Stanford University entrance with Memorial Church

Ideas for Impact: Stanford Alumni for Social Impact at Night of Ideas

New decade, new ideas! What better way to start off 2020 than at an evening full of forward-thinkers, innovators, artists, and community organizers all with one goal: to have a positive social impact on our world.

This is exactly what happened at the annual Night of Ideas sponsored by the French Consulate in Los Angeles. As the social media representative for newly formed alumni group, Stanford Alumni for Social Impact, Innovation, and Investing, I attended Night of Ideas, hosted by the Natural History Museum, to learn about what my peers were doing to make this world a better place for all.dinosaur skeleton exhibit at natural history museum in los angelesThe worldwide theme for this year’s Night of Ideas was “Being Alive.” My first inspiring conversation of the night happened at the XPrize Foundation booth. The XPrize Foundation, with some notable Stanford alumni like Google co-founder Larry Page sitting on the Board of Trustees, and Stanford Women in Business president, Priyanka Jain participating in their Innovation Board, uses global competitions to solve some of the world’s most critical issues, and hopefully bring “us closer to a better, safer, more sustainable world.”

After speaking with Haneen and Anya, both very enthusiastic XPrize representatives, I learned that a recent competition resulted in lowering carbon emissions while using the emissions to make items like sneakers, sweatshirts, and even vodka! As we chatted about all of the different arenas where social impact is necessary, I was thankful to be in a room with like-minded change agents.

XPrize foundation and the Google lunar challenge

Next on the agenda was an inspiring mini lecture by Evens Stievenart, world class cyclist and race car driver, on the importance of mental and physical endurance. The 2019 winner of Race Across America, Stievenart was the perfect candidate to talk about how training his mind and body enabled him endure extreme conditions, ultimately driving him to champion status. Walking the audience through his rigorous daily training schedule, which includes a mindful meditation practice, Stievenart inspired the crowd with his closing words. “Activate your body, activate your mind. I was looking for my limits and I haven’t found them yet. You don’t know your limits yet; you don’t know what you’re capable of. Trust me – you are more powerful than what you think.”Evens

Wow! What great words from this French champion to motivate everyone to make a positive social impact, no matter what area of the world we inhabit. Continuing on through the Natural History Museum, I met community organizers from Friends of the L.A. River, Black Girls Trekkin’, and Latino Outdoors. It was inspiring to see such a diverse representation of Angelenos working together to make the world a better place for all.

Which is exactly the mission of Stanford Alumni for Social Impact, Innovation, and Investing: to unite alumni who are passionate about incorporating the principles of social impact into their professional and personal lives. As a global alumni group, we’re able to connect with alumni and community leaders from Los Angeles to La Paz to London…and everywhere in between!Stanford alumni gathered to participate in community serviceAs our group begins to plan events around innovation in the social impact sphere, as well as how to invest in socially responsible ventures and companies, we would love for you to be involved. If you’ve ever participated in Stanford’s Beyond the Farm community day of service, this is a way to keep that spirit alive throughout the year. Join us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and of course through your Stanford Alumni Association page.

New decade, new group, and more social impact!

 

 

Stanford on the Moon: An Interview with Mike Massimino

Earlier this year, I attended Collision Conference where I had the opportunity to interview Mike Massimino, the first astronaut to send a tweet from outer space. When I found out Mike was going to speak at the conference, I just knew that I had to get some face time with him, since I handle all things social media for Stanford on the Moon.

Mike served as a NASA Astronaut from 1996-2014, flying in space twice and walking in space four times for the final two Hubble Telescope servicing missions. His New York Times bestselling book, Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, was published in the fall of 2016 to rave reviews. Mike received his Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University, and two Master of Science degrees and a Ph.D. from MIT.Massimino-Credit Jeffrey Schifman for Columbia Engineering

You can read more about Mike’s journey in his book, and here’s a bit from our chat at Collision:

So you’re kind of a pioneer in more ways than one! And you talked about earning cool points with your kids after sending that first tweet. Tell us about your social media ventures from space.

Well I enjoyed doing it and I was sharing the experience of space travel, my training, and I thought ‘how do I get the word out?’. I started a blog, but it felt like an assignment with all of the writing! So tweeting gave me a great way with 140 characters. About a month before flight in April 2009, I was tweeting everything – what we did, my workouts, checking out the spaceship. Then I kind of stopped and went through this phase of post-trip “does anyone care what I’m doing now?” but I found out people did want to see my life afterwards.

How has life afterwards for you changed? Seeing the earth from a different perspective, did it change your recycling habits, ideas about climate change?

Definitely! As astronauts, we did a lot of training, but for me the most rewarding thing was just getting a chance to look at the planet, particularly from the spacewalk. You see the curve of the planet. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – there are no words to describe this beauty. I thought, this must be the view from heaven, not from a religious standpoint, but if you could be up in heaven this is what you would see. I cried at that moment.

And then as I looked at the earth more, I thought, no this is what heaven must look like. We live in a paradise. I think that there are opportunities for love and happiness, however you got here, whatever your beliefs are. Our atmosphere keeps us alive – we lose that and we’re dead! It is really important that we have to take care of it. Once it goes, we can’t put it back together. We have to protect the earth, our home.

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I completely agree! In your presentation, you talked about the intense training for the space mission and that primal fear that overcame you when you walked on the plank. Since we’re at a tech conference, I have to ask, do you think that Virtual Reality can simulate emotions like primal fear, happiness, and love?

I think it can. I think our brains can be trained. You know, I mentioned my fear of heights in the presentation so when it came time for that part of the training – you bet I was a bit scared! So we had to go through this water survival training, where we started jumping off of a platform just 6 inches high, then a foot, etc. then eventually it’s a high platform. So you work up to it and get over the fear.

I do believe that Virtual Reality can help you manage the fear. Part of it is fear of the unknown – you panic or get nervous and your mind interprets it like a threat. If your brain can become comfortable with it, then you feel safe. Sometimes there’s a real threat and other times it’s just your mind.Mike astro

Speaking of mind over matter, you closed your presentation by saying, “the difference between unlikely and impossible is when you give up – then it becomes 0%”. What was the turning point for you to help you pursue your dream of becoming an astronaut later in life?

I was a senior in college and went to see the movie The Right Stuff, and it rekindled my interest. Seeing the view outside of John Glenn’s capsule – it changed my life! I started learning more about it and reading everything I could about space travel. At this point, I had my job in Manhattan, but then I realized it was my passion and I could either ignore it and become miserable my whole life, or do something about it and try to be happy. I had to try, even though I had so many reasons not be an astronaut, – fear of heights, no swimming skills, near-sightedness! So I went back to MIT and did all the “right stuff” and here I am!

What an inspiration, Mike! So do you think there’s a chance that Stanford could have a study abroad program on the moon someday?

That would be great! You just have to get there. It’s going to happen – it’s just a matter of when. Sometimes we overestimate our capabilities, like 2001, the movie, where people thought that we were going to be living like that. But we’re still far behind. It takes a couple of generations, but yes, it’s possible!

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