Hey! I was a student at City College of San Francisco and made a post a few months ago thanking Open Hatch for their effort in enabling us put on our third epic Open Source Comes to Campus event.
With college being in recess for summer, I finally got to finish a summation on various experiences, thoughts and facts that I and my co-organizers had. I hope what’s below the cut will help future student organizers be prepared and current Open Hatch contributors become aware of what some student organizers are experiencing in the field.
Before we head off, a short history.
I have been a student at City College of San Francisco since Fall 2012. In the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semester, I had the good fortune of working with Katherine and the Coders’ Club to put on Open Hatch’s ‘Open Source comes to Campus‘ event. A day long workshop, OSCTC is a place for fledgling or expert programmers and non-technical but interested individuals to learn the fundamentals of open source technology and beliefs by participating in a curriculum developed by Open Hatch and taught by local open source hackers. This was the Coders’ Club’s fourth time hosting this workshop.
Hosting Open Hatch’s “Open Source Comes to Campus” event at City College has had to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in the last few years. I experienced personal growth as I fulfilled the roles of student leader, event organizer, financial planner and even impromptu mentor. I have seen first hand the enjoyment fellow students had as they learned new skills and made friends with local Bay Area hackers and peers. Perhaps the most fulfilling part of this awesome experience has been the feeling that I was a part of something greater than myself. Open Hatch and City College have provided me the resources to generate interest in and provide beginners with knowledge of the open source way of thinking and doing, which is something I am growing to value deeply.
This is a link to our most recent semesters BridgeTroll event page. It details our curriculum, number of attendees, number of mentors, etc. I will be using these specifics as the basis for most of my analysis of how the event went.
I want to thank Katherine Moloney for finding, bringing and ensuring success for Open Hatch’s program at City College. Without her kindness, sharp wit and experience, none of this would have ever been possible.
Without Asheesh Laroia’s guidance and ability to lead the entire show effortlessly well, this whole event would have not been quite so excellent. Without Shauna Gordon-McKeon, we would not have had the tools or encouragement (or OpenHatch itself…) that are so desperately needed to pull something like this off.
Deciding whether or not OSCTC is right for you
Know your school.
I have found City College to be ripe with opportunities for the motivated student organizer. City College is one of the largest community colleges in California and has quite a diverse student body population, practically ensuring that there is at least a few people in the college who share your interests and might be willing to help you or your group. The administrators have some basic resources like rooms with projectors, white boards, tables and chairs. Faculty support was crucial, and fortunately for us, abundant as some faculty went as far as to print our flyers and put them around their offices or to offer extra credit in their classes to those students who attended our event. Most students, in an unofficial quick poll at the front door of the event, said they found out about the event from an in-class announcement from their teacher.
Know your student body.
The students that show up to extra-curricular events are among some of the most interesting, energetic and dedicated people I have seen at City College. At the end of the big day, one mentor was very impressed with the amount of energy their students put into overcoming challenges that come with learning anything new. “They want to be there,”” the mentor exclaimed, “and it’s very different from your typical college classroom where half the class is asleep!” This positive vibe among the attendees should be encouraged. Consider how you can help shape the atmosphere in the room to match the students’ excitement (see The beginning of the day section below).
I could not possibly imagine spending as much time as I did on organizing an event that was nothing more than a mark on someone else’s check list. I wanted to materialize something that represented values that I would like to see more of in the world.
For myself, I would not say I have always had some fervent love for open source software. I was and still am a novice to the open source world, but I had enough of a taste of it in my meanderings through the Internet and friends that I wanted to explore my interest further. I think that was an excellent indicator for me to know I had found the right event to put my time into: an unexplored interest that I was eager to learn more about.
Preventing common student issues.
Host training days before the event.
This was as simple as reserving a room at our school for a two hour period on two different days and time periods to provide as much opportunity for the students as possible. During the training day, we helped students by guiding them through Open Hatch’s laptop setup instuctions., and help students get through any errors they get during the setup. Make sure to have at least one student present who is self reportedly ‘pretty good’ at general computer troubleshooting / googling. Bonus points: edit the wiki with solutions if you find an error!
There are no statistics for how much this helps, but I heard from almost all the students who attended this say that it helped very much. The typical 30 minutes that are suggested on the schedule is just not enough if you face even a mild error during any of the 3 stage setup process.
Provide a link to the setup instructions on the event site.
Encourage students to find time to go through the setup instructions before the event. Same reasons as above.
We raised $1150.00 for this event. We spent $976.23. We provided lunch and breakfast for our ~70 attendees and ~8 mentors and paid Open Hatch a $500.00 honorarium for their amazing work. Lunch cost us $400.00 flat and covered a wide range of dietary restrictions.
Assuming that all day “Open Source Comes to Campus” events, y’know, stay on campus and are not part of larger conventions where food is provided, then food will be the primary cost concern. The campus should cover other concerns like space, utilities, physical accessibility, chairs and tables, etc. When the event becomes even moderately sized (~50 people total), the food cost can be prohibitively expensive without some sort of funding to help cover the cost.
