Student Experience

What’s it like to take a course at Spodek Academy™? Below are actual quotes from actual students doing the exercises.


These quotes are not testimonials, but reflections showing the challenges and struggles students learn and grow by working through. They develop and grow as people, socially and emotionally, not just learning and analyzing facts, but learning and practicing skills of teamwork and leadership.

Entrepreneurship Step By Step

By the end of this weekend, I am hoping to have talked to at least 4 of my contacts. I am currently working out a conference call with three of them, for they will all be in the same place this weekend. Considering how busy they are, I think that is going to be an awesome phone call. One of the people is the Palestinian Ambassador to the US and the other two are chairmen of the Jerusalem Fund, a prominent Palestinian Organizations. I believe this phone call will be a breakthrough for my project. I am really really really excited for it.

I also was able to meet with one of my high status people this week already – a woman called Lindsay who is the Head of Global Merchandising at Brooks Brothers. She proved very useful at giving her insight into the women's professional dress market and advised me on how to effectively market the clothing.

The more I plan this project, the more I fall in love with it. I love the people that I have not met yet. I love the stories that I have not yet heard. I love the progress that has not yet been made. I love the struggles that have not yet been endured. I love everything that has happened and is going to happen. This project is something bigger than myself; with every move I make, I am conscious of that. While my ego may have played a role in the initial planning, I can honestly say it plays a much smaller role in this project than ever before. This project is for the children of the region and ultimately of the region itself. That is why I have invited people who are smarter, more capable, and resourceful than I to join our team. At the end of the day, I am not concerned with being the center of attention or the biggest “name” on the team. My only concern is giving the children the best leadership training camp they can possibly receive. In doing so, I believe that we will achieve greater levels of success.

I really enjoyed doing this assignment because I had a fantastic time pitching the idea to people and then playing off each-others thoughts to improve the concept. People really loved the idea and although it is not re-inventing the wheel it is an idea that people see as tackling a lot of big societal issues. Others excitement got me really excited about the idea and that was great. It was also good practice just putting myself out there and pitching an idea without knowing how people were going to receive it. I really gained a great deal of self-confidence as well as critical thinking because I had to be ready to anticipate questions people would ask that I was not prepared for.

Today’s class made me see how difficult it is to actually solve a problem. It really hit me today. Discussing financial level detail in groups made me realize more about my organization and how messy this process is and is going to be. It made me realize like actually how complicated it is to solve a problem or at least trying to get one step closer to finding a solution. I realized that more about my organization and how there is no revenue flowing and how it is a community based organization, that it is solely based on funding. If there is no funding or volunteers then this program cannot exist.

This past week in class I was very fascinated by hearing other students' experiencing trying to contact professionals in the field. It was also really awesome to know that others struggled similarly to me – it put things into perspective. It was inspiring to know that we have the ability to contact people really high up in the field and it reminded me that as I apply to jobs and graduate school this is the approach I need to take. This class is really showing me that I cannot be afraid to fail and take risks because that is the true way to succeed. If I can create a venture and call people and pitch it then even more so should I be able to call people and pitch myself. I also learned from my various emails and phone calls that the more direct you can be in the initial contact the more receptive people are. On the phone calls I also felt like instead of it being a collaboration the people I talked to were more interested in giving me advice. They were really excited by the idea and took it very seriously which I appreciated greatly.

Overall, the class really helped flesh out my idea and really look to the quantitative side of any venture. It really helped me develop my cost structure and really hone me in on the feasibility of what I was trying to accomplish. I really enjoyed learning about this side of social ventures and hope that my assumptions were right. I wasn’t quite sure how to quantify the quantity sold in the future so my estimations may not have been as accurate. However, I was able to do this in excel so I should be able to adjust accordingly to changes.

Later, I realized I wanted to change my unmet need and when I changed it to an area that interested me more, the conversations I had were more engaging. I received more feedback from my peers. It was helpful to later reach out to 10 different friends and family members because they helped me see different components to the project. Some provided me advice that I couldn’t use, but others provided me a different outlook of thinking such as how incentivizing, more probable approaches to targeting the problem, who should be my target group, and what would be the most effective way to connect mentees to mentors.

The in class exercise was definitely helpful in narrowing my focus. It definitely took me into a completely different direction, pivoting from financial literacy for groups of people to financial literacy for nonprofits. I feel that I will find this challenge more interesting, and when considering it in the long term, I think it has the potential to create more impact. After speaking with friends and family, I realize that any meaningful and viable solution will have to have a more narrow focus, and I need to learn details of the issue and be better able to explain it. Perhaps because I picked friends I thought this idea would resonate with the most, but they were helpful in providing me with people to contact next. I don’t mean to sound surprised, but I’m looking forward to this more than I thought I would.

