Last week The UP Lab hosted the Looking UP Project at the UC Irvine campus. We developed a separate team to work on the Looking UP Project consisting of Victoria Wang, Michelle Vo, Amanda Lu, Wyatt Sing, Tim Casasola, David Ly Khim, and Justin Ho.
There have been many questions about our experience hosting the project and we’d like to briefly share that experience with you. There will be a future post regarding the entire planning process of the project, but we’ll focus on the actual week of the project for now. Let’s start from day one.
Day 1: A Rough But Successful Start
Much of the Looking UP Project was planned in anticipation of anything going wrong; construction began six weeks before launch, preliminary sketches were drawn months in advance, the idea was conceived a whole season before the academic year began. The first day was no different. The goal was to meet up at 6:30 in the morning to begin transporting the display and all its components and have enough time to be completely set up by 8:00. We woke up bright and early on a Monday morning and the first meeting was filled with nervous energy. We had a smooth set-up, thanks in part to UCI Parking and Transportation for giving us vehicle access to Ring Road (the circular path circumscribing the UCI campus). The display was set-up and ready for action at the UCI Student Center.
Each of us on the Looking UP team placed our own arrows on the bulletin boards. At 8:44 a.m. we had our first “real” arrow pinned on the wall. A student, walking to his 9 a.m. class had picked up a yellow arrow with the statement “__________ inspires me,” filled in the blank with “Everyone,” and stuck it proudly onto the oversized bulletin board. This was it. This was real.
Foot traffic to the display at the beginning was slow. The early morning crowd rushed to class and work while rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. However, traffic picked up as groups of international students entered the student center to interview other students for a class survey. A few of us were surveyed and asked about our interests in extreme sports and, naturally, we also received questions about the display. Curiosity eventually peaked to the point of participation and more students picked up arrows to participate after seeing the large group of international students crowd around the writing table.
The traffic flow to the Looking UP Project gradually increased, with more and more people participating and stopping by as the day went on. Lunch proved to be the most active time. Many friends of the Looking UP team came by to support the project and hang out. We explained the project to curious onlookers and occasionally watched in silence as students walked up to the display and posted their own arrows.
We noticed a phenomenon that, although many people were supportive of the project, some were reluctant to participate that first day and insisted on coming by later on in the week to post their arrows. Some simply needed more time to contemplate.
By the end of the first day, over 500 arrows had been placed on the wall and the responses from participants was amazing. We realized that the success of the project was not directly correlated to the amount of arrows pinned up, but rather by our interactions with participants, the stories we were lucky to hear, and the environment we created for our peers to learn about each other.
When it came time to clean up and take down the display, there was a general feeling of sadness. No doubt we were extremely proud and exhausted from they day, but closing shop essentially ended the positive vibes for the day.
Many team members were stressed out during the week due to midterms, projects, and papers, but we still agreed to meet early the next morning.
Day 2: The Buzz at UCI
Tuesday was a much more stressful day for several team members, with midterms quickly approach, keeping up with schoolwork and hosting the project became exhausting. The weather also began to play a bigger role. It was forecasted to rain on both Wednesday and Thursday, possibly Friday. Although there was no rain on the second day it was still overcast.
We pinned up every arrow from the day before. Reading each arrow and sharing ones that we found interesting, helped energize us through the early hours.
We were more active in inviting people who passed by to participate. Many were curious about what the project was about but were hesitant to approach us. One man we talked to became so excited that he filled out 4 arrows immediately. His stern face instantly brightened up after we told him the purpose of the project and that it wouldn’t cost him anything. The extra step we took to reach out made all the difference as individuals walked away from our display happier.
The turnout was even better than the day before with more people stopping by to pin up arrows, hang out around the display, and read what others had posted up. Many individuals even stopped to talk about the project to the Looking UP staff. Additionally, a writer for the OC Register stopped by interested in writing a piece about the project.
At this point, we felt that we had established a presence at UCI. The news of an “UP” display on campus had spread. There was a buzz and we were causing it.
Day 3: Take the Challenge, You’ll be Surprised
We began setting up later than scheduled and was met with unexpected obstacles, a strike was being held on campus that day on behalf of the employees of the UC campuses, and the tires on one of our cars had been deflated due to carrying the excessive weight of the display boards. Let’s say that Wednesday morning was a bit problematic. Set-up became a rush to transport everything from a parking lot farther from the student center. We completed the set-up an hour later than planned.
Despite the rough start, day three proved itself to be particularly memorable. Our teammate, Wyatt, received a surprise visit from his parents who drove four hours with their dogs to support him. The Looking UP team was able to meet the family and play with the dogs. Those who passed by who initially wanted to pet the adorable dogs ended up staying to admire the display and participate.