Even if food costs have been covered, consider leaving a link to Open Hatch’s donation page on your fund raising emails or donating any extra money you may be left with after buying your supplies.
First, ‘Software engineering’ is really big in the Bay Area right now. Second, I was lucky enough to work with Katherine who had already figured out the details of securing a large portion of the money from TechSF, a San Francisco initiative to pay for tech job skills training. Mozilla, the maker of FireFox, was able to sponsor our event as well as provide valuable mentors during the event (time is money, as they say). Finally, we were able to petition our school government for a large portion of money.
Regrettably, I found the school to have the most obstacles in the way of raising money, as we had to constantly navigate needlessly restrictive rules. These outdated rules barred us from spending over $300 on lunch (read: less than $4.00 a person for an event this size), and included an ever shifting policy which defied our repeated attempts at streamlining this painful process.
In general, we found success by petitioning our local government, local businesses who might have an interest in our event, and our school government. For each group, we explained our goals with the event, gave links for them to find out more via Open Hatch’s website, and prepared an orderly display of our expenses so the group could see specifically where their money would be going. Making contact and building a relationship with someone in these people’s offices has enabled us to continue to reliably receive funding over the years.
Thoughts on improving fund raising: for campus organizers.
We were happy to just avoid paying a cent and award Open Hatch a nice honorarium, but I think we could have had great success raising even more money for Open Hatch with little effort if we had petitioned local businesses more. Open Hatch seems to have had success raising money in the past (see: OSCTC main page) and with each new successful “Open Source Comes to Campus” event, the evidence grows that it is a great program.
We have never tried fund raising via bake sales or other ‘events.’ I am not sure whether a fund raising event would actually bring in a significant amount of cash, but it would act as form of advertising for your event. I feel that having physical markers around the school (flyers, events, etc) serves to solidify the event as ‘real’ in students’ minds, as well as reach a wider audience. If I were to put this event on again, I would seriously consider some type of fund raising event for the sake of advertising.
Also, if your event is big enough to get to this level, consider an online crowd sourcing option like KickStarter.
Thoughts on helping student organizers fundraise.
Surprisingly, there is little guidance given by Open Hatch on how to fundraise for an OSCTC event. The Trello project template only lists a set of bullet points suggesting one to look into how to get money from schools, local/global tech companies, or (as a last resort) Open Hatch themselves. The entire ‘Event Help’ section on the Open Hatch Discourse forum lacks a subsection for fund raising. The closest thing Open Hatch does to giving guidance on fund raising is the ‘getting the word out’ page and a near empty Discourse section on publicity.
Actionable goals to improve a campus organizer’s ability to fundraise:
– Provide nicely formatted fill-in-the-blank emails which campus organizers could use to fire around to the places they think they can fundraise most successfully.
– Add a fundraising section for organizers to discuss their success or failures in fund raising.
We have been able to gather ~70 students almost every semester by
1. sending emails to faculty asking them to make in class announcements
2. flyering, and
3. scheduling before midterms.
We are looking into how to increase student turn out.
One issue is that we have very little data on the students that attend. When I was helping Katherine put on the first iteration of the event, we were able to have people sign up through our own website, as opposed to BridgeTroll, and have people sign up through a custom Google Forms survey. We were able to ask useful questions like “How did you discover the event” which helped us quantitatively know which methods of outreach were most effective. Another type of question, like “What part of the workshop are you most excited about,” was useful to see what types of things students are most interested in. This was nice to know so that we could potentially emphasize this aspect of the event next time, or flesh it out/take more time with it. It would be very nice to at least be able to add optional questions for students to answer to the BridgeTroll student and mentor sign up forms (see: this issue on the GitHub repo.
I can’t help but imagine that increasing our physical presence at the school in the weeks leading up to the event would increase student turnout. What would be truly awesome is some kind of ‘Open Source Hack Day’ or an open source speaker to come to the college. It would be an excellent idea for someone to create a GitHub repo of fun and simple pre-event events that organizers could hold as a way of promoting the Open Hatch event.
The lead mentor
We found greater success in having one “lead mentor” rather than each mentor leading one section of the workshop. The primary qualities of the lead mentor is someone who is happy to speak in front of the entire group and has the ability to spend at least some time (less than 2 hours) understanding the schedule of the day and flipping through the slides for the lectures and activities. The duties of the lead mentor include announcing transitions between activities and presenting lectures and activities in a way even an absolute beginner could understand.
Due to the increased amount of dedication that is required by the lead mentor, it may be hard to find someone to commit to doing it. Other options are:
– Having one of the event organizers take on the lead mentor’s responsibilities. Some technical know-how and general knowledge of open source is helpful.
– Switching to the “one mentor, one section” method. In this method, each mentor takes responsibility of leading one activity or lecture. The preparation is minimal, but highly recommended that some preparation is taken before hand.
I have to admit that we have a lot of help here in San Francisco. Not only is there a lot of hype around technology in general in San Francisco, Asheesh was there to pull in members of the Open Source community he knew.
If we were not so lucky, we would have tried sending emails to or attending events at local businesses, hacker spaces, and public events on meetup.com. Posting on Open Hatch’s Discourse would also be a great method of finding contacts.
