p.m. to informally talk about “startup life” — from building a team and company culture, to finding smart partners and smart money.  The event, which is part of a series of “Tea Talks” in partnership with The Republic of Tea, is open to the community.  The Zoom link is here.

Gursha will be sharing his perspective as chairman and CEO of Portland based Rookie Road, Inc., a one of a kind digital destination that provides the rules, lingo, and gameplay for a variety of sports in an easy to understand way. He became CEO in 2016 after serving as a special advisor to the founder.

Before Joining Rookie Road, Inc., Gursha was appointed as the inaugural entrepreneur-in-residence at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, one of the nation’s top schools of communications. At Newhouse, Gursha worked with students, faculty & staff on entrepreneurship & innovation, lectured at Newhouse and other schools on Syracuse University’s campus and helped administration/senior leadership with new strategic ideas around innovation. He also co-taught a course called New Ventures in Media.

Prior to Newhouse, Gursha was the vice president of strategic initiatives at Curemark, LLC, a New York-based biotechnology company focused on the treatment of neurological disorders. Gursha was one of the initial team members at Curemark and, over the years, held various positions with the company, including director of business development.

Earlier in his career, Gursha’s interest in technology led him to Google, where, at age 18, he spent two summers working in the new business development group at the Mountain View, California headquarters. During his time there, he assisted the team responsible for improving the Google Search Index and supported the director of business development on early-stage partnerships for Google Health. He also spent several months at Time Inc. Home Entertainment, working on new product development for major brands such as People, InStyle, Sports Illustrated & Time magazine.

Gursha serves on the board of directors for America On Tech a non-profit focused on technology education. He also serves of the board of directors of the contemporary art council for the Portland Art Museum and is a member of the Whitman School of Management’s advisory council at Syracuse University. In addition, he serves on the board of directors for PowerSpike, a private venture backed company started by Syracuse University alumni and incubated in the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University. 

Gursha is interested in mentoring other SU student startups.

Gursha graduated Magna Cum Laude from Syracuse University in 2010 with a dual degree from both the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. He got his entrepreneurial start as a student when he won Whitman’s Panasci Business Plan Competition for Dream Water, a sleep-aid beverage to improve quality of sleep.

Taking care of your mental health doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here are 6 ways to get started

animated blue and purple landscape
by Sandhya Iyer

This was originally published on Medium by Daniel Fridliand on May 19th, 2020. Click the link to see the original post.

COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. The last couple months of social distancing and quarantining have been a particularly difficult time for almost everyone — so much of what’s going on is out of our control, and while that may be a difficult idea to grapple with, there are a few things we can do to individually quell any anxiety and frustration that arises.

The Awning team has put together a guide with a few easy, free ways to take care of your mental health, during and beyond the current pandemic. We all know that stress and uncertainty aren’t things that are going to disappear after the next couple months. It’s always going to be important to find ways to take a step back and regain a sense of calmness.

Every option on the list may not be for you, but we hope you find time to practice at least one or two everyday:

  1. Get Moving

Any form of physical exercise, but especially aerobic training, such as running, biking, walking or swimming, is extremely useful in mitigating anxiety and stress. It increases blood circulation to the brain, specifically to the limbic system, which regulates mood and motivation. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week to fully feel the benefits on your mental health, but even starting off with 10 to 15 minutes a day — simply a walk around your neighborhood — will make an impact. Here are a few home-friendly workout options for different fitness levels:

Stretches: Yoga Stretch — Yoga with Adrienne (20 min)

Beginner: Full Body HIIT Workout — Group HIIT (20 min)

Intermediate: Tabata Session — POPSUGAR Fitness (30 min)

Advanced: HIIT Cardio Workout — Body Project (30 min)

2. Reach Out

Social interaction, which has always been crucial to coping with stress, has been severely restricted since the onset of COVID-19. But during both the good times and the bad, it’s important to set aside time to speak with friends or loved ones, whether that’s in-person, over the phone or through Zoom. And you don’t have to allocate an hour to chat — even 5–10 minutes while meal prepping, taking a walk or driving to the store makes all the difference. Next time you’re cooking dinner, try calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while!

cartoon man on a video call with a cartoon woman drinking coffee.

