A Conversation with Minerva Student Connor

Meet Connor, a student in the Class of 2020 | Dec, 5, 2017

Quick Facts

Name
Connor Mitchell

Hometown
Virginia, U.S.A

Class
2020

Major & Concentration
Natural Sciences: Designing Solutions
Computer Science: Data Science and Statistics

Internship
Business Analyst, Clean Energy Associates (CEA)

Conversation

Why did you choose Minerva?
Financial, social, academic… my decision to transfer had multiple causes, but the most significant was the opportunity to contribute to something I believe in: the realization of a university that actually puts its students first. Minerva is the ultimate win-win; a world-class educational experience that satisfies my core values of making a meaningful impact, while working on something I love.

What would you tell another student who is considering transferring?
To quote from my open letter to potential transfer students, think less about “what you want to do” and more about “who you want to be.” If your current university isn’t directly supporting who you are or who you want to become, then it may not be the right place for you. Even though I was happy at my former university, I chose not to settle and take a leap of faith instead. Now, almost a year and a half later, I see my transfer decision in a new light: one of gratitude instead of fear.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Minerva community?
Consistent support and encouragement. I think big dreams are often fragile, and we unconsciously shrink them as a result of stifling cultural and societal feedback. In the Minerva community, aspirations are rebuilt stronger than when they started, due, in large part, to peer, faculty, and staff support. Minerva empowers us to do even bigger things.

Why do you think it is important to be a global citizen?
The major problems of the 21st century, such as climate change, wealth inequality, access to opportunity, etc., can not be solved in isolation. These are macro issues that require a focused and unified effort, across multiple countries and cultures. Being a global citizen is no longer a choice for individuals who want to have a significant impact on these problems — it is a requirement. Effective collaboration and communication, which are key ingredients to a project’s success, depend upon team member empathy and understanding. These are not attributes that can be easily developed in homogenous environments.

In the Minerva community, aspirations are rebuilt stronger than when they started, due, in large part, to peer, faculty, and staff support. Minerva empowers us to do even bigger things.

What are you most looking forward to during the 2017–18 school year?
Cross-class interaction. Both the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020 are living together in Seoul and Hyderabad, which roughly doubles the size of our community. Since one of my favorite parts about the Minerva experience is the engaging conversations I have with my classmates, the opportunity to relive the start of my first year and embrace a whole new group of people is exhilarating.

Describe class on the Active Learning Forum (ALF).
The best analogy I can think of is from my theater days in high school. Speaking on the ALF, especially while it is still a novel experience, is like being onstage without the benefit of blinding stage lights. I see the face of every audience member at all times, including their expressions and ALF-enabled reactions, such orange finger-snaps for agreement and laugh emojis for amusement. Even in a traditional seminar setting, it wouldn’t be possible to selectively tune my attention to every student and the professor at once, without splitting my vision. I was uncomfortable at first, but have since learned to appreciate the added conversational depth such an environment generates.

What’s one interesting thing you packed to bring with you to Seoul?
My climbing shoes and harness. Seoul, and South Korea as a whole, is a hiking and rock climbing paradise, which I plan to take full advantage of, as often as I can.

How did you spend the summer of 2017?
Aside from two 10-day bookends on my summer, during which I spent time with family and recharged in Japan, I spent the entire time living and working in Shanghai, China.

You spent the summer interning at Clean Energy Associates (CEA) in Shanghai, China. When you first found out you were selected for the position, how did you react?
My initial reaction was unremarkable. I felt the standard excitement most people would probably experience upon receiving a job offer for a unique position in their preferred industry. Even though the hourly requirement was high and compensation was far from settled, I was ready to commit… until the tears started. On the taxi ride back from Oakland, not 15 minutes after receiving a verbal commitment from Andy, I began to cry uncontrollably for, at the time, no discernable reason.

I normally love roller coasters, but this emotional one was a bit too dramatic. I transitioned from excited nervousness to preconceived longing to prideful motivation to fearful uncertainty. I would be leaving my home and family sooner than expected, on the cusp of a significant period of change (younger sister’s high school graduation, housing lease expiration, etc.), to work in an extremely demanding environment for a company I knew little about. My fears of cultural isolation and day-to-day language difficulties battled against my desires for the substantial, positive impact opportunities and global perspective enhancements a summer at CEA would bring. Over the next two months, I came close to refusing the offer due to the sheer magnitude of the sacrifice; however, my passion for solar energy eventually turned the tide. Extensive conversations with family and friends helped me to realize that I would be giving up more by staying home. More than their desire to see me in-person over the summer, they wanted to see me in my element — albeit from afar. They knew before I did that experience CEA offered was exactly the kind I needed to grow into the person I wanted to be.

