UMBC and United Way of Central Maryland recently partnered up on a project with a UMBC Intrapreneurship class to brainstorm new ways of approaching business goals. In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up Podcast, we are joined by UMBC graduate student, Mehrshad Devin from the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership graduate program to chat about his experience with implementing innovation in the real world.
To learn more about United Way of Central Maryland, visit: https://uwcm.org
To learn more about UMBC's graduate program in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership, visit: https://eil.umbc.edu
Dennise Cardona 0:00
Thanks for tuning into this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs here at UMBC. Today I am joined by Mehrshad Devin, a graduate student who is graduating in December of this year in the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership graduate program. We are going to talk about his experience working on a project for his course Intrapreneurship and the United Way of Central Maryland. Thank you so much for being here with us today Mehrshad, it's wonderful to have you on UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast.
Mehrshad Devin 0:35
Thank you. Thanks for having me. So exciting to be here.
Dennise Cardona 0:39
So you had an exciting project that you worked on this past spring semester, in a Entrepreneur, Intrapreneurship course at UMBC in the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership graduate program. Why did you take that course, Mehrshad? Tell us about that a little bit?
Mehrshad Devin 0:56
Absolutely. So I was actually one of the first courses that I took within the program was Professor Bogash is this was when I was an undergrad, I was on the accelerated path for the EIL program. And the very first course I took, I believe it was creative problem solving. And it was with Professor Bogash. And that was a second semester that the master's program was sort of partnering with the United Way. So I was, you know, immediately sort of drawn into that partnership, and also professional Professor Bogash's teaching style. It's very practical, using real world examples. And I love that I absolutely love that. Right. My initial project was sort of doing with something around homelessness, I don't quite remember what it was. But I'm sort of working to alleviate some issues regarding homelessness, preventing and also helping individuals when they lose their housing. The second semester, I took another course of Professor Bogash that was also a partnership with the United Way. And by then I think I was sort of like, this is it, you know, I'm going to continue taking Professor Bogash's class because it's fun, that it's practical. And she uses real life examples from that second course was on sort of, how can we help the net away build and or think through building an accelerant Institute for the organization that could highlight some of their processes. And the third semester, which was last semester, I just wanted to follow suit with the previous semesters and I took another Professor Bogash class and out class was on intrapreneurship. And yeah, and it was also a partnership with the United Way.
Dennise Cardona 2:38
Yeah, those different parts that yeah, the same Partnership, which is fantastic. Because then you become more familiar with it. You mentioned something about real world hands on type of experience. That is one of the biggest gifts as a graduate student, isn't it? Having that being able to learn something, but then go apply it in the real world?
Mehrshad Devin 2:55
Yes, yes. It's one thing to learn about the theories like, it's great to learn about the theories, but to actually be able to sort of apply that in a real world setting. I think that just helps the students are set in place in no other ways.
Dennise Cardona 3:08
Yeah. Now, the term entrepreneurship is, I think, very familiar to most people, myself included, but what is it about what is intrapreneurship? What is that all about? And, you know, what did you learn about it?
Mehrshad Devin 3:23
Intrapreneurship is essentially very similar to entrepreneurship to based on my understanding, I think it's essentially doing partnering within an already set organization, rather than starting an entirely innovative new one. Sort of how can you be a champion of bringing innovative change to traditional processes and sort of elevating the work that's already being done to address many more problems or sort of even, you know, at the basics, elevate the work that you're doing.
Dennise Cardona 3:53
That makes a lot of sense? That's perfect. Thank you for that description. Because I do think that a lot of people may be hurt, maybe hear the term, but I'm not familiar with it. So you explained it nicely. Now, what excited you most about working on an intrapreneurship project with the United Way of Central Maryland?
Mehrshad Devin 4:13
Sure. So I've had in my previous lives, I have some work or experience working in the intrapreneurial setting, but in on unofficial setting as an undergrad, I was very involved in the shared governance processes, at UMCB I was a student officer within Student Government for all four years, in the last two years of my undergrad career, I was serving at the student body president. So I was, you know, sort of being an innovator within the framework of an already existing institution. And I think having to sort of do that at an institution that's not a higher education, focused institution. I think that was very exciting to me. And doing that with an organization such as the United Way that's doing such great things, so help the people in the greater region Baltimore, I think You know, I was immediately in love.