3. Play Some Tunes

Many people can’t make it through the day without listening to music, but turns out that jamming out to your favorite songs can also help reduce anxiety and pain. Music triggers sensory pathways in the brain that compete with pain pathways, so when you put your earbuds in and crank the volume up, you’re effectively drawing attention away from the pain. There’s music for every mood, but if you want to feel particularly relaxed or at peace, the Awning team has a few playlists that might help:

4. Document Your Thoughts

Journaling has gained a lot of traction recently. The simple act of writing down your thoughts helps you become more in touch with thoughts and emotions and can ultimately improve your mood and change your mindset. The Center for Journal Therapy has an easy acronym — W.R.I.T.E. — with some specifics on how to maximize the benefits from each journaling session:

W — What topic are you going to write about? Think about how you’re feeling, what you want or what’s going through your mind. Even creating lists of 10 positive things that happened in a day or 10 things you’re thankful for are great ways to start.

R — Reflect on your topic. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Some of the ways you can start your journal entry are “In this moment…” or “I feel…” or “Right now, I want…”

I — Investigate your thoughts. If you reach a point where you don’t know how to continue, close your eyes and try and recenter yourself, or reread what you’ve already written.

T — Time yourself. Write for at least 5–15 minutes and make sure it’s consistent — try to journal everyday or every other day.

E — Exit smart. As you end your entry, reread everything you’ve written and summarize it in 1–2 sentences. Record a plan of action or next steps if it’s applicable.

5. Create a New Bedtime Routine

Sleep is essential to regulating nearly all other bodily functions and keeping anxiety at bay. Unfortunately, the way most of us unwind before bed, by checking our phones or catching up on Netflix, actually makes it harder to fall asleep. The blue light from phones or laptops interferes with your internal circadian rhythm and represses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.

To get a better night of sleep, put away all electronic devices 30 minutes to an hour before you tuck in. Instead, use that time to read a book, do some stretches or journal.

6. Meditate

In addition to lowering stress and anxiety, meditating and intentional breathing allow you to have more control over your thoughts and emotions. It’s been proven that meditation, even just for 10 minutes a day, has the power to reduce blood pressure, help deal with pain and fight memory loss. However, it is something that can be intimidating and hard to navigate for those just learning, so it can be helpful to start off with a guided meditation app like Awning.

The platform offers customized stress management tools and allows the user to experience the benefits of journaling, meditation and music therapy all in one spot.

graphic of a person doing yoga.

Each of these suggestions, when implemented consistently and with care, have the power to change your mental state and the way you view the world. If any of the above ideas stick out to you or if you’ve practiced some regularly and felt the benefits, please let us know in the comments!

Thrive writes the next chapter

Josh Moon, Brian Kam and Ryan Brinkerhoff at the LaunchPad in 2016

When the Blackstone LaunchPad first opened its doors in April 2016, one of their first student ventures was Thrive which grew into a nonprofit focused on providing portable energy solutions and sustainability education in Nepal.  It was co-founded by international relations student Brian Kam (’16 Maxwell) with economics and policy studies student Ryan Brinkerhoff (’16 Maxwell) and biology student Joshua Moon (’16 Arts and Sciences). Four years later, the team is still working with the LaunchPad, now as alumni mentors, and sharing their story with others interested in impact entrepreneurship.