Being a global citizen is no longer a choice for individuals who want to have a significant impact on these problems — it is a requirement.

Had you ever travelled to China before? What was it like to immerse yourself in Shanghai’s work culture?
No, and it was just as demanding, exhausting, and exciting as expected. Work became somewhat of a haven for me in such a challenging environment, as the limits of my basic Mandarin inhibited my ability to form deep relationships with non-English speakers. Aside from occasional evening meals with my host, conversations with my colleagues represented the vast majority of my opportunities for social interaction. From my laowai or “foreigner” perspective, the Chinese work culture is extremely hard-working and driven, almost to a fault.

For example, the process for completing a task or project seems to matter less than the end-result. “Getting things done” often gets in the way of “doing things better,” with the notable exception of efficiency or cost-reduction improvements. A simple example for this can be seen walking down the street in Shanghai; people just don’t stop. I rarely saw a smile or greeting returned, not because the people aren’t happy or kind, but because they are so focused on getting wherever they are going. However, by wearing these goal-focused blinders, they miss chances to improve the experience of getting there by engaging in interpersonal interaction.

Describe your role with CEA.
CEA’s mission is to help our clients and partners deploy solar energy solutions worldwide. My internship spanned three departments:

  1. Technology & Quality (TQ): I developed a business intelligence platform currently being sold to major Western clients as a supplement our standard quality assurance services.
  2. Commercial Team: I revamped the Salesforce pipeline flow, creating field mappings, automation, and best practices for data management to increase the sales team’s operational efficiency and inform future decision making
  3. Office of the CEO: I improved the efficiency of our CEO by training his Executive Assistants and introducing time management tools and practices that allow for an intentional rather than reactive approach to company management.

What were the top three most relevant and useful HCs during your time with them and how did you apply them?
#dataviz: Throughout my development of the Supplier Benchmarking Program, the business intelligence platform mentioned above, I regularly needed to apply my understanding of simplicity and communicability in visual organization, so as not to overwhelm potential clients with our entire dataset.

#rightproblem: While crafting a process to improve our trade show lead tracking and follow-up procedures, I needed to broaden the scope of its problem question. More than just improving the tracking efficiency of new leads, the process also needed to formalize the structure of Sales Team interactions with leads themselves. This revision led to the development of a solution that addressed the root of the problem, ultimately allowing the sales team to more effectively prioritize lead follow-up and push more deals through the pipeline.

#powerdynamics: I needed to learn how to manage-up for all of the work I completed with the CEO, to include asking the right questions and prioritizing appropriately. As a busy CEO, Andy didn’t have time to manage an intern and, instead, needed the intern to help manage him on smaller To-Do list items to lighten his load. This was a tricky role and relationship to handle, but I improved over the course of the summer and finished my internship with a strong working relationship and mutual respect with a valuable mentor.

What was the most memorable moment of your time at CEA?
Barbecues on the balcony outside the 3rd floor office. Everyone at CEA works long hours, so it was rare that we had a chance to sit down together without computers and just appreciate one another’s company.

As a former student in a restrictive undergraduate curriculum, I developed a deep appreciation for flexibility and intend to take full advantage of that here at Minerva.

Do you know what major and career path you’d like to pursue?
I am comfortably and deliberately undecided. As a former student in a restrictive undergraduate curriculum, I developed a deep appreciation for flexibility and intend to take full advantage of that here at Minerva. I decided to rely on external internships for my exposure to the business world and, instead, focus on breadth, develop hard skills in the Computational, Natural, and Social Sciences throughout my academic experience. I place equal importance on both passion and impact in how I allocate my time, which could take me down any of those three roads. At the moment, I think a major in Computational Sciences is most likely, but I’m proud to say that I’m exploring other options.

How has your work with CEA continued since departing Shanghai?
I continue to work with George, our Director of Technology and Quality, on the Supplier Benchmarking Program. We are close to securing our initial batch of clients, some of which are major Western renewable investors. My hours are necessarily lower (~10 hours/week), but the work is just as engaging and relevant to my industry and function of interest. This continuation also gives me the opportunity to directly apply content and skills learned in my data science course, which has helped cement the material — an active learning concept called “far transfer.” Other than the time constraints it imposes, my work with CEA is a huge positive to my experience in Seoul so far.

If you were inspired by Connor’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.