For four consecutive years, the Michigan House pop-up space hosted programming at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive conference and festival in Austin, Texas.  This year’s event took place on March 10 and the Mosaic Film Experience president and founder Skot Welch participated in a panel titled, “Think Different, Teach Different.”

Joining Welch was director of TeenArts+TechProgram at WMCAT, Trudy Ngo-Brown, and CEO and co-founder of Grand Circus, Damien Rocchi with cofounder of optiMize and director of Social Innovation at the University of Michigan, Jeff Sorensen, as moderator. Throughout the hour-long discussion, panelists touched on the challenges of preparing today’s students for future careers. They also discussed the ways organizations, like the Mosaic Film Experience, are addressing the skills students are missing out on in the classroom and the tension of career focused education verses liberal arts education.

“We believe in the amazing capacity of our young people,” said Welch. “[But] we have analog teaching methodology teaching digital kids.” The other panelists agreed, sharing that today’s educational system is structured around a mechanical model instead of one that encourages students to use problem solving skills and to be flexible in a society where freelance work and multiple careers are common.

“Students learn differently, and we should listen to them because they know what they need,” Welch shared. “That’s what drives Mosaic: find out how students learn and let them run with it, look at it, finance it, and see how it can lead to a brighter future for them in their careers.”

Panelist Trudy Ngo-Brown discussed the tension students feel between wanting to feed their souls and feed their families when it comes to a career. This is the reality for many of the students she meets through TeenArts+TechProgram at WMCAT. She recognized the strain students experienced in making this decision but emphasized the importance of learning how to freestyle in their career well.

This is a problem Welch also sees with the current educational construct. He shared that students are perfectly equipped for the wrong solution and it’s not their fault. While standardized testing may help students earn a degree, it doesn’t guarantee them a job and, instead, puts them in a box. “We need to give students a skillset that sets them up to be life-long learners,” Welch said, “because that will never grow old and will serve students for years to come.”

Grand Circus is dedicated to that concept as well. Rocchi shared how they are encouraging people to utilize the skills they learn in Grand Circus classes and take them beyond the classroom. By encouraging life-long learning they are hoping people will continue to take ownership of their education and futures.

There was a common theme throughout the discussion about breaking students out of the mindset that there is one way to succeed. According to Sorenson, following these external standards will not help even the most successful students thrive in their careers. While each organization represented on the panel is doing amazing work, all panelists would agree that there is still more work to be done.

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