What’s in it for the mentors?
When convincing potential mentors to become actual mentors, it is helpful to explain what impact they will be having on the students and what other benefits there are besides the ‘warm fuzzies’ of helping out Open Hatch. In an introductory email, we usually mention that they can spread the word about their project and potentially find contributors among the attending students. (Caveat: At the typical level I am seeing students at, they are not ready to contribute to an open source project.)
Mentors who have helped us told us that they come away from Open Source Comes to Campus excited by how stoked the students were to be there, laughing and learning. Watching a newbie have the light go on in their head, or making a friend while trying to fix a bug, really is a special reward for only an 8 hour event.
Helping mentors prepare.
OpenHatch is attempting to curate open source projects that are prepared to welcome newbies. These efforts are currently in the works, with a few “recommended” projects that are particularly welcoming to a newbie. If a mentor has no project to on-board students to, they may find interest in helping students contribute to the projects on this list. Wikipedia is also really easy to begin contributing to and non-technical, making it easy for mentors and students alike to dive right in.
However, mentors who already have some on-boarding process setup for novice contributors tend to find that no contributions are made at the end of the day. This is to be expected when most of the students are near total beginners. The real goal for a mentor interested in on-boarding students onto their project is to get students to stay interested in their project even after the event has ended. Reassuring students that the mentor is there to find them a part of the project that is interesting to the student, swapping emails and building excitement for why the project is so cool is an excellent way to retain potential contributors, and hopefully have them become self-sustaining members of the open source community.
The Big Day: Thoughts
I have attempted to gather some first hand accounts of students’ experiences. So far, I have two people who have responded to my queries:
Before open hatch I had doubts about picking CS as a major or a minor or just
continue learning it in general. After the event I have decided to study computer
science in greater depth.
Mentors did an amazing job. They were patient and nice and answered pretty much
every one of my stupid questions. It was very interesting and inspiring to listen to
each story. All in all, I couldn’t have spent that Saturday better.
– Siuzanna Arutiunova, City College of San Francisco Student
I was talking with a mentor about my uncertainty on choosing the computer science major.
The mentor was kind enough to let me meet her for lunch and see what she does as a programmer!
Thanks OpenHatch for such an excellent opportunity!
– OpenHatch Attendee and City College of San Francisco student.
The beginning of the day
In the beginning of the day, students seemed a bit shy. I feel somewhat responsible for that as I imagined these students walking into a large room full of strangers without much guidance as to the day’s events. Planning for someone to be a door greeter, projecting the schedule on the wall (which Asheesh thought of, thanks!), and maybe playing some music may help ease students into the unfamiliar space. By the end of the day, none of this was a problem as it appeared that everyone was very engaged and talkative.
I can’t help but mention that members of the Coders’ Club were so stoked on the event that we got together and made a thank you email for the mentors and Open Hatch. You can find that email as a blog post on OpenHatch’s blog, here.
From the sidelines, it seemed that some students can quickly get lost if there are not enough mentors to guide everyone through the activities. With our pairing of ~8 mentors for ~70 students, it seemed we could have used maybe twice the amount of mentors we had. I think it would be beneficial to have a list of ‘expert’ students planned out in advance who could act as junior mentors to field some of the easier trouble shooting problems that inevitably arise as people begin the activities.
My informal census states that, by and large, the Career Panel (“musical chairs” version) and the GitHub Activity are the beloved darlings of the whole show. Even with the amount of mentors we had, we could have easily spent >2 hours rotating mentors through all the tables and letting them talk the students about their jobs, projects, and stories of joining the open source force. The GitHub Activity seems to go over so well since students get the “this is what it’s really like” feeling in a controlled and mentored environment.
Handling “beginners” and “experts” during the event.
Even before the BridgeTroll pages this year, we tried to track students based on what boiled down to “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced.” If you’re going to learn from the workshops and lectures, you’re probably a beginner or intermediate. If you’re ready to contribute to an open source project, you’re probably advanced. The large majority of our students selected beginner or intermediate, with only 3 of our ~60 students at the last event checking advanced.
We have tried to provide for intermediate to advanced students with an extra table during the “Github Activity,” where the idea is to pair them with a mentor who can field more advanced git questions (or whatever students have questions about). This did not work out since the beginners were a majority and required all of our (admittedly short-staffed) mentors’ attention. Advanced students seemed okay with helping other students around them and enjoying the free food, but I can’t but feel I failed to deliver much value to them during the GitHub Activity. Planning alternate activities for the advanced students during the GitHub Activity would help advanced students gain as much from the activity as the beginner and intermediate students. However, during the lectures, career panels and contribution workshop, both beginners and experts seemed to have an excellent time.
Students, find time for this event at your campus. It really is a unique opportunity for the mentors, peers and organizers to push for more contributions on software we all use everyday. The amount of help that Open Hatch provides by helping find mentors and solid, fun and clear lesson plans makes organizing the event quite straight forward.
Open Hatch, so far so good. I’ve bolded the thoughts I and my co-organizers have had after 3 semesters of running this event. I hope these thoughts will guide Open Hatch to even greater heights and more campus’!