This was really challenging. It was hard to fit so many meetings in with so many people that I respect and admire. I was surprised that I was able to fit so many in a short time. As I continued more, I received so much beneficial feedback that really energized me. I became more confident and polished with my pitch. It was an incredible transformation. It was really cool when I was able to get the people to feel a similar level of passion that I feel for the cause. Some conversations had lasted as long as an hour. It was amazing when I was offered start up money, people that want to volunteer, and partner up. It is starting to feel real. Which is scary, the stakes become higher with each phone call. I become more invested and fall more in love with the project and I am nervous that if it doesn’t work out, I might become really upset.

Leadership Step By Step

I’ve come to realize that effective leadership, which at its core takes on the requirement of relating to others, is derived primarily from attentiveness to self. Being able to understand others’ emotions, which are so frequently shared with one’s own, necessarily means finding one’s own emotions and beliefs that bring both frustration and elation. In this way, my perspective on leadership has evolved from a way to affect change in others to first affecting change and understanding in oneself.

I feel that this might be part of the point of this exercise. As a leader, people are looking to you to accomplish tasks. In order to build a team and set yourself up for success, asking for the input or advice of others makes them feel invested in the task at hand (even if it has nothing to do with them) and so they strive to help it succeed. Leadership can be defined as making everyone on your team feel important. Instead of diminishing your importance, you become the person who pulled everyone together.

Spring break was a great opportunity to immerse my authentic voice around others and practice my inner monologue. My friends and I went on a road trip to Charleston – it’s also imperative to know that I was the only girl on the entire trip. I was definitely self-conscious and embarrassed to just talk out loud my thoughts to college boys who love to poke fun at me already. The first time I tried it was 2 AM on the way to Charleston when it was my shift to drive, I thought it was the perfect time to introduce, test, and practice my authentic voice, also especially when the guys I were with were half-asleep. It was funny because I was whispering my inner monologue partly because I didn’t want to wake them up, but also because I had a large fear that they would judge what I would say. But honestly, my thoughts were mostly based on the road “I need to merge now….Great this car just cut me off…etc”. Later throughout the trip, we went to the beach a couple of times and as we were walking around and exploring that’s when I was most genuine and real with my friends. I’ve known these guys since 6th grade so I already have had deep moments with them, but what was different was I got to speak out my exact thoughts at the exact moment – not past thoughts and opinions. This was when I was most vulnerable with my friends and it actually caused them to reveal some things that were on their mind too. It was a raw moment for us as friends as well as a self-actualization of my own authentic voice. It’s intriguing to me how developing an authentic voice is what separates leaders from followers. By being proud of who you are and voicing your own opinion – that’s what distinguishes the strength of a leader and being confident in the decisions you make. I didn’t realize how something so small, like revealing how your mind operates, can truly change how people perceive you and interact with you.

This exercise was really difficult. I had trouble controlling myself from saying “good,” “bad,” “right,” and “wrong.” Until completing this exercise, I had never realized how integral those words are to my daily speech. It made me realize how frequently I say each of those words. This exercise made me aware of ways to express my personal opinion as opposed to making sweeping and judgmental statements that enforce my opinion on others. I noticed this when I would speak the way I responded to a movie or the way something tasted. I would say it was bad/good even though that was my personal opinion. This exercise, although very challenging, made me realize how I can improve my speech in a way that reflects my personal opinions without imposing these values on those around me.

Being aware of the negative emotions/reactions is just as important as our positive ones. Instead of letting these thoughts that make us feel bad drift quickly away, we have to confront them. I found that by confronting my own negative thoughts I can try to question why I feel this way about certain things. By having this platonic exchange in my own head, I can begin to come up with possible solutions to these emotions/experiences that make me feel bad. I found that by confronting these bad emotions can we even begin to change and have a different perception on myself and other people. […] By having a dialogue with myself or with other people are the first steps to changing our perception and beliefs, and understanding of other people.

I discussed that leadership possessed its roots in self-reflection and understanding of one’s own emotions. Ultimately, these have the higher objective of being able to create change firstly in oneself and secondly in one’s environment. The latter requires grappling with motivations, and on a more controlled level, emotions. The course has taught me that emotions precede motivation in that in order to motivate, one must first acknowledge and understand the emotions of others. Only after doing so can one hope to influence—to motivate—others through action, which can also be seen as the manifestation of emotions and beliefs.

