Student Spotlight

Doctoral students transform the ordinary into extraordinary

January 20, 2015 by Brandman University

It started with a wire coat hanger, 50 ideas, six people and, yes, more than a little conflict.

Doctoral students Piret Leonetti, Lauralie Haley, Chris Fuzie, David Kline, Lee-Volker Cox and Philip Alfano were Hot Team #20 and the winners of this year's Value This! contest.

Piret Leonetti, Lauralie Haley, Chris Fuzie, David Kline, Lee-Volker Cox and Philip Alfano were Hot Team #20 and the winners of this year’s Value This! contest.

In the end, the winner of the ValueThis! contest, a key element of the School of Education’s doctoral immersion program, transformed a group of individuals into a team, a bunch of wire coat hangers into drying racks for lavender and a school project into a community project that involved community groups, two schools, 65 volunteers and a heartwarming video.

The contest, devised by Associate Professor Marilou Ryder, asked each of 22 teams to take an ordinary object (the coat hanger) and change the world by creating the most value possible as part of the work in their Creativity, Innovation and Sustainable Change class. The winners were announced Sunday morning during the doctoral program’s immersion sessions in Irvine with 10 teams called out as finalists and five honored with awards.

The Hot Team No. 20 from Modesto took the ultimate prize for “Reframing the Wire Hangar.” Philip Alfano, the superintendent of schools at Patterson Unified School District, told his teammates about the Rising Sun School and Farm in his district, recently reopened as a school for individuals with disabilities, ages 18-22, to help them develop vocational and independent living skills.  The land on the campus included fields of lavender, which he said could be dried, using the hangers as racks. The dried lavender could then be converted to soap, candles and potpourri and sold to support the school.

The team worked with Patterson High School students to get the hangers welded and with volunteers including those from the Patterson Lions Club, a Cub Scout pack and the Patterson High School F.F.A. Parents, students and community volunteers built the drying racks, spruced up the school and helped harvest the lavender.

The team estimated it received $7,500 in donated materials and equipment and 282 hour of donated labor through public relations efforts and stories in the Patterson Irrigator and the Modesto Bee. But the bigger values of the project, described in their video, were harder to measure: personal satisfaction, caring for others, love, pride, self-esteem and hope.

Brandman Associate Professor Marilou Ryder interviews doctoral students Piret Leonetti, Chris FUzie, David Kline, Lauralie Haley, Philip Alfano and Lee-Volker Cox about their winning entry.

Brandman Associate Professor Marilou Ryder interviews Piret Leonetti, Chris FUzie, David Kline, Lauralie Haley, Philip Alfano and Lee-Volker Cox about their winning entry.

The teammates were interviewed onstage by Ryder, who asked how they arrived at their idea, what they learned, how they knew it was innovative, what challenges they had to overcome and what advice they had for the next group of students who will be challenged with a different ordinary object.

Some the highlights included learning to tap into their own creativity, being overwhelmed by the community’s response to their efforts and willingness to join in, learning to trust the “aha” moment when they hit on the idea for the project and to work past inevitable tensions and stay focused. They overcame the challenges posed by distance and technology.

“This isn’t just a fun activity,” said Brandman University Associate Dean of Education Patricia Clark White, adding it speaks to the quality of the Brandman program that the doctoral students were able to come up such varied and excellent projects.

Dr. David Owens, who helped choose the finalists and is the author of “Creative People Must Be Stopped,” and professor and director at Owens Graduate School of Management for Vanderbilt University, told Ryder, “These are simply astounding. Clearly you have a great bunch of students – and what a ton of value was created. Not a single one of these deserves not to win and several of the presentations made me tear up and have to pause watching the videos.”

For the team of Piret Leonetti, Lauralie Haley, Chris Fuzie, David Kline, Lee-Volker Cox and Philip Alfano, the real reward wasn’t the applause from their colleagues or the awards they later held in their hands, it was being out in the community, working with the students at the school and their parents and knowing they had the opportunity to do great things.

Here is the “Hot Team No. 20” video:



Other winning videos:


3rd  Place:  HANGING ON H.O.P.E. (Doctoral students inspired to help homeless veterans)



Tips for the Value This!

  • Find something that’s not too global. The more local it is, the more resources you’ll have at your fingertips. It will be more manageable and make a bigger impact.
  • Trust the process and always refer back to the criteria.
  • Delegate the jobs so everyone has a responsibility.
  • Trust your team. Be willing to step back.

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