Interview with Watson University


Lisa: I’m with Watson University talking about their program which is an alternative to college participation for 18 to 23 year old.  What is the focus of the Watson program?

Eric: Watson is a new university model specifically designed for student innovators, entrepreneurs, leaders. So we want to figure out what is the most effective educational environment to help accelerate student entrepreneurs and innovators leaders who are working on solutions to big problems.  The model is based on mentorship and it has three components. The fundamental xxx00:57 we use is transformative action which is focused on skills like empathy, creativity, resilience, xxx01:07. These are the skills necessary for creating self-change but are very, very focused on within the current education system. On top of that are the master courses. So we invite people from the community and around the world to come teach master courses. They come from out of town; they live on campus, so all the residential experience. Each of the master courses is mentorship based, but these experts practitioner are sharing their skills with the next generation. So they are normal people who aren’t teaching in that higher education system because they’re out there doing and we bring them into share their skills with the next generation xxx01:46 their work and innovate on their work. And the last piece is the Watson lab. And this is where each student is actually working on their idea their project they venture in. Basically what it looks like is kind of a co working space follow the students with connection to mentors, connection to potential partners, and connection to potential funders. But the tweak is the transformative action the master courses in the lab make up the bulk of our experience. And the whole idea is currently in university those things often happen from like midnight till two AM because the rest of the day is filled with classes and activities and what not. So we want to make that which is where the most impact come from which is where the most learning comes from. We want to make that the bulk of the experience.


Lisa: Cool. Thank you. Tessa Will you just describe what a typical day might be like as part of the Watson program.


Tessa:  There really is no typical day at Watson.  Days are broken down into buffer days, focus days and free days. So a buffer day is a day when you take meeting and catch upon your e-mails. A focus day is when you will spend multiple hours working on a project and focusing…no social media, no checking your e-mail, no catching up with phone calls.  It’s really xxx03:14 to xxx03:15 yourself.  And then free days are recharge days. So it is days when we check our e-mail, we don’t go to meeting, we don’t focus. We do like I do whatever my heart desires for that time. So usually getting a bunch of Kayle. But I, so that’s how we break the days out and so a day for me with classes is more about buffer day. So I buffer with e-mails in the morning and then I will go to social entrepreneurship and sustainability where I learn about more of the xxx03:48 of different of being social entrepreneur and the contact stuff xxx social entrepreneurs. From there I have lab. So that will give me time to maybe I can focus an hour and a half. But last time is really awesome because we are working together. So it’s more of a co-working place. So like I may be work around Carson about building a website to see xxx04:10 and I do that. Or maybe I’ll ask Melman about a situation I am in and how do I get out of that? What’s the best solution to that? So that’s kind of xxx04:23 and then I play the xxx04:25. Then we have in an hour where we do one on one with another xxx04:30. So we get to know them more personally. So maybe we will go out for dinner together and we really get to know each other. And then transformative action is really cool. It helps in making the world a better place. So we will learn what it takes to do that. We got to learn about like cool things like how to overthrow a dictator not violently and just stuff like that. So that’s a typical day event like how it happens at night, that’s when you are most of our live together. So there is lot of like brainstorming and lot of discussions that happen throughout the night. So it’s kind of xxx05:08.

Lisa: OK, great. Fantastic thanks. Carson, do you think you can talk about your experience, your personal experience and what the benefits have been from your perspective of your three months in.


Carson: The most beneficial part of an accelerator at Watson is the productive collisions that happen. Whether that’s structured in a contextual class, or a lab or as Tessa was mentioning three hours of night and morning, there is so much knowledge and so many different skill sets across the table. So in different prospective but with missions xxx05:53 that are generally aligned dear to your customary idea that you should sound yourself the people who believe in what you believe and that’s what Watson is doing putting a bunch of young entrepreneurs in a xxx06:12 and saying, you guys you twelve or fifteen or eighteen of you are highly compatible and the world would be a better place now because xxx06:19 now you are working on xxx06:20 because of your relationships with each other. So Watson focuses on this notion of eternal relationships which is facilitated by this xxx06:28. That’s the greatest benefit I have seen. That being said we have an excellent mentor network. It’s always xxx06:39. That’s the product of us reaching out into the rest of the world xxx06:42 conference as well as xxx06:44 from their network as well people, we have been overwhelmingly humble and grateful to all the people who have come forward to say we want to help because they recognize the need. Having people come to you offering xxx07:01 they can’t to empower young people is something that used to happen xxx07:05.

Lisa: Fantastic. So I have the promise that education is going to change in five particular areas that I Call the five C’s and those are community, curation, content, customization and credential. So it sounds like your community piece is super, super strong. Really one of the key tenants and that your content comes as a sort of spinoff from the community built into the mentor network. Customization seems to be sort of these central pieces because people are coming in on their own visions. What’s your answer to what I often call the holy grill of education change which is an alternate signaling system, the credential piece? How do you tie how does Watson address this still somewhat present desire people have for their experience being recognized through a credential or alternative signaling system.