Dennise Cardona 5:02
Oh, that's great. That's nothing greater than when you have that Kismet moment they call it where it's just everything falls into place and it feels so natural. So unforced. I always say, when something is unforced, you kind of know you're on the right path. It just feels like, yeah, it's effortless. And yes, there may be challenges. So not effortless in that sense, but effortless in terms of, it's not one of those things you dread doing, that you feel out of, you're totally out of your element. There's just that feeling of connectedness with a project with an organization with a field of interest.
Mehrshad Devin 5:38
Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. And I think especially this class, I had one of the most fun time that I ever had in any other class. Just because I was it was fun, the whole entire process was fun, more, I saw it more as sort of like a, you know, it wasn't necessarily like hard work. It was it was a lot of hard work. But I didn't view it as that it was something that, you know, I was really passionate about. And I think that also allowed me to sort of be motivated to follow through and sort of, you know, do everything that was supposed to be done.
Dennise Cardona 6:08
Yeah. And you know, when you work with an organization, with with individuals within an organization, who value that input, because I know, I spoke with Franklyn Baker, the CEO and President of the United Way of Central Maryland. And he was so taken by everybody in the class and all of the effort, the passion that was put forth, and he saw a real value and everything that people that all of you were submitting, and he when somebody feels that way about your work, you just feel like they want to work harder for them, don't you want to just it's one of those feelings where there's that connected sense of community. And you know, that people may be depending on you to be able to come forth with some ideas. And that just I think that puts up your foot to the pedal even more and accelerates the process.
Mehrshad Devin 6:59
Yeah, absolutely. I think Franklin and the rest of the United Way, folks, were also sort of really open to learning with us. And then we're sort of like unofficial classmates within that within that class, which I think it was really helpful, you know, sort of working through the semester together and learning together, I think that was beneficial for all the parties involved.
Dennise Cardona 7:18
Absolutely. Now, Mehrshad, what considerations or challenges did you run into when thinking through the needs of the United Way of Central Maryland?
Mehrshad Devin 7:28
Absolutely, I think, um, for me individually, sort of as someone from the outside of the organization peering inside of the organization, and not not necessarily having all the institutional knowledge, organizational knowledge, I think sort of getting to that place where I could confidently sort of make decisions and assumptions about the organization was difficult. And I think that was one of the biggest challenges in sort of doing in such a short amount of time. I think, once we started to get rolling, we had about like, two and a half months to get these projects sorted from conception to something deliverable that we could present by the end of the semester. And I think having to do all of that in such a short amount of time was another challenge. A big one.
Dennise Cardona 8:13
Yeah, I would imagine I'm also in a graduate program at UMBC, Learning and Performance Technology. And that seems to be one of the the challenges of most of us, as graduate students is this semester is only so long, if you're in a summer semester, it's 12 weeks or six weeks, depending on what course you're you know, if you're doing a double summer, session one and two, if it's a regular semester, it's 15 weeks. So that's a lot to do tall order to put all of these ideas together, learn about the organization put these ideas together, and then create a deliverable. I completely agree. But, man, when you do that, like the the result is so powerful, because now you walk away with something, something tangible, that you can add to your portfolio. And also it gives you that sense of contribution that you really added value there.
Mehrshad Devin 9:03
Yeah, 100%, especially with with, with the partnership that we had, right? It was sort of we knew that we were doing this to help a lot of people. And I think that was also a great motivator to finish on time, and also to put out a really great and valuable deliverable.
Dennise Cardona 9:20
Now, how did you come up with the ideas for the United for ALICE Advocacy Day, and for all also for the Interactive Donation Interface? Those were the main focus areas of your project from what I could see from the the presentation, I watched that I had the pleasure of watching the presentation. And it seemed like there was so much involved in that. How did you come up with these ideas for it?
