No time like the present: Why you shouldn’t wait to initiate change

March 2, 2016 by Jessica Bernheim

With one semester left at the College, I have been thinking a lot about graduation. I am excited to move back to New York, start my job and begin an entirely new phase of adulthood. Yet, as I think about what’s ahead, I am also reflecting on my last three years here. If there is one thing I could say to students at the beginning or in the midst of college, it’s the following: “Real life” doesn’t start at graduation. Real life is happening now, and this is a time when we can do something impactful and meaningful. This is a time when we can actually create change.

As students at the College, we are in a unique position to drive social innovation. We are part of a major institution, surrounded by academic experts and bright, creative peers. Moreover, with more flexibility and choice in our schedule than we will likely ever have, this is the time to embrace action and achieve meaningful impact.

When I arrived as a first-year, I wanted to get involved in the community. I ran for College Council, joined different clubs and spent most of my time attending meetings, working in the library and hanging out with friends. Yet, I still felt that something was missing. Though I was engaged in campus life, I felt disconnected from issues beyond the purple bubble.

While I was constantly having exciting, theoretical conversations, I was not going one step further to action. At some point during the fall of my first year, I began to discuss this “action gap” with my friends Allison Wu ’16 and Meghana Vunnamadala ’16. We believed these conversations contained enormous potential for tangible change. Together, Allison, Meghana and I developed a plan to start an organization that would fill this action gap. We recruited classmates to join us and developed a structure of three stages – research, design and implementation – that would empower our peers to action. This organization became Kinetic.

Kinetic is a social innovation incubator working to drive tangible change. It is a network of teams studying different issues, designing and implementing solutions in partnership with community stakeholders. It is an opportunity to grow, learn and make new friends who are also passionate about their community. Finally, it is an opportunity to push yourself out of the library and into the field of social change.

During our first Winter Study and spring semester, Kinetic had three teams. I co-led the team addressing food insecurity in America, while Allison and Meghana led teams working on environmental sustainability and access to water in developing countries. My team designed and implemented the Suspended Groceries initiative in partnership with Wild Oats and the Berkshire Food Project. Suspended Groceries is a food assistance system designed to combat the stigma associated with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the lack of healthy, perishable goods in food pantries.

Through Kinetic, I made close friends and developed an interest in food security and a passion for sustainable agriculture. I felt the excitement and rush of building Kinetic up from a small organization of 15 people to one of the largest student organizations on campus.

People often ask me if I like Williams. Are the classes interesting? Are the professors stimulating? Do you work very hard? I answer affirmatively to all of them, and truth be told, my academic experience at the College has been phenomenal. However, when I reflect on my time here, I think primarily about the people I’ve met and what we have accomplished together. I think about how Kinetic is the product of these relationships and the hard work that we have all contributed.

Kinetic has shown me that our time at the College can be a platform to discover and pursue a passion, to focus on a problem and work to solve it. Kinetic has shown me that “real life” doesn’t begin after graduation. Real life is happening now. So, if we want to effect change and have an impact, then we should start now.

Jessica Bernheim ’16 is a history major from New York, N.Y. She lives in Milham.

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Nancy Lieberman March 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm

Years ago I learned a wonderful expression: “there are those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who say say, ‘what happened’?” Obviously, Jessica Bernheim and her colleagues fit in the 1st (and best) category.

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