Watson: Definitely so it is the holy grill. I agree fully and this semester we built the partnership with the University of Colorado. So students at Watson college they want they need can get active credit from CU for their experience at Watson. And that partnership was very difficult to create and in many ways a miracle that it came together. And the first of its kind and I think it xxx08:39 for the fact that something like Watson can get academic credit from the current system, right. And so CU is giving credit for the lab. CU is giving credit for transformative action which is of course for empathy and creativity and resilience, right. These are very nontraditional content pieces that we are getting credential by the current system and that was an important precedence. In the future we made a neutral decision to CU to not move forward starting and explaining. And we felt that I mean I have definitely felt that I think we can hear from this college very limited in what we can both now and even maybe more in the future by having to get credit from the current system. My whole goal in designing Watson was to create a university model that’s fully accountable to no one but the students themselves. As moving forward without the credit has been really a relief in a lot of ways because it means we will be able to select student who aren’t concerned with getting credit from the current system and then design the experience fully for them and meanwhile what we are doing is working on a collaboration with several of the startup university models. Singularity University in the bay area, the Armani institute in East Africa and xxx09:58 and a few others to say what if we were to create our own accreditation system. That’s an alternative to accreditation system that carries the xxx10:08 and the credibility that people desire but is all based on this fundamental belief that there is one stakeholder that we are accountable to and that’s the student themselves


Lisa: Great, fantastic. Two more questions. One is going to be about what kind of students should apply and how and second one is cost in terms of logistics. That what kind of people you know what’s the age? What’s the style? What kind of people should be saying “hey this sounds like it’s for me”. But before I do that I want to say before the adventures the sea unreasonable at sea. But you know I think specifically you think might have been missed that I should I consider when doing that little encapsulation of the experience at Watson.

Eric: Sure first of all I did two years of college and so I got that kind of as a reference point something to compare that Watson experience to. And yeah basically I feel like Watson is the first getting the dynamic between the professors and students right. When you ask a professor what their job is at a university for example a lot of the answers will be predominantly research, you know writing paper, getting xxx11:22 and at Watson it’s about inspiring and about encouraging students to delve into their passions and explore their curiosity. And as a student you know you, there is no better yeah there’s no better model for teachers and professors than that, then being inspired and being given the possibilities to and encouragement to develop their curiosities and explore what they are truly interested in. So that’s really what I have been able to benefit a lot from at Watson University and now I also want to add on to the productive collisions that you talked about because that’s totally right. When you are living with student that are all inspired, that all have motivation and incentive to change the world, you can only imagine what like great ideas and great force of these and collaborations come from that.

Lisa: Cool. Thank you.


Carson: Can I add something to the credential side.


Lisa: Yes.


Carson: There is a front facing end of the credential which is how are the people perceive what you have done and that’s larger xxx12:40 the represents. That equally it is important and equally its more often it is left is that part of the credential that tells you xxx12:48 which was inferior xxx12:50 and other credential system that many are arguing as failed and secondary education. And maybe even more so on higher education where you have to score online. Watson offers some intangible credentials if you will or metrics for understanding your progress that definitely takes care of that side of things. Working with in Lab with entrepreneur coaches and mentor to measure understand your progress, how you got where you got there? How long will it take to get where you want to be? It’s a huge part of understand the success of University that functions as a startup accelerator. Likewise if all of us subscribe to the idea that we are entrepreneurs for the purpose of making the world a positive some xxx13:38, that is everybody gets more out of it then they brought to the table. It is relatively evident if we succeeded in that goal while we have or have not succeeded in our ventures. And obviously that’s Watson’s primary xxx13:53 for stake ownership as well.

Lisa: That’s a great, great distinction. Thank yeah. Personally I am onboard for that because external signal pieces really but is important to my mind its, the only reason it is important is because people still believe it, you know. Other than that it’s not really important at all. So how about the logistical questions. Who should apply and how much does it cost?

Watson: Yeah so we like we say it’s like that occasion from students, innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs. And specifically students who have an idea to solve one of the big problems, one of the problems that matter that will make the world a positive sum game as Carson said. What’s unique about Watson in many ways is that it is not just people who are starting something. You don’t have to be starting a xxx14:37 company or a profit organization. We are looking for students with big ideas or big solutions that they are working on, that they made tangible progress with but don’t necessarily have to be their own venture, their own organization. In many case it is but not in every case. So the students coming in to Watson who are applying to us the policy change related ideas and how do we create campaigns around policy change. The students who are Watson currently who are entrepreneurs, they are working in another organization, have a leadership role within that organization and that organization has a mission to into address conflict in East Africa or to help address xxx15:16 changes something like that. And so entrepreneurs, policy minded people, entrepreneurs we encourage applications from groups and the reason for that is we believe that the entrepreneur can learn a lot from the policy minded person. While entrepreneurs are working on creating their own parallel systems, policy minded folks are working on how do we change the current system. So there is a lot of xxx15:42 that can come from those two being in the same environment as the other. And great teams can form for that and what not. So encourage applications from student’s xxx15:50 with big ideas to solve problems in, specifically students who are already making progress on those idea, have already beyond just the idea phase. It can still be the early stage but we want something tangible coming in that we can really help work with and accelerate. And then we have partners who are great for students to a kind of in the pre-idea stage and are really passionate and are quite sure what channel they are in xxx16:14 and others are good examples of that.