Mehrshad Devin 9:45
Sure. So the United for ALICE Advocacy Day was actually sort of stemming from my own experience being involved in the university system, Maryland Student Council, they have an advocacy day For All, university, so Maryland students, I don't think you want this once a year happens in February. And, you know, I was sort of thinking about the ways that we could kind of help the economic advancement division of the United Way sort of be more involved in policymaking decision and sort of representative the needs of the AlICE population in the legislative process. And I think I immediately thought of the student advocacy day and I said, I thought to myself, why couldn't we have one for ALICE and have the United Way sort of be a medium for that? And and we thought through it, of course, it was going to be different for for, you know, the ALICE population than it was for for students. So my my group members, my team members was actually really helpful were really helpful, helping me sort of, you know, think through those processes and how we can adjust what we have to the United Way and their needs. For the second idea, which was the interactive donation interface. I was a big fan of children's storybooks. Growing up, yes, yes. I'm sure you're familiar with them. But I always tried to sort of like find a good ending, because I was never satisfied when they liked the character, the protagonist, like didn't have a good ending. And I think when we started thinking about ways that we could help the marketing and innovation division of the United Way. I was thought about there was this how there was this? How might be question that asked, how might we sort of display the work of ALICE this way to work of the United Way, but at the same time, sort of raise awareness and engage donors and voters and I said, why not just do it, you know, sort of like a choose your own approach for donation interface to engage the donors, but also to raise awareness on the issues of the ALICE population. And that's where the idea for the second initiative sort of came from.
Dennise Cardona 11:52
I loved the simulation idea. Before we get to that, I want to just make sure a lot of people listening or viewing this on YouTube may not be familiar with what ALICE actually stands for. Can you just give us a quick description of what the ALICE program is?
Mehrshad Devin 12:08
Absolutely. So the ALICE population that stands for the term, ALICE stands for asset limited income constrained, employed, and these are individuals that sort of not necessarily qualify for federal or state benefits, or whatever those benefits may be. Because they make just enough that they don't qualify for those benefits, but not necessarily enough to be able to finance their daily or weekly or monthly needs, right. And I think they're put in this very uncomfortable situation where they have to sort of prioritize what they need to do within a week. It's a sad thing. Really.
Dennise Cardona 12:46
Absolutely. Yeah, I agree. And I know that we've worked on a project, I've worked on a video project for this program, the graduate program in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership in the United Way. And we did it on the ALICE program, it was pretty in depth. And so if you're listening or viewing this, check out our YouTube channel, there's some really great stories about the ALICE program. But going on to the simulation, and the whole storytelling, pick your own story, pick your ending. I love that concept. It's, you know, storytelling is such a powerful way to reach people to connect with people to connect to the empathetic side of all of us, and to put ourselves in the seats of those who are suffering or challenged by certain life situations. And I think that you did such a great job on that presentation and the presenting your ideas on this simulation aspect, the storytelling aspect for this donation interface. It was really remarkable. Thank you. Now, what analysis steps did you take to come up with what the problem was maybe root cause? And then those potential solutions?
Mehrshad Devin 14:01
Absolutely. I think I'm the class and specialists, especially Professor Bogash, were really helpful to sort of help us illuminate some weak areas of each idea and sort of working through them. I don't quite remember for this specific project, what those conversations were. But I think one of the biggest challenges that I had, was getting the concept, right, sort of getting a good disc, depiction of what the struggles are, and how we could sort of display them in a simulation setting. I think one of the first prototypes that I made was not really appropriately sort of, you know, depicting Alice struggles. And I think once I had conversations with with Renee back, which was the vice president of the marketing and innovation division of the United Way, and sort of were able to figure out what these scenarios could look like. Then I think I was able to put together a final prototype, which was which is close but not really close to what we're hoping to achieve right now. But it was more appropriately depicting those needs.
Dennise Cardona 15:07
Yeah, it was foundational. It was a foundation of what you are putting forth now. Yeah. And I loved the whole storytelling and simulation component and what what exactly was that? We talked a little bit about your idea about, I really love to have like, how your story would end? Was there anything else that helped you decide on that idea?
Mehrshad Devin 15:33
Well, attending UMBC, honestly, really showed me how powerful stories could be, I think this institution really is driven on stories. So I had that on the forefront of my mind. But I also wanted to sort of engage donors in the process, because it's really, it's really their financial means, as you know, facilitating a lot of the work of the United Way, their gifts, you know, it's crucial for the for their programs and the individuals that they they help. So I sort of wanted them to sort of see firsthand how their financial contributions, how their gifts are sort of affecting a lot of people in a greater Central Maryland region.
Dennise Cardona 16:12
Yeah, and, you know, I know people listening or viewing this might be like, well, what are they talking about? What is this simulation? What I don't understand, can't visualize what that means? Can you give us a little visual snapshot? A verbal snapshot, I should say, of what a what one of those actually looked like?
