Helping students jumpstart ‘side projects’

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
February 15, 2018

Two Arts & Sciences students have started a new community to help students tackle what they’re calling “side projects” — ideas for books, blogs, campaigns, businesses or social justice ventures.

Patterned after Google’s “sprints” and other progressive tech company practices, Tina He ‘19 and Maya Frai ’20 named their organization Backyard and hope it will help students turn an idea into a completed project in about six weeks.

“Backyard allows students to find a community of like-minded people who all have ideas for projects that are doable,” said He, an information science and comparative literature double major. “They just need resources, a roadmap of milestones and a group of people to hold them accountable.”

He and Frai, an information science major, are accepting proposals from students through Feb. 15 and will hold a kickoff meeting Feb. 23 at eHub Collegetown, where they’re inviting students to share their ideas.

They’ve already received about 30 proposals. “We were thinking if we could help about four people that would be great,” He said. “We had no idea it would be this popular. Clearly, there’s a demand for this type of group.”

Students involved in Backyard will be guided to reach weekly milestones, from refining an idea and exploring possible solutions to finding resources. For some teams, Frai and He will offer customized plans for moving forward, but they expect other teams will come up with this plan on their own, with help from other members of the Backyard community.

“We’re confident that students will be way more successful that they would if they were trying to do this on their own,” He said.

Both He and Frai have side projects of their own, He said, Backyard being one of them. Frai also started a swimwear company in high school, as well as, a website that helps students studying for high school AP exams.

“At Cornell, we are surrounded by people who do fun and cool things while making a positive impact,” Frai wrote in a post about Backyard. “It seems like they are always doing something that excites them, and we realized that they have found a sweet spot where what they love meets what needs to be done.”

The partners say completing side projects is not only personally rewarding for students, but helps them learn useful skills for their future careers.

Applications can be submitted by visiting the Backyard site. And students are welcome to attend the kickoff meeting to see this semester’s ideas, from 5-6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23 at eHub Collegetown, 409 College Ave.

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