Ashoka Fellow and “Serial Founder” Alisa Del Tufo Engages Middlebury Students


Alisa is deep in thought as she listens to student participants come up with new and innovative ways for her to promote her movement, “A Word Is Worth.”

Throughout her career, Alisa Del Tufo has believed deeply in the goal of community empowerment. As she states, “We need to get this idea out there: the people in our communities are actually the most powerful engine for change and we need to find effective and ethical and meaningful ways of bringing their participation into the conversation about change.”

Wow. For me, as a young woman interested in community-based activism, hearing Alisa talk about her work was incredibly cool. It was exciting and empowering. She has spent thirty years tackling issues of domestic violence from both a hands-on and policy-based standpoint. She has identified the areas in which government programs are not sufficient, and she has had the courage, spunk and creativity to develop innovative programs that meet those unaddressed needs. With all her experience in the field of social entrepreneurship, Alisa is an invaluable mentor for Middlebury students. But equally or perhaps more important than Alisa’s knowledge is her compassion, humility and dedication to her work. Her mentoring goes beyond strict skills; she models kindness and a commitment to what she loves. For us, as college students who are unsure where our lives lead, this is a powerful example. With a smile, Alisa said, “I made somewhat of a left turn from studying Tibetan Buddhism to becoming a feminist activist. But it didn’t seem like a left turn to me; it seemed completely in line with really trying to understand what made people tick and what their values were – and it’s those ideas that are important to me.” Continue reading

MiddCORE Alum Alec MacMillen Takes the Stage as TEDx Speaker

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The Project on Creativity and Innovation (PCI) is Middlebury’s “launchpad for new ideas.” Through programs such as MiddCORE, the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, TEDxMiddlebury and a host of others, PCI fosters a dynamic community of actively engaged thinkers and learners. This is an exciting community to be a part of: it is bursting with creative ideas and innovative individuals.

Alec MacMillen ’14 is one such individual. As a MiddCORE alum, a MiddCOREplus intern and the student speaker at this fall’s TEDx conference, Alec has embraced the opportunities Middlebury offers to expand education in new directions.

I had the chance to sit down with Alec this week to hear about his experience as a TEDx speaker and discuss the message he conveyed through his eighteen-minute TED talk, titled “The Extrovert Ideal and the Best Four Years of Your Life.” Continue reading

S’mores and Spooky Stories: A Halloween MiddCORE Reunion

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The night was strangely warm for late October. Gusts of wind shook the last remaining leaves from the skeletal trees. The whole atmosphere seemed unsettled and unpredictable. Out of the darkness, the MiddCORE house glowed like a jack-o’-lantern, and flames danced in the old fireplace. You could not have asked for a better night or a better place for Halloween stories. Continue reading

Watch Videos of MiddCORE in Action

Crisis Management

As part of the experiential learning that takes place at MiddCORE, students were handed the roles of upper management of Toyota during the accelerator crisis. Mentor Gary Holmes, Principal at Gary Holmes Communications LLC, helped the students craft their crisis management techniques and then put them into action. Take a look at what happened.

Idea Creation

MiddCORE participants have the opportunity to create their own innovation during MiddCORE, called the Innovation Challenge. The Innovation Challenge also encourages students to reach out to the mentors that hold workshops during the program. As part of the idea development process, Lisa Condino (Teaching Artist and Regional Coordinator of VSA Vermont) and EJ Bartlett (Creative Director of EJ Creative) held a prototyping and idea creation workshop that helped students understand their ideas in a physical way.

Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

During MiddCORE January ’13, students were tasked with a challenge related to social entrepreneurship. The challenges included food hubs, education in VT, and in this case, homelessness. Students evaluated the challenge at hand and proposed a comprehensive solution with the skills they had learned.

Interview with 2013 Innovation Challenge Winner

Throughout the four week MiddCORE program, each individual is challenged to come up with their own innovation.  At the end of the four weeks, innovation ideas are presented based on the skills that are learned throughout the program.  This past January, Sophie Lew, a Senior-Feb, won the MiddCORE at Middlebury innovation challenge.  Below highlights some of Lew’s sentiments around the whole experience:

MiddCORE Winter Term (j-term) class presentations at the McCullough Social Space

In one word, how would you describe your MiddCORE experience?

Can you briefly describe your innovation challenge idea? 
Self-pleasure devices for people with disabilities.

How did you come up with your innovation challenge idea?  Was there one specific mentor or MiddCORE day that really helped you with your innovation challenge?  
I was sitting with Mike Kiernan during one of the mentoring sessions and I was blabbing on about various ideas and he said, “Stop. Now tell me what you like to do/are passionate about.” And so I began telling him about Camp Jabberwocky (a camp for individuals with cerebral palsy) and we got into the problems that I saw there and BOOM my idea was born.

Why did you decide to take the MiddCORE class? 
I felt like there was a missing link between what I have learned in school and “the real world” in which I am about to enter. I wanted to connect these and understand how to synthesize and apply what I have learned to actual challenges that I may face in a job.

Would you recommend others to be a part of MiddCORE?
Yes, a thousand times over. It is something you do not want to miss.

What is one thing you got from your MiddCORE experience that you did not expect? 
Confidence – in all forms. Confidence with my own ideas, presenting, leading a team, handling a crisis situation in a job, communication, making cold calls, innovation and creative thinking.