Mehrshad Devin 16:30
Sure, I'll try my hardest. The concept would sort of look like you, you are introducing an issue that, let's say an ALICE individual, or ALICE family is having within the central Maryland region. You see the problem, you see the cause. And you see the fact that there really, there's not a lot that they could do to solve it. At that point. Then you get this pop up screen on the video that asks whether you like to donate or not. And then if you go ahead and make that donation, then you unlock the following scenario, which shows how the United Way sort of interjects and comes in and helps this individual sort of live, or achieve whatever it was that they wanted to achieve, or they were having problems with.
Dennise Cardona 17:14
That was so powerful. I actually got chills what you just talking about that because when I was watching it, I thought, oh, my gosh, this right here is a wonderful roadmap or model for a lot of nonprofit organizations who struggle with getting the funding the donations in place. And it's a wonderful way to present a choice for people. And a lot of times it's really what it is, that is always what it comes down to is a choice. Do I donate? Do I not? And what is that deciding factor and the storytelling component, the simulation component, the follow up after somebody donates to see what actually happens with those donation dollars is a very powerful, accelerator motivator for a lot of us who donate so that yeah, kudos to you on that idea was amazing. Yeah, now, what parts of the ideas, what parts of your ideas are the United Way considering implementing?
Mehrshad Devin 18:17
So I think we're still working through to figure out what is feasible and what is not. There's a lot of similar technology out there, doing similar things, you know, interactive videos and how they look like but I haven't been able to find anything so much of this yet. Now, that could mean that it's possible, but no one's done it before, or it's not possible. And I think we're sort of figuring out what that looks like. Right now. We're having conversations and sort of getting some people to talk and think through it with us. But I think once we have a good understanding of what is possible, then I think we sort of can figure out what's the best part of it, that would be helpful to both the organization and to the individuals that we're serving.
Dennise Cardona 19:04
Now, as I understand it, the United Way of Central Maryland hired you as a consultant to help implement some of these ideas. What are you doing now with them to help launch these ideas into reality? I think that's just so exciting that this all came from a core few took.
Mehrshad Devin 19:20
That's a great question. I'm still learning as I'm going. I haven't done anything remotely similar to this before. So it's been burden. They're lacking and exciting at the same time. I'm right now I'm putting together a request for proposal document to sort of bring the ideas into one document and send it out to a list of possible candidates that could help us bring this to life. And within the last week, I started working on storyboarding some concepts for what these simulations could look like what these videos could look like.
Dennise Cardona 19:51
And one of my last questions is, how did working on this entire semester project prepare you for your future? and the role that you're in today?
Mehrshad Devin 20:02
That's a great question. So I'm actually hoping to go off to medical school soon, I'm in the application process for medical school. And I think one of the biggest reasons why I took this, this master's program it was, so I can equip myself with the tools necessary to be a physician that at least tries to make some change in the world and the future, right. And I think, having had this experience, I've had sort of some glimpse into how I could do that within an organization especially. But I think as I continue learning within this program, then I'll be able to have other broader experience and knowledge and tools. So how I could do that within my own career as a physician.
Dennise Cardona 20:45
I've interviewed many people in UMBC programs, and especially the entrepreneurship program, and all different walks of life, all different paths, and avenues that people are taking. And I have to say the medical world is a different one that I've seen. And it's so important to point out that no matter what field we're talking about, out there in the world, there is an entrepreneurial spirit behind the actions that we have to take as those professionals. And wow, that's really it was it's really exciting and interesting to listen to your pathway and your future goals when it comes to the things you're learning in this program.
Mehrshad Devin 21:26
Absolutely, absolutely. I think it's it's applicable everywhere. Like you said, it's you can always innovate new solutions to every traditional process, everyone. Everyone could do it
Dennise Cardona 21:39
This has been a really great conversation. I'm so grateful for your time and really grateful to hear your story and that you're willing to share it with us. Thank you so much.
Mehrshad Devin 21:49
Dennise Cardona 21:50
Thanks for listening to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. If you'd like to learn more about the United Way of Central Maryland, visit them at you uwcm.org. And if you'd like to learn more about UMBC's graduate program in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership, visit eil.umbc.edu