Innovation in imagination: Barger Leadership Institute’s Capstone Experience

Solving many of the world’s problems requires creative solutions that come through informed decision making. What better way to help today’s students develop the skills needed to navigate many complex challenges than to have them dig in and do the work.

That’s the goal of the Barger Leadership Institute Capstone Experience, which provides project teams with ongoing professional development, up to $10,000 of financial support and access to mentors who are highly skilled in experience-based leadership.

Since May, students have been analyzing data to create solutions for markets in high need. These range from first generation students who need help navigating the college experience, to communities grappling with persistent health concerns and disparities to businesses trying to showcase their venues to new customers. Here’s a sample:


VenueTourist uses 3D modeling services to help institutions showcase their venue, so clients and users can experience a fully customizable virtual reality tour. It was selected as the London Idea Project for 2018, which gives the team access to specialized support, a Mentorship Network and Summer Immersion Program led by The London Idea.

Team Members

  • Connor Tullis – Business Administration, 2020
  • Sven Wollschlaeger – Business & Computer Science, 2021

Q: How did you come up with the idea for VenueTourist?

Enamored by the intersection of business and technology, we recognized that utilizing cutting-edge 3D virtual tour technology could help our school, Michigan’s Ross School of Business, better compete for the nation’s best and brightest business school candidates, as well as engage alumni and donors in a way that could aid Ross’ funding endeavors. Ross’ dean embraced our proposal, serving as the initial traction to establish VenueTourist and our growth across the country.

Q: Congratulations on being selected as the London Idea Project. What does this mean for the future of your project?

The London Idea Foundation is an incredible organization created in honor of Adam London, whose life passion was connecting people.

By being named the sole awardee of the London Idea Project, we gained access to the London family’s incredible network, leveraging it in whatever ways we saw fit. This has taken the form of monthly strategy meetings with a successful serial entrepreneur and even traveling to Chicago for meetings with technology and business leaders, receiving advice on best practices and growth potential.

Luckily The London Idea Foundation’s mentorship is ongoing . . . so we’ll be sure to bug them for more help to come : )

Q: What are the most important things you’ve learned from working on VenueTourist?

Developing VenueTourist taught us countless lessons that we couldn’t learn in the classroom! We learned to take an often dauntingly blank canvas, and turn it into something we were proud of: a physical/digital product, a sales agreement, a legal structure or a business network.

And so, one of the first and hardest lessons we learned was “failed experimentation is not failure.” We would end up learning that failed iterations—willfully trying something that might result in failure—actually narrowed the available possibilities of our “blank canvas”—a hard but rewarding strategy; it’s the old “fail forward” cliche.

Secondly, we’d learn that the single greatest way to expedite our own success, growth and learning was through the absorption of other’s learnings and mentorship! Both of us being geeky, energetic students went far out of our way to seek notable mentors. Whether through our own accord or via BLI and the London Idea Project, the perspectives, critiquing and genuine best-interests of others not only saved us enormous amounts of time and effort, but it streamlined our success while providing transferable frameworks for future problems. Simply put, mentors were our accelerant, and we are excited to continue on this trajectory!


Heal-Move-Shift found that Middle Eastern/North African youth have less access to health education, and aims to provide these populations with information on cardiovascular, mental and nutritional health.

Team Members:

  • Tariq Mekkaoui – Biomolecular Science, 2020
  • Mariam Reda – Creative Writing, 2020
  • Hala Abbas – Biomolecular Science, 2020
  • Mohsin Arsiwala – Public Health, 2020

Q: How did your team come up with the idea for Heal-Move-Shift?

We believe that culturally-cognizant health education for youth will instigate conversation, instill self-confidence and implement self-care methods throughout student communities. We aim to actively educate and be of service to Middle Eastern and North African (ME/NA) populations in the Greater Detroit/Ann Arbor area in regards to our three tenets of health: Cardiovascular, Nutritional and Mental Health. Our mission is to Heal the community, Move the conversation towards a healthier direction and Shift the stigma away from pressing health concerns through creative and active engagement with Detroit and Ann Arbor communities, along with self-reflection sessions with individuals in our programs.

Q: We heard Heal-Move-Shift is actively leading programs in a local school. Can you tell us more about that, as well as share any plans for future expansion?

Heal-Move-Shift is currently running programs in Crestwood High School (Dearborn Heights), Central Academy (Ann Arbor) and are hoping to expand to Fordson High School in the near future. Each program consists of eight to twelve weeks of conversation-based seminars on Nutritional, Cardiovascular and Mental Health.

We have also been sponsored by MUSIC Matters to create a multi-week “Mental Health, Mindfulness and Music” Program. Furthermore, we’ve partnered with Call For Humanity to create a semester-long “Depression and Humanity Social Innovation Challenge.” Future expansion will consist of piloting these programs.

Q: Can you explain tell us more about your tenets of Nutritional, Cardiovascular and Mental Health?