Understanding the sources of one’s own motivations, or the source of one’s own willingness to change, has a profound impact on realizing what it takes to influence change in others. Through the various exercises that forced us to adopt new beliefs, I found how difficult it was to affect change in my own actions, much less somebody else’s. The process necessitated—as previously—a nuanced awareness of one’s own emotions. However, changing beliefs differed from simply understanding emotions and being conscious of them in that the procedure necessitated constantly correcting one’s emotions and thought processes. Beyond just a high level of awareness, this required acute self-discipline, action and reaction processes, and challenging oneself.

This exercise seriously saved me. For the past few months, my whole life has revolved around trying to figure out what I am going to do with myself after graduation. I honestly could not think of anything else. It was ridiculous that I was worrying so much because I was not even actively trying to figure things out. I was just in a perpetual state of paralyzing panic. Bottom line, I know that I am financially getting cutoff in two months. That is extremely scary considering that I plan to continue to live in Manhattan and only have $1500 to my name. But, the majority of people figure it out, right? My goal is to have a paying job and a roof over my head.

Throughout the exercise, I had to push myself. I really adopted the “fake it 'til you make it” mentality in order to persevere. After many discussions with my friends who are in the same situation, I have been able to adopt my new belief. I know that I will survive. And hey, if I have to eat ramen for a little bit, that's ok. I should have to rough it for a little bit. I will have to lower my living standards and spending habits…. but, that is exciting. I get to really prove myself for the first time in my life. I am on my own, and I should not fear it until I fail. However, I will not fail because I won't let that happen. I am excited to start a journey after college where I can claim things as my own. For 21 years, everything I have has been given to me for the most part. Yes, I have had jobs since I was 16, but i have never had to support myself. I do not say all of this to sound spoiled, but rather to realize how fortunate I have been. Now is my time to strategically figure out how to be a successful adult. I truly think it will be liberating to pay my own rent and bills, and from now on I can claim independence. I get to be my own person and will not longer be indebted to anyone.

This exercise was challenging, but I think I did pretty well. I really do believe that everything will be okay, and that I am excited for new beginnings. I can only grow and learn from these future experiences. What I have truly learned is that you have to take things day by day. With each day, I become more confident and comfortable with my new found belief. Fear seems like a faint, distant memory.

This exercise caught me by surprise – not the same surprise in the realization of how negative I am, but the realization of how positive I can be. When doing this exercise, we of course had to first pay attention to what we are saying in response to others; […] I learned how negative people can be – I caught many other people responding to me with no, but or however phrases, and I was able to process the negativity from the conversation. Something that wouldn't have really crossed my mind. I noticed how much people complain about things, and how easy it is for those around to join in the complaints. […] Of all the exercises so far, this exercise really helped raising awareness within myself that has to do with my relations with others.

This exercise helped me to realize how frequently I downplay, or negate, my statements and ideas. In some of my classes, I caught myself reacting to other people’s points using these words and when I noticed and re-stated my idea, my sentences were better received. When I begin my sentences with no or but, especially, my statements seem argumentative and my peers are less likely to get on board with my idea. In a leadership position, it is important to have the support of those around you, people need to believe in what you say. If I seem like I do not have full confidence in my claims, why should those around me?

So, as this assignment asked, I considered the emotions behind the belief/behavior and focused on those instead of just the behavior. I also kept the previous Feedforward exercise in mind and all the advice I received on changing my night owl tendencies. I used the two exercises in tandem to try and convince myself that my behavior, in fact, can be changed and is not a permanent trait. I employed the various techniques given to me in the Feedforward exercise and actively tried to show myself that I can operate on a normal schedule and adapt to a more acceptable sleep pattern. While these techniques did help, some nights I would slip back into my old behavior and stay up all night. When this happened I would address my initial feelings of guilt and disappointment by confronting them instead of telling myself “well that’s just me, I guess I’ll never change.” I instead told myself “it’s OK, you’re trying to establish a new habit, your body needs time to adjust. This is a minor setback but tonight you will get back on track.” Telling myself this and actually feeling understanding of my behavior actually made me more able to accept it as a bad habit that can be changed—one that I’m already actively trying to change—making me feel more in control and motivated to keep trying.

It’s definitely a struggle and a very slow, frustrating process, but I think eventually with time, I will be successful.