We experienced an overwhelming amount of support came on day three. More people began to utilize the chalkboards to express their gratitude. Many didn’t just take pictures and post arrows, but took the time to read the responses others had pinned up.
One individual, a female, wrote on a chalkboard, “Thank you for standing by me through it all. I love you.” We decided to ask if we could learn a little about the story behind her statement. She told us a heartwarming story about struggle and a stranger who saved her life and became her partner. She concluded the anecdote with, “this is the first time I’ve told anyone this.” That phrase sent chills down our spines and gave us goosebumps that the cold weather couldn’t give us. (For personal reasons, we will not share her story.)
Cleaning up gave us another opportunity to read what people wrote. We took the arrows down one-by-one and read out loud any statements that personally spoke to us. We were filled with wonder as we saw unfamiliar names on arrows. Who was this person? What did they do? Whatever the case, and whoever they are, they must be amazing.
By the end of the day, we had arrows that were thought-provoking, funny, heart-breaking, and beautiful.
Day 4: Rain Came Down but Our Spirits Stayed UP
We didn’t set up on Thursday due to rain. Disappointed, we decided to take it as a rest day and looked forward to setting up on Friday.
Day 5: A Less-Than-Ideal Yet Grand Finale
The final day. The weather forecast states a 40% chance of rain. Do we set up?
Despite the fear of ruining hundreds of dollars worth of materials, the team met up early Friday morning and unanimously made the decision to set up the display despite the risk of rain. Fueled by pastries and excitement, we finished setting up early. At this point, more than 1,000 arrows were filled, showing appreciate for over 1,000 things and people. Repinning these arrows was an incredible experience.
The sky quickly became overcast as the day proceeded, and the possibility of rain became more apparent. The first drops fell at 11 a.m. We looked at each other in disappointment and reluctantly agreed to hustle the displays into the nearby breezeway. Disappointed and lacking a full staff (many were in class and at work), we waited for the sky to clear up. We didn’t give up, Michelle suggested that we set up a temporary display in the breezeway.
The rain was unyielding throughout the day, which made the temporary display more or less permanent. Although circumstances were far from ideal, we were pleasantly surprised by the response from UCI students. The enclosed area provided a more intimate and personal setting for the Looking UP project. More people felt comfortable to stand silently and read the arrows, and contemplate, and talk to the team than on any other day.
We were interviewed by the campus newspaper, the New University, about the project. Throughout the interview, each team member explained what they hoped the UCI community would get out of the Looking UP project, and spoke about what the Looking UP project did for them personally. We realized that, through working on this project, all of us had grown significantly. Something that we did for the sake of a community had also influenced us in an incredible manner.
As the day wound down, we prepared to clean up and put everything away for the last time. However, after noticing that he raining had ceased, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to end the Looking UP project with a bang. So at 5 p.m., we did a guerilla-style set-up in the middle of Ring Road and took our closing pictures. It began to sprinkle as we began to take down the display, but it was worth it.
Clean-up went smoothly and the week-long project had come to an end.
Thank You For Giving Us the Opportunity to Learn About You
The response from the community to the Looking UP project was incredible. More than 1,000 members of the UC Irvine community participated and expressed their gratitude to the people and things that have impacted their lives positively. It was an honor to meet individuals who were willing to be vulnerable, and a privilege to hear stories that only we were privy to.
A friend of ours who serves as a discussion leader for international students mentioned that, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, her discussion group spoke about appreciation. She mentioned that international students often feel disconnected from the campus and other students, but upon mentioning appreciation, the students instantly spoke about the Looking UP project. Due to the project, they felt more connected to the campus and felt that they could better relate to the students around them.
“Through this project,” says Tim, “I realized that I am surrounded by selfless individuals who are not afraid express gratitude in a public manner, and for this reason, I am grateful for the community I am surrounded by.”
We are surrounded by amazing people who have positively influenced the lives of others around us.
“I sincerely hope that the idea of the Looking UP project will carry on everyday in people’s lives because giving thanks should not be limited to the holidays,” Amanda explains. “It’s something that should be done everyday.
There was so much love and support from the participants of the Looking UP project, and friends of The UP Lab, that it overwhelmed our team and we appreciate it very much. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank everybody who participated and supported us.
If you’d like to support the Looking UP project and The UP Lab, feel free to donate!
Any amount would be much appreciated! (All funding came from our own pockets.)
Photo credits: Justin Ho, Wyatt Sing