By Camille Liptak and Brian Pharies
Quad is an unprecedented partnership directing bright minds in the city of Colorado Springs to transform the way students approach and pursue innovation.
PPCC student Cordelia Feess-Armstrong participated in the 2017 Summer program.
She first heard about Quad from her Group Communications instructor, and was intrigued by the philosophy of the program. “It’s not staying behind a desk, it’s not sitting in a classroom. It’s getting out there, and talking with everyone, and getting a deeper appreciation for the culture and community of Colorado Springs.”
First day at Quad, Feess-Armstrong and her team were challenged to do kind acts around town, with only 30 minutes to brainstorm. Their focus on was food insecurity. Her team’s ideas changed every week, up until the final presentation.
Instead of addressing those presently affected by food insecurity, the team decided on youth-centered informative comic books to make the awareness of food insecurity interesting and interactive for kids.
Quad allows students to make an impact through this type of active involvement.
The Quad Innovation Partnership is an intercollegiate collaboration between PPCC, UCCS, CC, and USAFA. It is the first time four colleges have come together to provide students with an opportunity to live and create progress in Colorado Springs.
PPCC President, Dr. Lance Bolton said the idea for the entrepreneurial initiative was inspired by a desire to keep young professionals invested in Colorado Springs. “I ventured to Iowa City, while there I visited Kirkland Community College and also the University of Iowa to find out about their Economic Development Corporation. Iowa University was purchasing area workplace stations for Student Alumni to create,” Bolton said.
After returning, the idea of the Ice House Program was created. According to PPCC’s website, PPCC was the first community college in the nation to adopt the program which is designed to incorporate innovative thinking in classrooms and communities.
Quad leaders wanted to find ways for students to apply innovation outside of the collegiate learning space. They also wanted to build careers for soon-to-be graduating students, supporting those interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, and providing them with a perceived set of opportunities and relationships.
The Governor’s Office sent a team to study the Quad program, and this led to a $25,000 grant for students to study and solve a business problem.
Sheridan Kalleta, Entrepreneurship Initiative Coordinator at PPCC, has been instrumental in Quad since its pilot inception in 2015. Kalleta has worked closely with leadership in the development of the program, and said the partnership is preparing more projects involving businesses of the community.
Local entrepreneur, Jacob Eichengreen was brought in August of 2016 after the Summer pilot as the Quad’s first Executive Director, and was tasked with identifying the partnership’s role within the Colorado Springs community.
Eichengreen said the main goal of Quad is to create opportunities for students to get engaged with compelling situations within the community, and to teach them the business skills and language that will allow them to be successful.
“The Quad exists to keep people in Colorado Springs. We’re trying to support people who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, and pursuing the opportunities that are here,” Eichengreen said.
Quad programs make it possible for students to put their knowledge into practice, centering on the practical application of creative ideas.
Jordan August, a student at PPCC, took part in the 2017 Summer program. August is an artist, and admits that he didn’t immediately see the creative or social aspects of Quad, thinking it was for business people only.
His team chose to focus on the homeless problem in Colorado Springs. After connecting with a homeless artist who explained his situation, August saw the human element of Quad.
“Since the program ended I’m doing all I can to help this gentleman live his dream as an artist,” August said. “The Quad enabled me to leave my zone and to understand what’s really out there, I have nothing but praise for the program.”
Innovation teams –made up of 3 to 10 students and alumni, supervised by knowledgeable faculty and staff– are tasked with finding the best solutions for projects in Colorado Springs community.
Issues like food insecurity, homelessness, transportation, and peak energy demand, and marketing and small business concerns are just some of the ventures an innovation team might tackle.
Teams are interdisciplinary, and contain perspectives that aren’t directly related to the tactical challenge. Students from all backgrounds and interests are encouraged to participate in Quad programs, and should not be intimidated by the business aspect of it.
Quad fosters a sense of community within its own walls. Feess-Armstrong recalls feeling intimidated being surrounded by math and science majors, but her fears quickly dissolved once she started working with her team. Even though teams tackled different issues, there was no sense of pressure; rather, Quad was an open exchange of resources and collaboration.
“[We were] focused on not competing against each other, but competing with each to get to a solution that would help everyone in the end,” Feess-Armstrong said.
Rather than centering on technologies, products, or companies, Quad is incubating leaders who can make a philanthropic difference in the Colorado Springs community. Courses and programs go beyond the classroom, helping students build relationships and grow as individuals and future leaders.
“It’s really unique when you look at the four universities. You have a military institution, a highly selective Liberal Arts School, a regional university, and a community college all working together to encourage students to get actively involved in problem solving skills,” Dr. Bolton said.
Programs are focused primarily on exposing students to entrepreneurial and innovative thinking outside of the classroom. The classes at Quad teach students skills related to creative problem solving, including design thinking, strategic communications and public speaking, value analysis, and fundraising.
According to Bolton, the City is interested in Quad to help solve the homeless problem throughout the city. Colorado Springs Utilities wants to work with the Quad on Inventory Management, and the County on Transportation issues.
In the process of putting ideas into action, Quad is the how. It is the place where innovation can take root, and students can grow as entrepreneurial thinkers.
“I got a better understanding of the business world,” said Feess-Armstrong. During the program, she and her Quad team met with a representative from District 11, who liked their food insecurity idea, but wanted to expand it to include other social issues. Equipped with the contact and language she gained at Quad, Feess-Armstrong is now starting her own social issue comic books business.
Other students had job offers and internships immediately after finishing Quad, because of the contacts they made through the program.
To Fess-Armstrong, the Summer program was an enormous educational experience that went beyond the business skills taught at Quad. “It is such a unique program. I met people who I probably would have never interacted with,” Fess-Armstrong said.
The relationships students build at Quad are long-lasting. According to Fess-Armstrong, Eichengreen and Quad instructors continue to support and stay connected with students, sending them job and internships opportunities.
“[We] create and protect space for students and alum to do what it is that they already want to do – and already know how to do,” Eichengreen said.
When students are made aware of the possibilities that are a result of Quad, it drives them to pursue innovation further. “Why go anywhere else when I’m getting the same opportunities in the place I grew up?” Feess-Armstrong said.
Quad’s innovation space, located in downtown Colorado Springs at 408 South Nevada Avenue, underneath Loyal Coffee, is now an area for opportunities.
With an exploratory grant from the El Pomar Foundation, the Quad innovation program has leased the building for the next five years. Program courses are free, and last from 2-3 semesters, including Summer semester, and participants are paid through a stipend. PPCC has previously given credit as an option.
Dr. Bolton’s long-range hopes for Quad involve the partnership sustaining itself through business solutions, and also dealing with nonprofits, for-profits, and government. He wants students from the four institutions to be paid by businesses to solve problems.
Eichengreen said students from different backgrounds and interests should apply, and not feel intimidated. Feess-Armstrong felt similarly. When asked what she had to say to those interested in Quad, Feess-Armstrong said, “Do it!”
Students hoping to be a part of the program can apply anytime by going to Quadcos.org, and sign up for the mailing list. Recipients will receive information about Quad events and important application dates.
The next onboarding is expected to take place in November 2017.
For more information on Quad Innovative Partnership visit: Quadcos.org