by Sam Xifaras
Starting a new club feels like a badge of honor. I have always admired my peers who possessed the initiative to start clubs in high school, and I definitely admire the founders and leaders of the highly advanced organizations that can be found on Northeastern's campus, such as Scout and IDEA, to name a couple.
But I'm here to tell the story of a newcomer to the student organization scene that goes by the name of Oasis.
Let's jump right in at the very beginning.
Meeting of Minds
In my freshman year at Northeastern, I was involved with a student club called Origin. Every few weeks, they would have speakers give talks, and those events often turned into networking events after the presentations. One evening, when I was at one of these events, I was approached by Will Stenzel, a fellow student who had overheard me talking to someone about an app that my friends and I were working on at the time. He pitched me on the idea of a web app which would allow students to participate in a community of people working on personal projects. Students would be able to see what other software passion projects students are working on and post their own. He called it "Oasis."
"That sounds really cool," I said. "I'd love to help you build it!"
Thus began our friendship, as well as our shared mission to actualize this idea. We prototyped a simple web app that would allow students to post their projects and comment on others' project pages, and we went right into coding it up during the summer of 2019. As we were working, I think we both knew something was missing. We were too eager to start coding, and we neglected the big picture, so the project ended up fizzling out.
In early 2020, Will and I both got admitted to Sandbox, another club on campus that is a student-run software consultancy group. Will had a new iteration of the Oasis idea in mind: a comprehensive student experience rather than a simple web app. The executive board of Sandbox was very receptive to our idea, and they gave us space to build it and communicate it to the other members.
At this point, the idea was starting to take shape. Oasis would be a place where students can come to make their software project ideas a reality with the guidance of experienced mentors. We had briefing documents written up, conversations arranged with higher-ups in Khoury college, and a regular team meeting cadence. This work continued throughout early and mid-2020 to prepare for the big launch in the fall.
Oasis initially had two components: a workshop series and a project accelerator. The workshop series delivered educational content about a specific topic (the first workshop series was focused on web development), while the project accelerator was a space for students to form groups and build whatever they want with software under the guidance of experienced mentors who offer advice and unblock the groups when they get stuck.
In Fall 2020, we kicked things off. The workshops started out strong, but unfortunately, interest did not persist through the semester. After the program wrapped up, we took a step back and thought about what makes Oasis truly unique. We realized that it was the community and mentorship that we were yearning for as we were getting started with software rather than online tutorials, videos, or workshops. With this in mind, we consolidated our existing workshop content into online resources and allocated all our energy towards the project accelerator. We became more intentional about the decisions we made for the accelerator, and we made small tweaks to really nail down the operations of Oasis and improve the Oasis experience for participants. This realignment has had remarkable results; in the time since Oasis began we’ve gone from 17 to 31 participants, and we are looking forward to continuing this growth.
Throughout the planning of Oasis, we observed similar initiatives crop up independently such as Forge. Along with our own success, we took this to mean that this model works.
The Oasis Model
- Participants form groups
- Mentors support the groups
- Participants are free to build whatever they want with some structure, but not too much
- We provide a body of educational content for participants who want to get up to speed.
Upon realizing this, we arrived at this question: "What if we could take our implementation of this model, and 'export' it to others who want to make their own Oases?"
Obviously, the human element is the most important part of any organization, but there are certain processes that we have been automating as part of our toolkit. We have been developing these tools internally and we are excited to share them.
In our next post, we will tell you more about this "secret sauce," how it works, how we built it, and how it can be used.
Thanks to Will Stenzel and Stephen Grello for reading over my drafts, and special thanks to Will Stenzel for helping me through some writer's blocks :).
Last updated: 12/2/21