Students in the United States and across the globe have faced a multitude of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic as they learned to adapt to online learning. Nonetheless, the students at USC Hybrid High College Prep were exceptionally enthusiastic to join Third Space Founder, Dr. Ernest Wilson and Third Space Fellow Jaime Carias virtually for the first session of our program, Developing Academic and Career Success Through Third Space Thinking on Friday, February 26. Twenty students from Hybrid High’s history class were introduced to the ACE-IT model, which is comprised of five research-based attributes: Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity and 360-Degree Thinking. These are the soft skills that will be measured and strengthened throughout the course of the program to prepare students for college and their career.
The online program is an adjustment to the in-person academic program that was offered to a group of Hybrid High students last February. The program’s mission is to strengthen high school students’ soft skill development for college and career success in a complex world where soft skills are needed to solve societal issues.
Dr. Wilson opened the Overview course by sharing his own experiences in his career, drawing on the skills he learned along the way, which inspired him to create the Third Space Thinking program.
“I want to share with you the things that I learned along the way, going to the White House, going to universities, going to political jobs,” Dr. Wilson stated. “ That’s what my team has been working on. We call it Third Space Thinking – it’s a way of being successful. It’s a way of making it through the world.”
The program “Developing Academic and Career Success Through Third Space Thinking” consists of six modules, which the students complete on the college learning platform Blackboard. Each module includes a lecture, an interactive exercise to reinforce skills such as adaptability, and a journaling component for reflection. Exercises include performing the “marshmallow challenge” to increase adaptability or taking a virtual tour of the men’s fashion exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to explore cultural competency.
Before the students attended the first session, they took the Third Space Thinking Youth Assessment, which measures their proficiency in each of the five attributes. These results are then compared to the results after they finish the program in order to assess their progress in an online environment.
As part of the online program, the students put their ACE-IT skills into practice with their work on the final project. The final project consists of identifying an “ACE-IT Cause” they are passionate about and building an ideal future where each of the core attributes is applied to find a solution for the cause. The students will present their final projects at the end of the program.
By the end of the program, the Hybrid High students will have gained access to the ACE-IT toolbox needed to become a stronger leader who advocates for themselves, overcomes obstacles and works toward the future they envision in college and in their career.
Finding someone who shares similar passions and has gone through the same experiences can be essential, but finding a mentor can be difficult for first generation students trying to navigate a college environment. Third Space Fellow Jaime Carias spoke about his experience finding a mentor and advocating for himself as he transitioned from college to his career as a first gen student.
“Those [ACE-IT] skills are going to transform you into the leaders that you want to become. Those skills are going to help you define your legacy,” Carias stated. “Those skills are also going to be able to help you take care of yourself when your mom can’t do it no more.”
The ACE-IT skills are what allowed Carias to find mentors during his time at UC Santa Barbara as they gave him the leadership skills to advocate for himself growing up in a first generation household where he was the first in his family to go to college in the United States.
“You see, but along the way of your journey, you’re going to have to take risks as first gen students. You have to take risks to get there and ACE-IT will help you generate those risks,” Carias added.
Dr. Wilson also stressed the importance of soft skill development for marketing and branding oneself to potential mentors and employers who would one day see how the students adapted to the vigorous and brutal obstacles during the pandemic.
“In a year, people will look at people like me… admission directors, deans, employers, they’re going to ask the following question: When Jasmine or Bianca or Amy or Fernando, when they had a year of trial and difficulty, how did they handle it?” Wilson thoughtfully questioned.
While thinking of how they would like to continue to respond to the pandemic, the students reflected on how they have already used Adaptability while transitioning to an online learning environment where home and work spaces combine.
As one student said, “it’s never a neutral state of mind for me.” The students have had to not only adapt to a new environment, but also remain ready for uncertain futures.
Third Space Thinking strives to instill leadership skills in the students by using the ACE-IT model for problem solving. Dr. Ernest Wilson discussed how exactly great leaders can use the core attributes to their advantage.
“Leaders must be supremely adaptable. Leaders must adjust while also holding onto their core values and integrity. Leaders need to be really curious, and they need to wonder what’s going on around the corner. Leaders, by definition, need to have broad vision. People look to leaders to provide guidance in the world around them, which means they must look to the left and look to the right and look behind to see what’s going on in the world, especially these days with COVID and Black Lives Matter and the economy. Finally, leaders must be sensitive to the multiple cultural contexts around them. What are the different cultures that you interact with and can you be empathetic?”
Even with uncertain futures clouded by the rollercoaster ride of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students were able to reflect on the leadership roles they imagined themselves in and the legacy they would like to leave.
“My legacy I want is to be known as someone who helped someone who is not being represented well, and I just want to help them,” Kimberly Rivera stated.
“I just want to be a positive role model. I don’t know exactly how yet, but I think this program will help me do that,” another student Layla Fahs said.
Mia Hernandez reflected on wanting her legacy to have an impact in her own community. “I think it would be a really great role model for so many younger kids, especially in the Latino community, because I’m good with my parents. They help me with leadership skills and that’s something I look up to and what I see myself doing.”
The online course, Developing Academic and Career Success Through Third Space Thinking is being taught by educators from Hybrid High and USC Annenberg. In June, the Center for Third Space Thinking will introduce the ACE-IT model for program solving to more than 180 students in the Migrant Education Program from Los Angeles and Riverside counties.