Heroic Imagination Projects

By Andria Woodell

What is the Heroic Imagination Project? The Heroic Imagination Project is a non-profit organization started by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. Zimbardo has spent many of his years researching the situational factors that lead good people to do evil actions. In his retirement, he has been focusing on the qualities of heroism. The main premise is if social psychologists can educate people about topics such as apathetic bystanders, obedience and conformity or situational blindness, then individuals will be more aware of these circumstances and stand against them when necessary.   http://heroicimagination.org/

Why is it of value? The HIP projects captured my interest for a variety of reasons:

  • It is an opportunity for students to develop soft skills that will be valued when they continue to universities and graduate programs. Specifically: team work, public speaking, autonomy and critical thinking.
  • The lessons are service learning projects complete with material and step-by-step instructions that allow students to develop a product quickly. 
  • Potential community service or research project for students interested in psychology.
  • No grading, just mentorship.
  • Using social psychology as a means of making positive changes.
  • Bonus: students get to meet Phil Zimbardo!

Progression of the Projects

In Winter of 2013, COCC hosted the first workshop. There were 40 in attendance with a mix of faculty and students. Six students continued with the projects in Spring. The two fundamental ground rules of the projects were:

  • There is no such thing as a failure. Everything is a learning experience.
  • Anyone can exit the project at any point with zero judgment or harsh feelings.  We do not focus on hostility, only accomplishing our goal in style.

     The first group of students chose to the topic Mindset. I gave the students the instructional packet provided by HIP. We agreed they would complete two practice runs before the final campus presentation. My primary role was to be facilitator. I advocated for the presentations, set up meeting and provided advice sporadically on interpersonal dynamics and presentation skills. Over the course of the term, it was exciting to see the student bond as a team. Many of them started as introverts who were uncomfortable public speaking. The nervousness began to fall away and they morphed into finessed, confident leaders.  There was so much pride in their projects and they started to live and breathe the material. The passion for the topic showed and it seemed like all we ever talked about was Mindset, Growth Mindset, Fixed Mindset and how this applied to their own lives.  The best part was the number of people who sought the students out to share how their presentations inspired them or influenced them in some manner.

      We ran the workshop again in Fall 2013 and ended up with two groups for Winter 2013. I was concerned that the first group may have been anomaly. For the second generation,  the Mindset students served as mentors. The new groups tackled Bystander Effect and Situational Awareness. Scheduling was a nightmare for one group and we some attrition over the term. However, the positive shift happened again. The mentors had the opportunity to notice the drastic change this time since they were more in an observational role.  One student mentioned he was experiencing so much pride in his group because he helped guide the new folks to success.  He asked if this is how I felt while I mentored them. The answer is yes. The last two years, working with the HIP projects and the COPE club has ranked among some of the most rewarding moments in my career. As an instructor is has been refreshing to have an opportunity to slow down the educational process and focus on honing specific skills with individual students. I am honored to be involved with such an amazing group of students. I cannot wait to see where they go beyond COCC or how their lives unfold. 


Generation 1: Mindset with Dr. Phil Zimbardo at WPA 2013


Generation 2: Situational Awareness and Bystander Effect at PsycNight!  2014

For more information about the Heroic Imagination Project, please feel free to contact me at any time! Many thank yous to: Andrea Anaya, Megan Cole, Deanne Curtis, Wendi Forsberg,  Katie Hawkins, Damon Holland, Micheal Morrison, Stephanie Prutzman, Suci Sonnier, Sara Zobrist and  the faculty who have helped promote the HIP projects and  gleefully embraced their roles as the “audience from hell.”

Andria Woodell
All comments are moderated

In this Section