December 16, 2022 | OPINION | By Emily McKinley | Illustration by Liz White

True collaboration is hard to come by.

At least, that is Megan Barry’s opinion. She says, “I believe that the Quad had this really beautiful collaboration of students, community, and these higher-ed institutions, and I just think that is something that is unique, and important, too.”

Megan Barry is the current executive director of the Quad Innovation Alliance, a research consulting initiative between Colorado College, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak State College, and the United States Air Force Academy.

Founded by Jake Eichengreen in 2015, the Quad places students from all four higher-education institutions into research teams of three to five each semester. From there, teams are assigned specific research questions and projects from clients who are generally non-profits, for-profits, or civic organizations in Colorado Springs. Over the course of eleven weeks, teams meet two to three times a week. Students dedicate 10 to 15 hours of work a week to produce a final product, often in the form of both a writeup and a presentation.

Between 2016 and now, the Quad completed projects for an array of clients in Colorado Springs including Children’s Hospital Colorado & Partners, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Youth Documentary Academy, and Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, to name a few. A Quad performance report cites a handful of client comments, which praise the Quad’s ability to produce original research that could be used for future planning and study.

In an impact report, Tom Shepard from the Youth Documentary Academy said that “their input and engagement were an invaluable asset to our thinking about how to approach the next decade.”

As a student who participated in the Quad’s program in 2021, I believe the value of the Quad lies not only in its contributions to community companies and organizations, but also in the impact its program has on each student who participates.

 On how students benefitted from the Quad experience, Barry said, “The Quad gave students a space to practice skills of what their value-add is in a professional setting… practice meaning there wasn’t a grade attached to it, or a job, or a salary.”

She also highlights the value of building confidence in a variety of skills including teamwork, public speaking, asking hard questions, writing, and commitment. Students who participated in the Quad’s 2018 Fall program shed some insight into their experiences with this program.

“I’m now a boss at working in ambiguous spaces. I would have felt very lost at my current job had I not grown so comfortable with the Quad mindset,” said one student.

“There is nothing else I’ve experienced like the QUAD program, the amount of responsibility given, and reward is unmatched, ” said another.

“The Quad gives you confidence in skills you didn’t know that you had,” said a third student.

On November 28, I received an email saying the Quad would close on December 31, 2022. Given the meaningful work the Quad undertook, I never thought I would see the day it closed its doors. While it may be a mystery to me why they are shutting down, I can’t help but reflect on what a significant loss this closure will be for Colorado College students.

The Quad provided a one-of-kind student experience of collaboration, community work, and research, which I believe is unlikely to be replicated; though, I would love to be proven wrong. This program was an opportunity to reach beyond the CC bubble and engage in tackling ambiguous, complex, and challenging real-world issues through critical thinking and innovation—two practices that I find to be cornerstones of Colorado College.

With my last semester at CC approaching, life after graduation is on my mind often. The world is not a CC bubble. Inevitably, I will work with people from vastly different lived experiences, beliefs, interests, upbringings, etc. We all will. The Quad was an opportunity to learn not only about community interests and gain real-life professional experience with problem solving, but to also learn from our peers’ education and life experiences at UCCS, USAFA, and PPSC, and it will be missed. 

So, when Megan says that “true collaboration is hard to come by,” I can’t help but agree with her and look back on my time at the Quad with a new level of appreciation.  

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