Lisa: Age wise I assume because you are an onsite program, residential program the eighteen is a requirement as of start of the program.


Watson: It’s not a requirement. Its, but the majority of students were graduated from high school.


Lisa: OK.


Watson: I could definitely see a case where student has either finished high school early or decided to drop out of high school and if they are..


Lisa: I am asking from the prospective that my community is 1200 people who didn’t go to high school like their home school and so a lot of time they are already, they either done their SSC degree when they are sixteen or you know. So I guess that’s not that I necessarily imagine like lot of sixteen year old being ready to do but just wondering how hard the cutoff line is.


Watson: It’s definitely not a cutoff. I think it’s more a generalization. So it’s more about the individual then the age. So 18 to 23 years is kind of a, I know your community has a lot of people who have taken trail blazer on path and so that’s more we are looking for then specific age group.


Person x: xxx17:22 question. Do you have anything to add to the admission, what kind of students we are looking at?


Tessa: Yeah OK. So I’ll add I would encourage people like I came straight from high school and I would encourage the generalization that I am xxx17:40 high school and they have an idea. I think Watson was for me the best decision I would possibly need coming out of high school because I think if xxx17:49 was to xxx17:51 their meaning, it was kind of followed there you know idea that I would have xxx17:53. Like that was my intention to do was to take a gap year and I didn’t really have a plan how I am going to do that? And I think Watson was the perfect place for me to xxx18:06 me to be a more empowered person to go out into the world. Already for those who graduate high school I think it’s all the more important to keep in mind that we need I think you succeed at Watson if you are a self-directed learner, we are not going to hold your head. So as much as we offer guidance let me tell you like this is how you start a company. You are going to have to do that xxx18:25, learn, go offer the support. But I think people should know that xxx18:30, let me tell you what to do. Like we want people who are highly motivated to, are going to take risk who you know more instead of asking us like O what do I do next. Doing it next and maybe failing and coming back and saying “Well I failed. So how can I maneuver on that”? So that’s more what I see the applicants keeping in mind that self-directed learner is highly motivated, who is going to take risk, who is willing to be challenged by their peers and who xxx19:05 importantly be really a big attraction to Watson. Watson wants people like that. Definitely all of the chill from it because we are like “this is heaven for us”. Like we can have a conversation but at night what it is that Watson. So I think most importantly it’s the community of people that we get to live with and having discussion with that really xxx19:28.


Watson:  Cool, thanks. So Lisa, the first question is fifteen thousand dollars for the semester includes housing on campus, not meals. So we meals separately and some of the meals they are kind of family style. But once a student is accepted we work with him to determine the exact amount of tuition fee they pay. So only a few students pay for tuition and..


Lisa:  You have sponsorships or..


Watson:  Yeah. So we are able to give scholarships and we are also doing income sharing in partnership with xxx. If the scholarship doesn’t cover the gap between what they pay and the full tuition, then a student can choose to do income sharing, facilitated by and we see that as a very important alternative with the known model. So we are committed to two things. We are committed to one making sure a student never hesitates let alone to attend Watson and two committed to ensuring that if the student is accepted to Watson, they can afford it regardless of their financial ability. So tuition is need blind, admission is need blind and then once you are accepted we work with him on a case by case basis. Our goal is to breakeven but we have the investors and sponsors to make sure that when student apply to us from whatever backgrounds they are coming from, they can afford Watson regardless of how much they can pay. So and then we have students who are coming to us currently paying 20+ thousand dollars per semester for the university that they are attending. So Watson tuition is less than that, you know the full tuition and actually included in that 15000 is a personal scholarship for another xxx21:12. So helps us create the sliding scale. So someone is coming and paying for tuition, they actually have to sponsor a fund that goes to scholarships for every student.


Lisa:  Yeah.


Watson: And that helps create this pure accountability and support and investment because if I am on scholarship and you are having to pay for tuition, I know that xxx21:29 possible for me to be at Watson. So now we are fully invested in each other’s success and is that peer to peer investment rich.


Lisa: Builds a community.


Watson: Builds a community and  to my mind the long term value comes from the peer to peer relationship as much as it does from mentors that we get xxx21:44.


Lisa: That’s fantastic thank you guys