We recently asked our MCN alumni to complete a survey raffle and out of 127 survey submissions, Gabriel Conners was the selected winner! To celebrate we are launching our FIRST EVER Alumni Highlight!!
Please allow us to introduce you to Mr. Gabriel Conners! Read his interview below:
Hello! I am Gabriel Evan Conners, I am from Chicago, Illinois currently attending the Illinois Institute of Technology. I am majoring in Social and Economic Development Policy, which has afforded me the opportunity to do applied studies, which has included working with a local coffee shop and chamber of commerce to improve their mission of teaching local sustainability. I have also started a multi-departmental initiative within Illinois Tech to more effectively understand and engage with the local Bronzeville community.
Tell us about your experience with MCN, how did it impact you?
I attended the MCC at Lynn University in 2014 with Illinois Tech's Engineers Without Borders cohort. I brought back methods to aid in translating ideas into action, inspired passion to do more with my time toward social justice causes, and a vision for a student organization that I later launched in spring of 2016. The group is called the ideaXchange and is designed to bring students together in collaboration to solve for challenges of shared interest.
What was most valuable to you about MCN programming?
he community of like-minded individuals. There is an undeniably infectious spirit that I discovered and carried with me after by brief weekend stay during the Millennium Campus Conference. Without realizing it at the time, this experience served as a catalyst, awakening me to the possibilities present when roups of people are gathered around issues of common concern. Such possibility is the conditions for our collective epic to thrive. This is what my work is all about.
What work are you currently involved in?
The Grassroots Social Enterprise Institute is newly incorporated in Illinois this year as a non-profit. I am one of three co-cofounders of GSEI, owning the title of Fellowship Program Director. I started the institute alongside a longtime academic (Raed Elaydi) and lifetime social justice advocate (Marc Loveless) 5 months ago. As a whole, GSEI exist to strengthen the social enterprise ecosystem in Chicago through research publications and by delivering support services to entrepreneurs who are rooting their businesses in Chicago's most vulnerable neighborhoods. The fellowship program, which I am in charge of designing and operating, is being constructed to serve young adults of minority backgrounds who are committed to long term impact on their home communities. The program will consist of self-discovery, mentorship, design thinking, networking, prototyping, and launching new enterprises that provide jobs, increase access to needed resources, build local wealth, and solve for other challenges of south-side and west-side Chicago communities.
Any advice for current students?
My advice to current students is to stop wasting time. Lean in to your passion and don't be afraid to take risks. I'm kidding. In part. You all are students, quite possibly early on in your journey and may have no clue on Earth about what your passion is, or if passion is even a thing. I don't expect you to know. I do want you to understand something, though. Within all of us is a creative seed (or many seeds). In short, these are the things that we enjoy doing, when we do them we "come alive!"
Soooo many people are trapped in cycles of work and responsibility that throttle them from exploring the world and possibly stumbling across these seeds. I see it all around Chicago, where folks run from job to job to family just to keep the lights on. Globally I see it where folks who may even have the time don't have access to resources for learning, discovery, and growth. (let alone health to live long enough).
No one is safe from this desert of discovery. Privileged or not, we all can fall victim to the narratives that shut down our willingness to explore and lock us into fear-based pursuits of life, AKA taking the "safe way." Whether you do or don't believe in passions as guiding forces for your life, I charge you to not be a victim of exploration-paralysis. Be bold and especially take advantage of these years as a student when you can dabble, risk, and fail with incredibly little backfire. Don't underestimate the vast amount of resources at your disposal. Everything from mentors to student groups to potential founding partners and 3rd degree connections to seed funding. It's all in your lap; just play around and don't take yourself too seriously.