Sparking Synergy Event: Connecting the K-12 Community Through Innovation

People sitting at a table at a professional event
Photo by: Aaron M. Gould
Community members at the Sparking Synergy: Partnerships event at 1951 @ SkySong

The sun hangs high in the desert sky on a hazy Thursday morning. Inside SkySong 1951, a group of education changemakers gather to create a storm of new ideas to foster sustainable partnerships and programs for students, families, and communities across Arizona. 

What is Sparking Synergy?

Sparking Synergy: Partnerships is the second gathering of community members within, across, and around ASU focused on bringing together anyone and everyone supporting each other in the K-12 education ecosystem. 

We met for our first Sparking Synergy event in October 2023. We brainstormed ideas on how to unite forces across ASU to support the K-12 community members. We used the design thinking process to empathize with various stakeholders in our network and generated actionable problem statements for future innovation. To borrow the words of some Roman emperor: “We came. We shared. We collaborated.”

Now, six months later, Sparking Synergy: Partnerships opened the conversation to local school districts, nonprofit organizations, and community collaborators that work to develop student programs, community outreach networks, and cross-sector partnerships. Here’s more about what our jam-packed day of synergy entailed. 

A person speaking into a microphone and standing next to a large projector screen at a professional event
Photo by: Aaron M. Gould
Kim Reynolds welcoming the community at the Sparking Synergy:Partnerships event

A Dynamic Event Igniting Future Possibilities

CoLab Keynote

After a warm welcome and introduction from our design committee co-founder, Kim Reynolds, we started the day with a keynote presentation from Alexa Ruona, Senior Program Coordinator here at the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute. Alexa told us the story of CoLab, an organization that is “empowering high school entrepreneurs to turn their passions into businesses, explore their local ecosystem, learn from real business owners, and develop essential entrepreneurial skills through our research-based curriculum and mentorship.” 

The CoLab support network is a 10-session program that bridges the gap between classroom learning and real-world business experience. Students attend workshop sessions to learn about problem solving, business development, customer service and more. The CoLab program culminates in a pitch competition where students compete for award funding for their startup ideas, connect with the community for real-time feedback and share all of their learnings with other investors, friends and family. 

Speed Networking 

After a successful networking experience last year, we redeployed our Speed Networking activity to ensure everyone in attendance had time to engage and connect. Focused on our theme of partnerships, we asked everyone to share two things they bring to the table for their partners and one thing they need from others around them to support their work. Business cards were flying and LinkedIn profiles were glowing in the light of a newfound network.

Panel Powerhouse

Once everyone settled in around their new connections, an expert panel on building, maintaining and sharing partnerships kindled the flame of inspiration for attendees before lunch. Sparking Synergy: Partnerships expert panelists included:

  • Chance Stribling, Outreach and Event Managers for School Connect, a nonprofit organization that connects schools to community organizations to build a support network for students to reach their potential. 
  • Fredi Lajvari, CEO and Director of STEM Initiatives at the Si Se Puede Foundation, a nonprofit STEM education organization designed to bridge the STEM divide in underserved populations in our communities to prepare them for the 21st-century workforce.  
  • Desiree Ong, Educational Program Manager at ASU Gammage, shared with us the story of the Disney Musical in Schools program and how to build a professional network for art educators to help their students explore new ways of expression, creativity and learning. 

Putting Pen to Paper

Having finished our refreshing lunch, which was provided in grateful partnership with CoLab, we moved into our problem-solving phase of the day. Using the ideas gathered from the first Sparking Synergy as the foundation, we walked through the design thinking process to build working groups focused on K-12 challenges facing our communities. Problem statements included topics such as: “How might we improve access and visibility to K-12 programs offered by ASU? How might we support at-risk students in the educational journey? How might we develop a support network for teachers in training? What support networks exist for teachers working outside their field of training?”

We intend for these groups to continue to work together for the next few months and refine their solutions for a pitch competition of our very own! Sometime around late October or early November, we will gather once again for another iteration of Sparking Synergy and share our solutions with each other, with an award of seed funding for the winning solution. 

We are currently in the process of acquiring funding for such an event. Please read below to learn more about how you can support our network of changemakers.

People sitting at tables at a professional event having conversations
Photo by: Aaron M. Gould
Community conversations at the Sparking Synergy:Partnerships event at 1951 @ SkySong

Step Into the Future of Sparking Synergy

If you have worked in K-12 education, you know there is no other community that embodies the spirit of “it takes a village” than the network of educators, parents, and friends that support the learning, development, and growth of our students into confident, capable adults. However, that takes a lot of work and is usually done with a nose-to-the-grindstone approach. 

Learning how humble and hard-working individuals spend their time doing great things can often be put to the wayside to focus on making an impact – and ASU is no exception. The design committee for Sparking Synergy is composed of former teachers, current parents and grandparents, program designers, and all-around doers across the University colleges, support units, and design institutes. We wanted to create a time, space and place for people to share their incredible work to support the K-12 community and promote synergy instead of competition as we work to foster the future generation of innovators. That is why these continued conversations are so important.

Would you like to host a Sparking Synergy event of your own or sponsor a portion of an existing event? Maybe help contribute to our future seed funding pool? Find us at [email protected] to connect—we’d love to spark some synergy with you.

John Janezic

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