Our series, Beyond the Classroom looks at the college educational experience beyond bookwork and classes.
Two recent college graduates have created a place for students and young professionals to “live their goals for the future.” Co.space opened in downtown State College in August as both a house and a launching pad for driven students who want to make the world a better place.
Christian Baum is a founder of co.space. He welcomed students and their potential employers as they arrived for a recent internship fair.
It was only the house’s sixth or seventh event, but about a hundred people spilled from the large front living room into the dining room and kitchen. Word was getting out about the place.
“So there’s 20 people who live here. So 14 students and six young professionals. Our slogan is to “do life better together,’” Baum said.
A communal living space with the slogan “doing life better together” might sound like a hippie cliché, but the co.space doesn’t have your typical co-living vibe. The house is newly updated and stylish. Residents have to apply to live there. And only the most ambitious and driven applicants are chosen. They represent a diverse mix of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, educators, and environmentalists. Yes, they do live and sometimes eat together, but the place is less like a commune and more like a small business incubator.
“We give them the mentorship, training, connections and pretty much accelerate whatever it is they want to do. So at the end of the day we hope they want to be better people and make the world better place wherever they go,” Baum said.
Baum and his co-founder, Spud Marshall don’t seem to believe in thinking small. In a quieter room on the third floor, Marshall explains their long-term plans.
“The big dream is in 50 years to have one of these homes in every country around the world,” Marshall said.
Marshall pictured the TV in the living room eventually being used for video-conferencing with those other houses.
“You can be sitting here and having breakfast in the house and there’s a live video feed to Cape Town in your wall,” Marshall said. “And you can be talking about a social venture you’re working on and how would that apply in the rural areas in South Africa. Or what would it look like to source your manufacturing from China and start talking to people in Shanghai.”
Marshall is the CEO of co.space, though that’s not what it says on his business card.
“So ‘Chief Catalyst’ is the official title. Most people would just refer to that as CEO, but that’s quite boring. Doesn’t quite describe what I actually do.”
What he does is make things happen. If a student is looking for an internship or needs help on a project he tells them what organizations to talk to and gives them contacts there.
Most of his connections come from his time at the New Leaf Initiative, a community center he started in State College with friends back in 2010. Marshall says the work he and Baum did with New Leaf gave them the credibility to borrow the money they needed to make their co.space dream a reality.
“The co.space is a crazy experiment. And the idea is what happens when you take a whole bunch of people who really passionately care about making a difference in the world and just put them under one roof together,” Marshall said.
Mat McGee is a student who lives in the co.space house. Like everyone else in the house he signed on before the house even existed.
“I knew Spud and Christian because they were the directors of New Leaf at the time, and I was working with them on some projects,” McGee said. “So I knew the kind of vision they had and what they were capable of.”
McGee chose to live here because he wanted to be surrounded by people who are inspiring and involved and who would push him to accomplish his goals.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked down in my pajamas, half dressed and found someone really cool or interesting in my living room and I sat down to have a conversation with them and I make connections and that’s something I just wouldn’t have living anywhere else,” McGee said.
And it’s not just in his home life that he’s found ways to shake up the learning process. He’s just starting a Master’s program in Learning Design and Technology. And in his spare time he’s working with elementary and high schoolers on their own experiential learning projects. He recently helped elementary students with a recycling project.
“And I got to watch the kids grow and learn a lot. And things you wouldn’t think a 3rd grader would be capable of, to go and make a presentation in front of 500 peers. And they did it. They were confident, sure of themselves and made an impact,” McGee said. “I liked being a part of that.”
The work he’s done while living at co.space is impressive, but does McGee think he could list this unique living environment on a resume or talk about it in a job interview?
“I feel like it’s definitely something to talk about in a job interview. I have one tomorrow. We’ll see if it comes up,” McGee said.
Marshall said he thinks co.space will definitely become something to put on a resume. He said it’s already gaining some panache locally.
“Companies in the surrounding area, they’re like, ‘We want to talk with the really innovative young people, but we don’t know how to find them,’” Marshall said. “And what we know we can do is we spend months and months curating and finding the really driven, really passionate people. And so simply by them saying, ‘I’m a co.spacer’ it already signifies, ‘I’ve gone through that ringer, and here’s what I stand for.’”
Co.space recently chose new residents for the fall of 2014.