Events, Impact House

RECAP: Penn Impact Lab 2018 – Grand Canyon


In May 2018 CSIS offered a credit-bearing program for current Penn students (in collaboration with SP2’s Masters in Nonprofit Leadership program): Penn Impact Lab (PIL). Students convened in Grand Canyon National Park to learn tools for social innovation and volunteer with the National Park Service.

The course covered 5 distinct objectives:

1. To introduce students to the concepts and practices of social entrepreneurship;

2. To introduce students to the components of a successful social enterprise;

3. To train students to view the world from a perspective of social innovation;

4. To encourage and empower students to develop their own innovative solutions to different social problems around the world.

5. To introduce students to real social issues and social innovations in a real-world setting.

Students caught a first look at the Grand Canyon on the night they arrived. (Photo: Isabel Zapata)

Dr. Ariel Schwartz (CSIS Managing Director) introduced students to innovation and entrepreneurship frameworks, case studies, a design thinking crash course, and persuasive communication. Students held class in Albright Training Center, the national training location for all employees entering the National Park Service.

On their first full morning in the park, students rose early and walked together to see the rim. Students then completed group building activities to get to know their classmates a little better. (Photo: Isabel Zapata)

Students donned NPS “Volunteer” vests to pick up microtrash from scenic overlooks around the park — areas heavy with tourist foot traffic and subsequent waste left behind. Park Service employees — led by Ranger Todd Nelson — trained students on the threat that microtrash poses to endemic wildlife such as the California Condor. ‘Microtrash’ is any inorganic material (such as bottle caps, cigarette butts, or pieces of plastic) found in places it doesn’t belong (ie – in national parks).

Students caught the sunset at the end of their first volunteer shift.

Mid-week, students took advantage of a ‘free day’ to rise before dawn and hike down into the canyon.

Students celebrated the 6 mile mid-point of their day-long hike at Plateau Point. (Photo: Isabel Zapata)

The class hiked the six miles back to Grand Canyon Village up a steady incline.

Zane Johnson — who oversees all waste and recycling operations at Grand Canyon National Park — shared his vision and strategies for a zero waste park, and took questions from students.

Ranger Todd Nelson took students to Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower as one of the final microtrash pickup locations.

On their last day in the park, students rose early again to watch one final canyon sunrise in silence. (Photo: Isabel Zapata)

By the conclusion of Penn Impact Lab, students had:

Mapped organizations, current events, and approaches for their social impact focus area in- and around Grand Canyon;

Applied competitive analytical frameworks to a social impact organization, and peer reviewed other students’ submissions;

Completed a design thinking crash course;

Delivered a 3-minute speech featuring a value or meaningful experience.

Congratulations to each of our students on a job well done. We extend a huge thanks to our partners at the National Park Service, and in particular to Ranger Todd Nelson — a true environmental steward with whom anything is possible.