Sandbox of Change? That’s How One Innovator Sees State CollegeToday, one of the leading frontiersmen in social change is Penn State’s very own, Steve “Spud” Marshall. The Alum is an inspiration to many as his passions, projects, and nontraditional career path have led to immense success for not only him but mainly for the communities he impacts and, on a larger scale, the world. Spud has a wide range of passions that, combined with his gusto, heart, and driven attitude, have allowed him to create change in the world around him. These passions include, according to his website: curating changemaker communities, social entrepreneurship, creative economic development and fostering innovation.

Spud always knew he wanted to get involved in work that was meaningful and had an impact, but he had no idea what form it would take. His interest in social change was first sparked when he got his Masters degree in Sweden and saw how progressed the country was in social change initiatives.

“It was really fascinating living in a country that felt fifteen years ahead,” Spud says. “That really intrigued me into thinking about what the elements of this community and new culture were and are there elements of this that I could bring back to my hometown of Central Pennsylvania?”

Upon returning to State College, Spud began working on implementing principles and practices he learned from his time abroad, into his community.

“My interest in social change started from a place of asking ‘How can we create communities that know how to learn and live better together?’” Spud explains.

Spud created the co.space in 2013, which is a global network of homes for world-changers. It began as a 20-person intentional community for young changemakers in which they renovated an old local fraternity house, making it into a creative hub for social entrepreneurs and creatives. 

“I’d like to see State College embrace the creativity and innovation that young people bring to the table,” Spud says regarding what change he’d like to see in his community.

The co.space gives young people the chance to do this and get involved with the community while giving Spud the opportunity to work with college-aged students, making sure they’re heard. The co.space has grown tremendously since it was first started and many other cities have asked them to scale co.space to their town.

“We keep telling them we want to focus on State College. That's where our energy is at right now and we want to learn every ounce of this organization within the State College context,” Spud says.    

He has also founded The New Leaf Initiative, a community innovation hub in State College where anyone can drop in and share ideas on how to make the town a better place.

“I try to focus my work on innovation in small towns,” Spud says, “I want small towns to see that if they reposition themselves as these amazing sandboxes of change, where people can come in and get their hands dirty, then there is so much creative potential there.”

He also believes that driven young people are the currency of State College and wanted to use this to empower young people to take ownership over their lives. This led to opening a 60-person intern program in 2011 for New Leaf Initiative.

“We wanted to do things differently and give interns the freedom and flexibility to try things and not get stuck in the system to be,” Spud says.

This sort of strategy got the New Leaf and his work recognized across the country. Soon other organizations and companies wanted to know what they were doing to get young people excited. Spud now consults with organizations, foundations, and companies to develop similar programs. He speaks to many groups and universities, gives TedxPSU talks, and holds retreats across the American Southeast to educate people on his self-entrepreneurial approaches.

He also has other smaller projects that are out of State College like Educate 20/20 Roadtour, List of Awesome, and Changemaker-in-Residence. Currently, he is working on a fellowship program through the Knight Foundation to launch his project “innovation trailheads” which will be in downtown State College and will direct people to the many, somewhat hidden, innovative initiatives around the city.

Spud Marshall’s work is inspiring, unique, and out of the ordinary; he is revolutionizing innovation and taking creativity to a whole other level. He advises students to stop questioning and doubting themselves so that they can step up and put themselves in a position where people will start listening.

“My work takes on a life of its own and each month there’s a new flare and vibe to it. At the end of the day I’m driven not by the money I make but rather the impact it’s having on people's lives,” Spud say