Data Tells the Story: How a Virtual Summit Can Connect Students from All Over the World
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By Anna Kensicki, M.P.A.
Senior Researcher at Knovva Academy 
PhD Candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

As Knovva Academy ramps up for our next online summit in October, we are sharing a look back on our first-ever online summit. As we prepared for a necessary online adaptation to meet the challenges of the pandemic, we wondered: Would our students find it valuable? Would they feel as connected to one another as they do at in-person summits? 

To get the answers, we surveyed the students who participated in the Y7 Virtual Summit, held over the course of one week in June. While our Knovva staff ordinarily enjoys nothing more than an opportunity to take a deep dive into theories of learning, pedagogy, and Knovva’s cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approach, this week we’re letting our students — and their feedback — do the talking. Consider this also a sneak peek into what you can expect at our next online summit!

How We Structured the Event

The evening before the first day, we held a virtual icebreaker session, where students had an opportunity to meet and introduce themselves ahead of the first day. These engagement activities proved to be highly valuable in helping students bond with their cohort and get to know their teams. 

During the summit, students heard from policy experts, attended lectures, and participated in an educational simulation, which gave them an opportunity to get acquainted with the policy world. After creating and sharing policies of their own, they voted on their favorites. 

We gave students the opportunity to tell us, in their own words, what they valued most about these experiences. 

Interactions With Students from All Over the World 

We gathered students from dozens of countries, intending to give them an opportunity to develop their cross-cultural communication skills while making friends from every corner of the globe. Eighty-nine percent of our students rated this part of the Y7 conference extremely valuable. 

Here’s what they had to say:

“I found the conversations on the community thread to be interesting and valuable. Since everyone participating is from different parts of the world, reading their perspective on certain issues has taught me about how different the US is in certain ways from the rest of the world.”

“I found it very valuable to make connections with others and find like minded people just like me all around the world who are politically motivated. Also, the opportunities that could possibly come because of this, but most importantly, the people that I met and all the memories made.”

“I love cultural exchanges and being able to find people my age with a common interest in international relations. Knovva Academy has provided the opportunities to experience such interactions on what is, for me, an unprecedented level.”

Students Appreciate Policy Topics

Over the course of the three days of the Y7 and the remainder of the week, students became immersed in the topics of the Y7 event. These topics included Global Connectivity, Trade, and Energy. Eighty-eight percent of students felt this was highly valuable and not only shaped their aspirations for the future but made them feel empowered to take action now. 

Here’s what they said: 

“I really enjoyed listening to the delegates discuss their policy proposals and seeing how a real summit works. It really opened my eyes to the policy world and if I wanted to continue this as a career.” 

“I loved how we could come up with policy recommendations on our own and see how others felt on the same topic.”

“I think writing the policy recommendations helped with critical thinking skills and English. I learned several new words!”

Students Enjoyed Speaking Directly with Thought Leaders 

In addition to our own Ivy-educated instructors and course designers, Knovva events often feature scholars and policymakers in their respective fields. Professor David King, our most celebrated lecturer, did not disappoint. 

Here’s what students thought of his talk:

“The policy talk with Professor King was the best! It really broadened my view of the world and offered me so much to think about. I really wish to thank Professor King for his explanations, which were so insightful.”

“The chance to speak one-to-one to Professor King! I was so excited! It is a precious opportunity for an expert to hear my points and answer my doubts.”

“I loved the fireside chat part of every day’s conference! We are given the opportunity to ask questions and hear from the views of prestigious celebrities and experts from all over the world, and I really treasure the lessons that I learned from them.”

Students Were Aware of Their Own Personal Growth 

Perhaps the best and most important lesson students learned was not about policymaking or even the Y7. It was the lessons they learned about themselves

Students had a lot to say about their own personal development:

“These interactions help me to realize who I am as a person, on a deeper level.”

“To be honest, it was really difficult for me to develop new solutions to social issues. I don’t think I’m far away from these things, but I didn’t think I was in a position to talk about them. This conference gave me a feeling– ‘Ah, maybe I can!’”

“By allowing for one on one conversations in regards to policy, it really helped me analyze the feasibility of my ideas: a skill real-world representatives must have.” 

Final Thoughts

Students clearly want to feel connected to diplomats, policy experts, peers, and even to their own deeper selves. It is interesting to note that students have shared similar feedback about in-person events. We are pleased and proud that their virtual experiences did not depart too far from their in-person expectations. We will use this important student feedback to guide and shape our future online events.  

To learn more about upcoming Knovva Academy events and how you can join our next virtual summit, click here

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