As the capstone project of my gap year, I spent the summer of 2016 leading MIT's Global Startup Labs course in Mongolia As this was the first time MIT students had lived and worked in Mongolia, this was by far the most challenging project I had ever embarked on, yet by far the most impactful and rewarding.
MIT Global Startup Labs (GSL) is an 8-week intensive summer course where university students learn both technical and entrepreneurship skills as they work to develop and launch a mobile app startup business. The course was held in partnership with two of Mongolia’s best universities, the National University of Mongolia and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology.
As the only technical instructor, I was responsible for delivering all technical content - a tremendous challenge given the size and duration of the course. In addition, I served as team lead and was the primary point of contact among stakeholders - including our university partners, sponsors, MIT coordinators, and Mongolian mentors. I am proud of how I rose to meet these challenges, developing techniques to manage stakeholder communications and allow me to focus my efforts where they were needed the most - in the classroom, with the students.
Although GSL has been run in 15 countries worldwide more than 50 times, this was the first time it was run in Mongolia. Thus, I had the tremendous responsibility of developing the technical course curriculum that was best adapted to the Mongolian context. Additionally, the course was composed of students with technical backgrounds (computer science, engineering, math) and non-technical backgrounds (business, communication, marketing). I was committed to developing curriculum that provided both students with challenging technical material.
The goal of the technical curriculum was to provide students with the technical skills necessary to design and develop a mobile or web app startup business. Here is just a short list of the technical material I covered:
I sought creative, innovative ways to teach material, as traditional lecture-based learning is not the MIT way and certainly not sustainable and engaging in an 8-hour course daily! I drew upon my experiences both as a technical consultant at Capgemini and designing and testing serious games in Grenoble, and delivered materials using creative, innovative strategies. Students spent hours working in teams to complete assignments, and I delivered fun, engaging mini-lectures that had students wishing for more. We also played games to learn technical topics and practice communication, including many of the games I had worked with in Grenoble (Cubification, Tech It!, etc.)
I even added short presentations called “Tech Trivia Talks” where I spoke about fun tech topics unrelated to the core curriculum but fun to learn about - such as the origin of the first bug, how google search works, and a brief history of the web.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching is to see your students do amazing things with the skills and knowledge you have taught them. Throughout the course our students worked to develop mobile and web app startup businesses. They pitched these ideas during a culminating pitch day event - with 400+ attendees and investors present ready to invest time, money, and resources in our teams’ ideas. Judges and sponsors were visibly impressed by our students, offering more prizes than they had originally promised. Students beamed as they received their awards, and as their teaching “mother”, I had never felt prouder. The event was covered by major media channels, including Bloomberg News and the top Mongolian TV station.
I developed a strong bond with the students, and it was clear that I had become their beloved instructor. In the end-of-program assessment, students rated their technical skills and knowledge before training as 2.6/5.0, and after training as 3.9/5.0. I received an instructor rating of 4.8/5.0, 0.5 higher than my fellow instructors. I was called a “natural born instructor” and told that “everyone loves Beth in this class”. Perhaps most touching of all, in the letters my students wrote to me at the end of the course, students thanked me mostly for my positive attitude, my passion, my presentation style, and my commitment, and not just for my technical teaching and expertise. These students have left a real mark on me - they have convinced me that teaching is both a gift and a responsibility, and I have been blessed with both.
During our summer in Mongolia, we were fortunate to spend our weekends exploring the tremendously rich culture and beauty the country has to offer. Prior to leaving, I knew only what my high school world history textbook had taught me about the Mongolians - savage conquerors that terrorized Asia and Europe. However, as with any country I travel to, I made sure to do my research and learned as much as I could before leaving. I read a terrific book - “Chinggis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” - that informed my travels and provided endless insight into the real history of these amazing people. In many ways, the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle hasn’t changed much since the time of Chinggis Khan, and I enjoyed experiencing this first hand. I saw the vast Mongolian landscapes and learned quickly why Mongolians call their country “land of the eternal blue sky”. Of the many remarkable things we did, a few highlights: we excavated dinosaur bones in the Gobi desert, slept in traditional Mongolian homes ("gers"), stood just a few meters from rare wild horses, and drank fresh mare’s milk. Most of all, I learned about a new, beautiful way of life - the Mongolian Way.
"You are such an amazing instructor. Everything you instruct is understandable and easy to learn. Also, you are very kind when I ask you anything. I really like your willingness to help me anytime.
"I see your passion, commitment and hard work to teach us what you know about. I'm really impressed by your passion. It makes me say that "I have to work...Look how they're working to teach, to improve us"
You do great teaching us! You are so enthusiastic when you teach and makes us enthusiasts immediately!
Beth taught technical lessons in a clear and fun way that even people from other backgrounds can understand.
Thank you again for all of your good efforts. Overall, this was quite a good exercise. We need MORE Mongolian students to experience and learn entrepreneurship with hands on opportunities like this. Thanks again.