During August the past two years, civic-minded youth with ideas — whether about society, business or art — have set out on a train journey across the U.S.

Once they board the train on the West Coast, participants gawk at the scenery from a vintage observation car set aside just for them, and they talk…a lot. Their conversations move from the defining issues of their time to their specific ideas to start a business or do a series of sculptures in vinyl or help the sick in their communities.

Onboard mentors help them plan. At stops along the way, they gain access to business and community leaders who also offer advice.

All aboard

Before these travelers packed their bags, they had already proven their communication skills by completing a strenuous application for the Millennial Trains Project. They used marketing skills to crowdfund the $5,000 cost of the journey. (Gaining approval of unknown, anonymous donors to cover the cost is required.)

One-on-one mentoring with Rob Eaton, a national railroad company official, left (Courtesy of MTP)

By the time they disembark in an East Coast city, most are ready to launch a project.

  • Daniella Uslan launched a social enterprise to sell salvageable food waste.
  • Nate Conroy started a company to market a “STEMhero” educational product.
  • Matthew Stepp wrote clean-energy legislation for the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress.

“We’re not trying to make an entrepreneur [of] everybody, but to encourage an entrepreneurial approach to projects they pursue,” said Patrick Dowd, who founded the train project.

Advice and suggestions are increasingly available online, of course. The State Department’s E-Mentor Corps, for one, facilitates mentoring of entrepreneurs around the world on LinkedIn, ImagineNations Group and Ning.

But the face-to-face interactions that participants rediscover in a train car, Dowd says, lead to deeper and more lasting relationships than those that happen on social media. Nevertheless, most participants stay in touch through Facebook after the journey ends.

Andy Rabens (center, in dark jacket), a special adviser with the U.S. Department of State, talks with riders on the rails about their ideas. (Courtesy of MTP)

For Fulbright scholars from Pakistan, Yemen, Russia, Colombia and Indonesia, who joined the most recent trip, it was a way to learn about different U.S. regions and communities. The next trip — from Los Angeles to Washington — is scheduled for May 2015. Perhaps you are on track to join it. If not, think about creative ways you can facilitate networking in your community.