Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Train Travel Turns Educational

The Millennial Trains Project is taking a new approach to train rides by carrying groups of young entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers across the country as a mobile community to explore innovation and social change.

This past August, Ann Yang (SFS ’15) joined 23 other participants on the project’s inaugural ride from San Francisco to Washington. Over the 10-day trip, the group stopped at a half dozen cities along the way for seminars by mentors from various academic fields and local leaders.

Former Georgetown University Student Association President Patrick Dowd (SFS ’09) founded the Millennial Trains Project this past year. The idea for the project came from a project Dowd led while on a Fulbright Scholarship in India in 2010.

Sonia Vora (SFS ’15), who serves as Dowd’s chief of staff, and Sacha Simmons (SFS ’09) were also passengers on the train. Simmons is the founder of Sweat Everyday, a nonprofit helping people remain physically active, and she studied the exercise habits of residents of different cities during the cross-country trip.

Additionally, advisors for the project include Alyssa Lovegrove, associate director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative and Jeff Reid, director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Yang found out about the project when she met Dowd during her internship at 1776, a D.C.-based incubator for nonprofits. Dowd said he was impressed by Yang’s confidence and eagerness.

In order to be eligible to participate, potential passengers, all between the ages of 18-34, must pitch an idea for a creative project online and use crowd-sourcing to raise the $5,000 participation fee.

Dowd notes that Yang had no trouble raising such a significant amount of money.

“She was really good at crowd funding,” Dowd said. “She raised the $5,000 necessary to go on the trip in two weeks.”

Part of Yang’s success was because James Hunt, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, pledged $500 to the project if Yang was able to raise an additional $2,000 from Georgetown alumna.

“To me it was a very clever idea, and it seemed to be kind of a unique way to combine an experimental trip with philanthropy,” Hunt said.

Yang’s journey culminated in “The Joy Project,” a documentary which juxtaposed interviews with Millennials against interviews with members of the Greatest Generation. Yang focused the project on risk-taking across the generations.

“I think that the recession actually created a unique space for people to take risks to do what they love,” Yang said.

Yang said that students at Georgetown are reluctant to take risks.

“We have this culture where risk aversion is seen as the way to go, and my conclusion from my trip is that risk aversion is stupid and people need to embrace failure because success hinders learning,” Yang said. “College should be about this environment where people can make mistakes.”

Yang is still editing her footage into a longer video project.

“The final platform is going to be called ‘Vibrant Day’ — it’s basically going to be about people who’ve taken risks to do what they love,” Yang said.

Other passengers on the train worked on projects ranging from research on food waste to access to poetry. Yang was the train’s youngest passenger and celebrated her 20th birthday while in Nebraska.

MTP recently garnered media attention with its 12th-place ranking on National Geographic Traveler’s “Traveler 50” list of “People, Places, and Ideas Changing the Way We Travel.”

Dowd said the project was a huge success, meeting and surpassing his hopes.

“I think that these crowd-funded train rides can be like the road trips of our generation,” Dowd said. “It’s a whole community that we have on these train cars and it’s really cool.”

MTP’s next journey coincides with Georgetown’s spring break in March, when it will take participants from Los Angeles to Miami.

“I think a lot of other people at Georgetown would be good candidates,” Dowd said. “It’s all about experiencing the world and engaging with really diverse people.”

Yang feels equally enthusiastic about the project’s success.

“It changed my life,” Yang said. “It really reduced my anxiety about what was going to happen.”

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