Learn to Start is proud to be working with the next generation of lower, middle, and high school students in reimagining what the 21st-century education system should look like. Hear from one of LTS’s incredible alumni, Amy Ni, as she shares how LTS has impacted her personal and professional life since graduating from the program.
Learn to Start: How has being in Learn To Start impacted your confidence as a person? My confidence level was increased through storytelling opportunities at LTS. I remember when I was in the program, we used to do a lot of storytelling activities inside and outside of the classroom. I wasn’t very comfortable at first, especially as English is not my first language. However, I was given numerous opportunities and encouraged to try and try again through class activities, pitching, and interacting with guest speakers. Eventually, I got so comfortable with talking in front of people and not afraid of making mistakes. This really improved my confidence level and is still impacting me today as a student leader. At college, I’m on the executive boards for three different organizations, two being the president, and I run meetings in front of hundreds of people all the time. Most of the time, you can’t really foresee how people will respond or what kind of questions they will ask during the meeting, so it is important to have a high confidence level. I also serve as the Global Ambassador for my college, giving presentations and lectures to students and people in my community about my culture and empowering them to become better global citizens. I think that being able to confidently present yourself and tell your story in front of different audiences is one of the most critical skills to have in today’s world. It’s one of the most effective ways to tell the world who you are as a person and what you believe. I wouldn’t be able to do all that if I hadn’t participated in the LTS program.
LTS: How has LTS defined or redefined purpose for you in your personal and professional life? Before being a part of LTS, I really haven’t thought about purpose on a serious level. I always knew what I wanted to do in the future, but I also always thought that “purpose” is a big word for long-term/lifelong goals. It felt so far away from me. Why would I as a high school student think about purpose? But when I got into LTS, I defined purpose differently. Now I think that purpose should be considered in everything you do. It’s the ultimate motivation behind everything. It’s why you want to do it, what outcomes you want to get from it, and what impact you want to make on the people around you. This new definition of purpose came to me mostly from the process of coming up with my business ideas and actually executing them with my partner.
When I first began to think about the product or service I wanted to do, I had a million ideas. Because everything seemed so cool to me, that’s also kind of my personality too. I always have so many ideas and I always want to try new things. My involvements were also all over the place at the time. So at the beginning of the process, my partner and I would have different ideas, and every time when we wanted to move forward, we usually encountered difficulties that made us lose motivation or passion for the idea. Then we realized, we would encounter difficulties no matter what we decided to do, but the key was to keep motivated and overcome those obstacles. The motivation actually came from our purpose: what we are passionate about, why we are passionate about it, and what impacts we want to make with our products. So then we really took the time to think about what we truly care about, what we want our product to do, and what message our brand wants to convey. That’s how we came up with the easy-wash reusable straw idea that helps protect the ocean because this is more than just making our customers’ lives easier, but also encourages more potential customers to choose this more eco-friendly lifestyle. This is the bigger outcome we wanted as a brand.
From this process, I was able to redefine “purpose” in everything I do. I started to think about the real outcomes and impacts I want for things I do in my life, and that helped me figure out my lifelong goal and breaks it down into small steps I can practically take. I can see my changes just from my involvement on campus at college and how I keep myself motivated in everything. Now I know how to manage my time wisely based on the purpose of each involvement and what it will bring me. It is a great skill to have as a college student.
LTS: How has LTS defined or redefined preparedness for you in your personal and professional life? I think that preparedness means not only the specific skill sets you need in order to do certain jobs but also in general the skill sets that are needed in almost everything you do in your life. For example, in the LTS program, my partner and I were doing a straw business and we needed to learn very specific skills such as how to write a business plan, how to use 3d printers and design a prototype, etc. But more importantly, we learned skills like public speaking, networking, branding, critical thinking, and storytelling from the process that actually benefited us in the long run. I still remember when my mentor, Mrs. Hall, told us that even if we decided not to continue this project anymore, those skills we gained were going to help us forever in everything we do.
It prepared me to become who I am today as a highly accomplished student leader and productive scholar. For example, recently I’ve been applying for graduate schools and looking at different programs. Because of the skills I gained from the LTS program, I was not afraid of reaching out to professors in other schools that I’d never met before. I was very comfortable emailing them to ask about their research, to introduce myself, and to ask for opportunities to work in their labs. During interviews or meetings with them, I was able to articulate who I am, my research interests, and why I’m a good fit for their labs. I know how to present myself in very professional settings, whether it’s for a job, an internship, or a leadership position. I think this is how LTS defines “preparedness” to me. I am prepared for many challenges I will encounter in the future because even if I cannot overcome them by myself, I know how to find the right people to help me and give me advice from the network and the support system I built over the years.