Outlined below are our implementation strategies for each of our three tenets:

  1. The tenet of Cardiovascular Health will be achieved via education of prevention methods of Cardiovascular Disease, Heart Attacks/Strokes and CPR unofficial training/AED. These effort aim to achieve increased awareness of cardiovascular health and the risk factors associated with CVD. Through constant engagement with students concerning the importance of prevention, we look toward building a heart-conscious generation.
  2. The tenet of Mental Health will be achieved through the education of emotional, psychological and social well-being. Through round-table initiatives, the utilization of inclusivity and safe spaces will serve to reduce stigma through impactful conversations. Representation of diverse identities and experiences will further promote a more culturally-cognizant understanding of the ways our environment, upbringing and mindset shape the way we view our own mental health.
  3. The tenet of Nutritional Health will be achieved via Physical/Nutritional seminars. These seminars aim to educate the youth generation to understand nutritional health, and the involvement of both aspects of physical fitness and and nutritional guides. Furthermore, through building the connection between positive body image and confident eating, students will understand how their nutritional mindset may transform the food-based decisions they make everyday.  

Q: What are the 1-2 most important things you’ve learned from working on Heal-Move-Shift?

Through implementing the Ginsberg Center’s ideals on ‘Entering and Exiting’ communities, we have worked toward entering high schools with increased awareness of the potential impact our roles with the students have on their mindsets. Our guaranteed promise to each school is to prioritize the students, the community, and the learning above all. Through this mindset, we have learned to tailor each seminar to the needs of our students and ascertain the best type of curriculum for each community separately. Furthermore, we have learned the impact of consistently collecting feedback from our students to the extent that we’ve created an entire research division within our nonprofit dedicated to creating a needs-based assessment on each community’s interests, passions, and barriers.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

We are looking for volunteers to become Facilitators who implement programs in our participating schools, the link is here. Thank you so much!

Being First

Being First is producing a podcast that aims to enhance the college experience for first-generation students and their families by sharing information and stories.

Team Members:

  • Lance Bitner-Laird – Sociology, 2019
  • Carlos Henderson – Sociology, 2019

Q: How did your team come up with the idea for Being First?

Carlos and I are both first-generation college students. During our junior years, we were a part of the SOUL Program (Sociology Opportunities for Undergraduate Leadership) in the Department of Sociology. It is a program designed specifically for first-gens in the sociology department. In this program, Carlos and I had some of the most valuable conversations of our lives concerning our identities as first-gen students, along with the intersectional identities packaged within that. At the end of the program, we were looking for a way to take what we had learned in SOUL to create a more democratic platform where we could share these really valuable first-gen stories.

The capstone program is modeled around evidence-based leadership, so during this past summer, we sent out surveys, conducted interviews with first-gens and met with important stakeholders like Adan Hussain, the first-gen project manager at OAMI, to figure out what some of the demands were from first-gen students, where the university had shortcomings in the way it approached first-gen students and ultimately, what would be the best way to reach students. From that research, we decided that a podcast would be the perfect way of reaching first-gen students and first-gen allies.

Q: What information will these podcasts contain?

In our first podcast, Carlos and I do some work to unpack the statistics, the misconceptions behind the first-gen deficit-model and set the tone for the rest of the series. In episode two, we talk with *Dr. Matthew Sullivan about “Being Professional” at U-M, how to go about building networks, how first-gens can better understand that they have a lot to offer institutions like U-M when they’re going about making these new connections and how to deal with cultural differences in our interactions. In episode three, with talk with our friend and student Victoria Villegas. This was more of a conversation for us to talk about our intersecting identities, what it means to be first-gen and Latinx or a member of the LGBTQ community. Our most recent podcast was with Professor Sandra Levitsky, where she talks about what staff and faculty can do better to ensure that we are giving first-gen students an institutional hug—how to embolden first-gens to own their presence in the classroom, as scholars, to share their voices because they have many valuable things to contribute. Our final episode this semester will be with Dr. Dwight Lang, and we will be discussing the upward mobility of first-gens and the liminality that upward mobility produces. This upcoming semester, we would like to record 7 additional podcast featuring more student voices. We really want first-gen students to share their stories with our listeners.

Q: What are the 1-2 most important things you’ve learned from working on Being First?

Firstly, I would say that first-gen voices are invaluable. We talk so much about what U-M offers first-gens in terms of upward mobility, a world-class education and experiences, etc. but we also need to recognize that first-gens have so much to offer this campus. First-gens offer a diverse range of perspectives that enrich this community in so many ways, and it is a shame, really, when we allow ourselves to be silenced, to not feel like we can share our stories in the classroom, to not feel like Michigan is ours, and so on. Our perspectives are important ones—they make Michigan better.

Secondly, I would say that we are learning more and more each day about the great numbers of people who are doing the work here at Michigan to ensure that first-gen students are wholly included, who are doing the work to ensure that our voices are heard, that our concerns are addressed. There is some fragmentation when it comes to these efforts, but they are nonetheless present.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

We just want the first-gens who are reading this and would be comfortable speaking candidly about their “first-genness” on our podcast to feel free to contact me at We would love to hear from anyone who feels like they have something to say about being a first-generation college student.

*Instructor and director of the SOUL program

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