Normally, the value of the LLC is in bringing students together in close quarters. This year, the Magnuson Center had to find another way to build connections between students.
During a more typical year Emma Johnson, D’24, would be spending her downtime chatting, sharing meals and attending events with her fellow classmates in the Magnuson Center’s Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community.
Living Learning Communities (LLCs), which bring together students who share a common interest, are an important way for students on campus to connect with like-minded peers and advance their skill sets. But the pandemic upended LLCs, as Dartmouth carefully orchestrated the safe return of students to campus in order to minimize the risk of COVID. That meant that during the 2020-2021 school year there would be no LLCs in their typical iterations, where students live, study and mingle together.
When the Dartmouth Residential Life Living Learning Community Office reached out to existing LLCs to ask which were interested in piloting a remote LLC experience, only a few LLCs were up for the challenge. The Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community (ELLC) was among them. The Magnuson Center leadership knew that it was important — perhaps more than ever — to give students a chance to connect with others.
“We wanted to still provide the opportunity for students to find their unique cohort of entrepreneurs, designers, computer scientists, creatives and engineers through the ELLC,” says Sarah Morgan, Program Manager for Experiential Learning at the Magnuson Center.
The Magnuson Center doubled down on the ELLC, expanding the program from 12 first year students to 20. Twenty upperclassmen are also part of the ELLC.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how the participants would connect with each other when they weren’t all living in the same space. Normally, the magic of the ELLC is in bringing together so many people with the same mindset in close proximity.
“We had to be creative and entrepreneurial in solving this challenge,” Morgan said.
Typically the ELLC students have dinner together every Monday. With the remote ELLC, that transformed into a Monday speaker series, hosted remotely. It was open not just to the 40 students in the ELLC, but also to the whole Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities. As part of the speaker series, Dartmouth entrepreneurs including Peter Sisson T’94, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Yaza; Arjun Bhatt, D’20, Founder of Who’s Down; and Briana Franklin, D’17, Founder and CEO of The Prosp(a)rity Project all shared their journeys.
“I truly loved the speaker series, which might not have happened without the remote environment,” says Vi Tran, D’23, a student in the ELLC. “I got to listen to world-renowned entrepreneurs and learned so much from them.”
During the spring, the speaker series focused on highlighting student start-ups. Four of the five startups that presented involved members of the ELLC.
“Showcasing student startups that were created out of the 3 Day Startup Dartmouth in the fall (many of which were those of ELLC students) gave the students an even deeper sense of the commitment the Magnuson Center makes to them and the breadth of alumni interest and support,” Morgan said.
Because the speaker series was available to the wider community, it also provided students in the ELLC with a chance to network beyond their usual circles.
“The connections that these young entrepreneurs made with alumni VC’s, magazine editors, interested students, and experienced NGO leaders was serendipitous and amazing,” Morgan says. “This was one of many silver linings we had because of the remote learning requirement.”
In addition to the speaker series, Morgan orchestrated ways for students to safely come together in person. She created student discussion groups of 8-12 students. The groups began meeting at local restaurants, with precautions, while students who were not on campus called in remotely.
Despite the limitations caused by the pandemic, Morgan saw a sense of community build up among the students in the ELLC.
“This cohort of ELLC students is one of the most tight-knit groups I have seen,” she said. “They chose to apply to the ELLC, were selected, and then made the effort to create community.”
Rishik Lad, D' 23, transferred to Dartmouth this year from The University of California Irvine. He was excited to join the ELLC, even though it was remote.
“Ideally, a living learning community involves actually living with each other, but that hasn't been the case,” he says. “That said, Sarah and the rest of the team have been awesome in putting on discussions, workshops, and guest speakers that help us connect with one another over our shared interest in entrepreneurship.”
Compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is from, Lad says that the entrepreneurial scene at Dartmouth is still relatively small. That means that connections like those forged through the ELLC are even more important, he said.
“The ELLC is especially valuable in helping me cross paths with other entrepreneurial Dartmouth students who I might not run into otherwise. I've met some of my closest friends through the ELLC, and we often hit each other up on what's new in tech, startups and VC,” he said. “In a remote context, this makes the ELLC more important than ever.”
Another perk of the remote LLC is that Lad has connected with more students: those that physically share the same dorm as him, and those in the LLC.
Tran also sees a positive.
“I think the ELLC is more important than ever now because we get to meet fellow entrepreneurs and develop a close relationship with each other during the pandemic, where we wouldn't have been able to otherwise,” she said.
No matter what happens during the pandemic, Morgan is confident that the ELLC will continue to provide opportunities for students, whether the program is in person or remote next year.
“The entrepreneurial culture lives on despite and because of the pandemic,” she said.