Thrive’s story began in January 2016, half a year after Kam spent a summer doing relief work in Nepal in the wake of a devastating earthquake.  Inspired to do more, he enlisted his friends Brinkerhoff and Moon, and walked into the LaunchPad with help becoming incorporated, getting federal charitable status, creating a business model and raising seed funds to launch their first pilot project in Nepal.

graduation photo
The team graduated in December 2016 and spent the next year working out of the LaunchPad

Since graduation, Thrive has grown into a mission-driven nonprofit that created many sustainability and workforce development projects working with high schools, colleges and community groups in Nepal to create concrete impact.  Thrive’s renown and reputation for success has grown so much that they have been included in an academic journal as a case study this past year. Socio-Tech Innovation: Harnessing Technology for Social Good, is an academic journal studying successful models of entrepreneurship and technological innovation for social good.  Headed by The New School, a university in New York City with a strong emphasis in social research and pioneering paths, this book features successful social ventures, for example Thrive, in order to analyze the steps and factors of creating long-lasting, impactful companies for social good.

Thrive was first approached to publish in this journal when Kam, Brinkerhoff, and Moon were invited to attend the First International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship hosted at King’s College in Kathmandu, Nepal.  They hosted a presentation and sat on a panel surrounding their work in Nepal after the massive 2015 earthquake struck Nepal which caused widespread devastation.  The Thrive team ended up spending years supporting communities in Nepal in the rebuilding and aftermath of the tragedy.  The project was of great interest at the conference.

A professor from India, intrigued and impressed by Thrive’s work, approached the team and invited them to write a case study in the upcoming Socio-Tech Innovation journal. After spending a year and half writing their observations about the needs and developments in Nepal and Thrive’s work in addressing them, the case study underwent a peer review process by professors gathered from universities across the world and was accepted into the book with only a single edit.

One of the major themes of the book is how social ventures successfully scale-up, as sustained growth can be a significant problem for nonprofits or social companies. Brinkerhoff identifies this problem as having little room to fail for non-profits. If for-profits fail to meet their goals, they generally still have some amount of money from sales to work from and can maneuver enough to survive.  When nonprofits undertake charitable projects that are not successful, they can only rely on their donors and collaborative partners to try again. “The primary challenge is to generate funding,” said Brinkerhoff.

He credits Thrive’s ability to scale-up in part due to the business competitions the LaunchPad hosted, as well as their success at the New York State Business Plan Competition, and the team’s commitment to partner with other nonprofits to undertake their projects.

The team attributes the journey of Thrive from a small startup to a company invited to participate in an international conference and publish in an academic journal to their business model of engaging local Nepali communities in their work.  Too often, nonprofits bring to a community or country that needs assistance a concrete plan of the needed solution and how to distribute it in that area. However, nonprofits often fail to recognize that one solution will not work the same across different communities, because different areas have unique problems and needs; and that humans don’t want to simply be handed products to fix their lives but they actually want to be engaged and play a role in transforming their community.

The current model many nonprofits take of independently designing a solution and doling it out where they see problems can often result in tensions and resentment across communities and fail to adequately address or mitigate problems. 

Thrive realized that their products and solutions needed to be tailored individually to each community and seeks to do that by partnering with educators and researchers in each area they work in to ensure their solutions are effectively implemented. “Social entrepreneurship needs to realize that the first instinct isn’t the best way to do it. It is about learning as much as you teach, and always being open to doing things differently,” said Brinkerhoff.

Thrive’s path from an idea to help Nepal to an impactful nonprofit featured in a book studying successful social innovation is one that speaks to the dedication of Kam, Brinkerhoff, and Moon in truly understanding community’s needs and implementing helpful solutions. Their drive and path to truly helping others is one that showcases a successful and modern model for social entrepreneurship.

The team has currently put a pause on their work in Nepal to focus on professional development.  Kam just completed a nursing degree at the University of Rochester, Brinkerhoff just finished his second year of law school at Rutgers and Moon just completed his Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) and is in the process of starting medical school.  The goal is to take their Thrive experience and put to work in the areas of public policy, public health, and global initiatives – putting their academic foundations and entrepreneurial experiences to work.

They continue to be active members of the LaunchPad as members of the Founder’s Circle, and as mentors.