LTS: What was your knowledge of networking prior to LTS vs after? How has LTS impacted your ability to network? The first time I ever thought about networks seriously was because of the LTS program. Prior to LTS, my only interaction with the word “network” was seeing how my parents would talk to people they know for professional support sometimes. I thought it was very far away from me because as a student, I didn’t usually need much support from people other than my parents, teachers, and peers. However, I think that the LTS program really changed my mindset for networking. Because networking is not something you do because you need something in the moment, you build your network or your support system to make connections you might need later on in the future. Maybe you will never need anything specific from a person in your network, but the connections and conversations you have with that person will always make you a better and more open-minded person. In the LTS program, one of the most important things I learned was how to network. We were encouraged to come up to the guest speakers or professionals at the networking events and introduce ourselves. It was uncomfortable for me at first because I didn’t know what to talk about at first. I would just awkwardly say my name or talk a little bit about what I do. But after practicing it again and again at so many networking events we had, I got so much better. I learned that it is important to do some research about the person you will talk to first, and find already existing connections you have with that person. Every time when we had a guest speaker, Mrs. Hall would give us information about that speaker, and what they do, and sometimes share with us articles they wrote or about them. It helped us to learn about the speaker but also helped us to have this mindset that it is important to do research about the person you would be speaking to. Remember I talked about “purpose” in everything earlier? It is extremely important to know what you want out of this conversation, what you need from that person, and what you want this person to truly learn about you.
Let me tell you a story. I started to truly realize the importance of networking when I got into a huge college campus. It was difficult for me to find my own place at the beginning because there were always a million things going on at the same time on this busy campus. So I built my own support system by starting with coming up to people who do things that I’m interested in and introducing myself. For me, I always want to do research about Media Psychology. So in one of my media classes, I reached out to my professor who studies media science after class, and told him that I was very interested in learning more about his research and asked if he would be willing to let me visit his lab. I did a lot of research about him before I came to him, I read his published journals, university news about his lab, etc. so when I talked to him, I already knew a lot about him. He was flattered and he scheduled a meeting with me immediately to talk more about what he does. I ended up working in his lab for the past two years and he even became my thesis advisor, working with me one-on-one for my own research project. Then, every time I needed advice, I would go to him, and he would refer me to other professionals in the field to better assist me or give me more advice. Then, I started to get to know more and more people in my field and outside of my field. I have a whole support system that when I need help or advice, I know the right person to go to, or I know who might know the right person for me and make an introduction for me.
LTS: What was your experience with risk-taking prior to LTS vs after? How has LTS impacted your ability to take risks? I think the biggest takeaway from LTS regarding risk-taking is the healthy relationship I have right now with failure. Most times in the past (prior to LTS), the reason why I was afraid of taking risks was because I was scared of failure. I don’t like to fail, and I would rather not take any risks so I don’t end up failing. I’m an overachiever and I always have very high expectations for myself. I want everything to be perfect. So I was always worried that failures would waste my time and slow down my progress.
But because of LTS, I realized that if I want to move forward, sometimes I have to take risks. Building a healthy relationship with failure and learning from failure is a critical skill to have. In the program, my partner and I failed so many times. But the reason why we failed was mostly because we wanted to make progress. We failed three times trying to make a 3D model of our product, but we learned how to use the program and design the blueprint. We failed to get the prototype we wanted from the manufacturing company as their machines could not match the precision we asked for, but we still learned how to communicate with a manufacturer professionally and how to negotiate with professionals in the field. We tried to apply for a patent and even spent a lot of money on it, but we still didn’t successfully get one because products that were similar to ours had already been in the market. However, we had the opportunity to talk to a patent lawyer and go through the long process of applying for a patent. We didn’t continue this project when we got into college because of COVID but our growth in the process and the connections we built along the way were something that could help us in the long run. Because we chose to take risks, we were able to experience all the process and become a more mature and professional person. More importantly, we learned that resilience often means a healthy relationship with failure. The more you know what you will get/learn from failures, the less you are afraid of taking risks, and the more progress you will be able to make towards your ultimate goal.