VPR Teaches MiddCORE Active Listening

On Tuesday, MiddCORE headed up to Vermont Public Radio for a field trip to work with Jane Lindholm, host of VPR’s noontime Vermont Edition, on the interviewing process. The show seems to run effortlessly, but students soon learned that behind the scenes an orchestrated team fields calls, sets up questions, and feeds IM messages to Lindholm all as she articulates thoughtful questions and listens to the interviewee and callers.



After Lindholm wrapped up Tuesday’s Vermont Edition on revenue generated from break open tickets, rodent poisons, and curling, she spent about two hours helping MiddCORE students understand what makes for a good interview. She demonstrated an interview with Hugh Marlow, and the students had the opportunity to dissect and discuss the process.


Lindholm also talked to MiddCORE students about the most relevant interview they often face: the job interview. Her number one suggestion for all interviewees is to be honest. “If you don’t know an answer, it is okay to say you don’t know. Don’t try and talk your way through something you don’t know. The person interviewing you will see right though you,” she advised.



The session wrapped up with Lindholm explaining that radio interviewers worst fear is also their best asset. Dead air is terrifying for an interviewer, but it often helps to produce the best answers. People need a little time to think about their answers, and if the interviewer cuts them off too quickly, they’ll lose the gems they were about to reveal. This also holds true in a job interview. It’s okay to think about your answers so you can better articulate what you are about to say.

There is nothing like being in the production room with Ric Cengeri, Patti Daniels, and Jane Lindholm, some of the most famous people in Vermont talk radio.



Leadership Summit

The last week of MiddCORE is an exciting time for students and mentors alike.  As students polish and refine their presentations for the Innovation Challenge and reflect on their experiences from the past month, they are also afforded a rare opportunity to meet with influential leaders and change makers from across the country.

On February 1st, students and mentors gathered together in Kenyon lounge for a leadership summit and final celebratory dinner.  During the summit, students had the opportunity to pose questions to an incredible assembly of leaders: Ronald Liebowitz, president of Middlebury College; Jim Douglas, former governor of Vermont; Marna Whittington, Chief Executive Officer at Allianz Global Investors Capital LLC; Brian Napack, senior advisor of Providence Equity and Chastity Lord, Chief External Officer of Achievement First.

Below are a few questions and responses from the night’s discussion:

What one thing would have been most helpful to know before you became a leader?

Lord encouraged students to avoid what she calls “anticipatory living.” Instead of living in expectation of the next milestone, — things like graduation from college, the perfect job and marriage— successful leaders focus on living in the present.

“Be present where you are and blow it up,” she said.

Douglas emphasized the importance of establishing relationships with other people: “Establishing emotional connections with people you’ll have to work with in the future is an important element of leadership.”

“Followers look for values that are lived by a leader,” Whittington said. She also mentioned that having “a positive attitude mitigates the ups and downs in the [work] environment.”


Would you speak to any examples when you had a good relationship with your employees, but they still weren’t following you?  How did you solve the problem?

Lord commented: “Communication is like playing catch. If I’m paying more attention to how I’m throwing the ball as opposed to how my partner can catch it, he won’t be able to.”

Napack added, “1st principles of communication: do we have a shared vision? Does everyone know what we’re doing here? Most people wake up and want to do a good job. They don’t understand what they need to do when they get to work…..Clearly articulate what the vision is, the mission is and do we all know what we’re supposed to do today.”


What impression or quality do you want to be remembered by?

 “Empowering individuals to take risks to the job and not be micromanaged,” Liebowitz said. He wants to “liberate individuals” through his leadership role.

Douglas wants to be known as someone who works as hard or harder than anyone else. He added that leaders should “engage all of [their followers] in the mission of the organization” and that every executive needs…someone empowered to tell the truth to the leader.”

Lord wanted her quality to be “warm-demanding.” She said, “You can be demanding, set high expectations, [have a] demanding environment” as long as you also “create a space where people can bring their spirit to work.



Thinking Creatively

Marketing expert, EJ Bartlett, and artist, Lisa Condino, led a session on the creative process during MiddCORE this J-term. The goal of this session was to help students create visual representations of their ideas for the Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Challenge demands that each student come up with her own social or commercial innovation.  It could be a new good/service, a new way to deliver an existing good/service or a creative solution to a social problem. Every student had 3 minutes to pitch her idea to a group of judges.  The top four ideas advanced to the final MiddCORE Innovation Challenge competition, which took place on Februrary 1st.

The goal of the session that explored the creative process was to help students access fresh perspectives for looking at their projects as they built visual prototypes for their ideas. During the exercise students were encouraged to brainstorm what their ideas might look like visually.  Bartlett and Condino brought an abundance of supplies including paints, tape, markers, large paper, materials to create molds and sculptures, yarn as well as fabric. They also encouraged students to bring objects that pertained to their projects.

Throughout MiddCORE students learn how to verbally present and pitch their ideas. However, this workshop reminded students that people respond to sensory stimulation and so marketing relies heavily on visual and aural aids.

This exercise not only provided students with different ways to help improve  their ideas, it opened them up to the possibility of using unique forms of communication to reach out to their audience.

Bartlett and Condino encouraged students to ask the following questions about their projects:

What does it look like and how does it interact with the space around it?


How does it make its users feel?


What is it accomplishing?


With whom is it connecting?




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