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Strome Center Panel Discussion Probes the Intersection Between Play and a Better World

By Brendan O'Hallarn

A discussion March 22 at Old Dominion's Strome Entrepreneurial Center is designed to showcase the power of play.

The "Toys & Social Entrepreneurship" symposium and workshop will be held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Strome Center, featuring local toymakers and social entrepreneurs, discussing the intersections of play culture and social innovation.

"It is widely understood that children start experimenting with their identities at an early age through play," said Avi Santo, associate professor of communication and director for ODU's Institute for the Humanities, which is sponsoring the event.

"Unfortunately, a lot of toys and games available to kids reinforce negative gender binaries, racial hierarchies, simplistic understandings of what a "normal" family looks like, or encourage them to compete with one another in order to win, as opposed to teaching them to say empathize with others as a strategy for personal and collaborative success."

The four panelists at the event represent toymakers whose creations are designed to inspire positive emotions such as cooperation and empathy among children. In the workshop, each of the social entrepreneurs will offer advice and feedback on how to bring new educational toys and games to market. They will also brainstorm new ways to intervene in children's play culture.

Jennifer Kidd, senior lecturer in Old Dominion University's Department of Teaching and Learning, will moderate the discussion.

A major thrust of the University's entrepreneurial initiative, launched in 2014 following an $11 million gift by alumnus Mark Strome, is so-called social entrepreneurship - applying business start-up vision and creativity to the nonprofit sector to benefit society.

Executive director Nancy Grden is thrilled for the Strome Entrepreneurial Center to play host to the discussion

"Social entrepreneurship takes many forms, and these unique children's toys demonstrate how play can teach the value of diversity, collaboration, and self-esteem," Grden said. "The range and number of ODU co-sponsors illustrates the University's commitment to sharing these ideals and innovative approaches with a variety of on- and off-campus audiences."

Santo said social entrepreneurs are wrestling with the same issues we all are, "they are really just a couple of steps ahead of anyone with a great problem-solving idea." The session March 22 is focused on how attendees can bring their own ideas to fruition.

The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Department of Sociology, Department of Women's Studies, the ODU Honors College, the Strome College of Business, the Office of Intercultural Relations, the ODU Women's Center, Student Engagement & Enrollment Services and the ENACTUS Social Entrepreneurship student organization.

For more information about the event, contact the ODU Institute for the Humanities at 757-683-3821 or humanities@odu.edu

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