Over the winter, Brighton Jones sent some of its in-house experts to school. At Washington State University (WSU) and University of Washington (UW), Director of Compassion Cory Custer and Philanthropic Advisor Molly Norton taught classes about two of the topics—Mindfulness-based Emotional and Social Intelligence (MESI) and philanthropy—we here at Brighton Jones consider essential to living a richer life.
Why would we spend staff time and resources teaching college classes? Giving back to our communities and volunteering time for others is an essential part of our culture here at Brighton Jones. And if we can instill in the next generation not only the importance of doing so, but also the tools for how to do so, we really believe that we create a ripple effect from which we will all benefit.
We had a short Q&A with Cory and Molly to learn more about their courses, their students, and their plans for the future.
How did you get this opportunity?
Cory: After Brighton Jones established the MESI Certificate Program in the WSU Honors College, I was invited to teach “Happiness as a Skill,” a one-credit course that counts towards the certificate. MESI is a program that we’ve administered internally for over three years now, and we were excited to share it.
Brighton Jones co-founder and CEO Jon Jones and his wife Gretchen are WSU alumni, and they hit on the idea of the certificate after conversations with the Grant Norton, the Honors College dean. Under Grant’s leadership, the Honors College is becoming an innovator in higher education by taking a more holistic view of preparing students for a life of personal and professional integrity and engagement.
Molly: I read an article on the Global Washington blog about the class, which piloted at UW in 2018 with funding from The Philanthropy Lab. I was so inspired by the fact that students got to talk to non-profits and give away a significant amount of money. I emailed the professor, Stephen Meyers, about a book that had just come out called Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. The book caused quite a stir and has a lot of important messages that I thought students should consider. He responded right away, and from there we started a conversation about the class, potential readings, tools for the students, etc.
We realized that with my background in global non-profits and my current role as a philanthropic advisor, I had a lot of insight to contribute. I was also traveling to Kenya with Brighton Jones clients to visit three projects in the middle of the semester, so we’d have some real-time situations to share.
What was your curriculum/syllabus based on?
Cory: The course was based on the first level of the MESI program that we’ve been running successfully at Brighton Jones. We explored the fundamentals of mindfulness and the four components of emotional and social intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and relationship management). We tried to make it a highly interactive and experiential course introducing various mindfulness practices designed to increase students’ emotional and social intelligence skills—which are not only key competencies in today’s globally competitive marketplace but all of which have the potential to improve performance, relationships, health, and happiness.
Through guest presentations, the students learned how leading local and global companies are teaching these mindfulness skills at work. We had some amazing guest presenters, as well, including Seattle Seahawks President and WSU alum Chuck Arnold.
Giving back to our communities and volunteering time for others is an essential part of our culture here at Brighton Jones.
Molly: Professor Meyers had already built a very robust syllabus. The first few weeks of the class were a deep dive into issues around international development—lots of readings on theories of international giving, the efficiency of a dollar abroad, etc. Students got a comprehensive look at both the benefits and potentially huge pitfalls of giving internationally.
The students selected five issue areas and received more than 30 grant applications from non-profit members of Global Washington that focused on those areas. They then narrowed down the grants, listened to presentations by the selected non-profits, and selected grantees. They gave away one $35,000 grant, two $15,00 grants, and three $8,000 grants.
What surprised you about your class? What did you learn from your students?
Cory: The students were asked to practice the skills we learned in class and then journal about them each week. Several surprises came out of reading those journals. First, these students struck me as very mature, even wise, and they seemed to me to already have a very high level of emotional and social intelligence.
Second, I was amazed at how vulnerable they were willing to be in their journal entries. Lastly, and this point has left a lasting impression on me, students face very high levels of stress and anxiety—certainly way, way more than I did at their age. I was blown away by this. And, it was very gratifying to leave them with some practical tools they could use to combat their stress and anxiety.
Molly: I was surprised how quickly students were able to translate the concepts they learned from the readings to relevant questions for the non-profit presenters. It’s so tempting to make everything clean and neat on paper, when in reality, non-profit work is incredibly complex to implement. I was impressed with how they were able to ask hard, thoughtful questions, without seeming presumptuous about the challenges and realities of working in the field.
What would you do differently next time?
Cory: Wow, where do I start? This was my first time teaching so there’s a bunch of things I learned and would change. Thankfully, I’ll have a chance to make those changes next fall when I’ll have another opportunity to teach at WSU. One focus will be to create more opportunities for students to share their experiences. I thought I had designed enough space for sharing, but it turned out not to be nearly enough. Two hours fly by (for me at least) in the classroom, and these students are so engaged and so bright, I’m convinced that they’ll learn far more from each other than they will from me.
Molly: Without a doubt, I’d find a way to get students out of the classroom and into the field. There’s a humility and appreciation that (hopefully) comes very quickly with seeing projects at play in real life. In fact, this class inspired me to put together the Brighton Jones Lemayian Lunch Series. It’s good to talk about giving back, but there’s nothing like meeting the people working day to day to make the good stuff happen and talking to them openly and honestly about the challenges they face.
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