Four years later, still working virtually with the LaunchPad, now paying it forward as mentors

Story by LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Claire Howard

John McCabe ’21 on building a spirited community

Ella Fitzgerald, the beloved jazz singer once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”  While this is quote serves as a great memento to her 1992 Presidential Medal of Freedom, many of us must concede that we are not singing on a day to day basis. However, there is one individual who has found that singing helps him focus on the importance of community and how the Syracuse Oy Capella changed his college experience for the better.  John McCabe is a junior studying accounting at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and is also pursuing a minor in political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

He is also a member of the Syracuse University Oy Capella, a singing group specializing in a cappella music. He is also a campus tour guide with University 100, a brother of the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity and a member of the Beta Alpha Psi accounting and finance honor society.  McCabe is an active and engaged member of the Syracuse community and he believes that the key to be an involved individual is to “continuously learn and connect with others around you.”

As a tour guide for the university, McCabe believes that he has a chance to truly influence prospective students and share his passion for the community. “When I was looking at schools, I would go on tours with these amazing tour guides and that sparked an interest in me.”

McCabe also believes that his personality makes him the ‘ideal’ tour guide. “It’s my personality to be loud and chatty and generally passionate. And that fit with being a tour guide.” More than sharing information about the university, McCabe also credits the role for allowing him to learn more about the university itself. “Like for example, there is a greenhouse on top of the life sciences building, which at first I thought was open to everybody. But it was only after I joined University 100 that I realized that that space is only open for certain research projects.”

McCabe enjoys learning tidbits like this because they make him a deeper part of the Syracuse university community. “Usually, when I get to the dome, I get particularly excited, because I was at the Clemson game with my family, and it is truly surreal when we beat. To be there, at that moment with not just my friends, but also my family was a truly amazing moment.”

He finds being a tour guide incredibly rewarding. “I love it when someone comes up to me and says I was their tour guide and that they are at Syracuse because of me.  That feeling is awesome.” He notes that not everybody has to go to the games to be a part of community, rather just learning more about the university also contributes to a feeling of belonging.

McCabe particularly feels the same as a member of the Syracuse Oy Cappella group. “Being a part of Oy Cappella is something that has totally enriched my college experience and I wouldn’t have done college any other way.” McCabe first discovered the group when he was a prospective student who was interviewed by a Syracuse University. “The person that was interviewing me, went on and on about the musical and a cappella community and that piqued my interest.” McCabe interviewed the spring semester of his freshman year and never looked back.

“All of the intergroup support is strong. There are some hard-working and passionate people who are in the group and even if do not all perform at the same time, we all go to each other’s concerts.” McCabe points out that he spends a large majority of his time with his fellow singers and that speaks to the strong communal sense that exists.

McCabe is also a member of the Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) Accounting and Finance honor society. At BAP, McCabe notes how a community can foster opportunities for its members. He notes that being a part of BAP, allows him and develop professional relationships with public accounting firms like EY, KPMG etc. through various events that it hosts. Here, he shares that a personal relationship with recruiters and other professionals allowed him to form genuine relationships with mentors and peers. These relationships were instrumental in helping him prep for interviews and other networking events, often where it would be the same recruiters who he already knew from the networking events, who would conduct the interviews. Aside from helping him professionally, BAP also engages in the Whit Tax. “Whit Tax is a program where BAP students help with tax returns for people who otherwise don’t know how to do so or can’t.”

It is a rare enough thing, when the expression ‘school spirit’ is anything more than one game, or a week. For John McCabe, school spirit extends far beyond that. It is being able to share the Syracuse pride to others, celebrating a win in full ‘Cuse pride with fellow friends and family and helping out members of the community file their tax returns. For McCabe, the only thing better than singing is being an active part of the Syracuse University community and forming close relationships with fellow ‘Cusians, along with singing.  

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Krishna Pamidi  Photo supplied