(Re)Orientation 2018

The process of wayfinding begins with orientation, the discovery of where you are in relation to your chosen destination. A little over a year ago, our second cohort of students oriented themselves as new members of the Wayfinding Academy community. Since then they have stretched in so many ways, testing their abilities and honing their skills, all while exploring new interests and discovering new passions.


Now just two semesters away from graduation, they are continuing to monitor the route to their destinations. Reflection is integral to learning, a key component in every core course, and it is also integral to wayfinding. You need to  reorient yourself and reflect on your destination, especially since routes can be unpredictable.

“The future is uncertain” the Wayfinding Academy creed reads. “That’s good.”

So Cohort 2 decided it was time to pack up and leave town for a few days to reorient themselves.

Cohort 2 wanted a (Re)orientation to reflect on their journey so far and to reconnect with each other. It was a time to have important discussions about their purpose, their goals, and their relationships to each other and to the Wayfinding Academy community.

And the community responded. Knowing that part of Cohort 2’s (Re)orientation experience involved thinking about their next steps after graduation, members of the Wayfinding Academy offered words of inspiration, reflection, and wisdom that they wished they had received.

Wayfinding instructor and facilitator Iggy teaches students to make gnocchi

Wayfinding instructor and facilitator Iggy teaches students to make gnocchi

Be brave. Be confident. Be cautious as well .  Be yourself .

-Linda Seeliger,  Luminary

No one ever told me growing up that the relationship I had with myself was going to be a primary relationship in my life. Spending time alone felt like it was just that (no one was there). I just had to wait until someone would come along again to spend time with me. But, over the years and in developing a mindfulness practice, I've realized that my "alone" time is actually full of so much inner conversation, self-discovery, personal tenderness, and the space to care for my physical body, my emotions, and my very original creative ideas.

Many adults are still terrified of their "alone" time. It is a time they have to face their own hurt or dissatisfaction with who they are.

I invite you to continue to develop the connection you have with your own body, emotions, mind, and spirit. Always carve time for yourself, find ways to celebrate who you are. Decide to become your own friend and be on your own team.

It is a friendship that will serve you in tremendous ways your entire lifetime. It will also make you an incredible friend to others.

I dare you to love your whole-ness, even the messy, strange and imperfect parts. Most definitely those! No parts left out. Whole. Wholly love.

-Leah Walsh, Luminary & Creator-in-Residence

#1. Life is learning. There is learning in every experience you encounter, even the most difficult. Keep being inquisitive. Begin from a place of not knowing. Inquire and learn.

#2. Pay attention to what interests you. Pursue it. Let yourself express yourself.

#3. Fear is not the problem. Fear of fear is the problem. Being courageous does not mean not being afraid. Allow yourself to be afraid, and continue on.

-Tim Hicks, Luminary

Some people say "Live each day as if it's your last" - personally I don't find that very helpful. I prefer "Live each day as if it's their last" - it reminds me to try to exercise love and compassion with everyone I'm interacting with, and to remain in contact with those who are important in my life.

-Caroline Kocel, Community Member

Some things I learned way too late in life: *You are allowed to make mistakes. *Cartoons lied: there's no evil/bad people. Every one is just seeking happiness (every if they go about it in an idiot way) *Material stuff is useless. So many of the things I thought was important to own as a young person, seems like a waste of money - and space. *And most importantly: Practice consistency! I did not, and I see now how my peers excel their career because they did/do. You can change your mind, and change career path, but be consistent in your methods and your learning.

-Mona Jensen, Community Member

You never know where or when the spark of inspiration will come from that will be a shining moment of realization for you. It could happen at age 20, 35, 50, or 65. It could come from a teacher, an artist, a random stranger, or a child. There are no deadlines for inspirational moments. They can be unpredictable yet life changing.

-Vicki Simon, Parent of Wayfinder & Luminary

I am proud and jealous at the same time. I’m proud because as a luminary I’m happy to be along with you on this journey. Jealousy, because I’m not there along side you in this amazing journey. Remover to be present in the moment. The future and the past will take care of themselves.

-Ryan Seeliger, Luminary

Dear Cohort 2 - each and every one of you,

I have little to offer but pointers to better words of wisdomers than I. The first is: When you know better, you then are obliged to do better. (it's kinda how we grow as individuals and a larger society.) I'm sure someone more 'lettered' than me said this better - but you should figure out what that means for you.

Secondly: "Don't let people rent space in your head." Really, don't let people occupy your mind if they are not making your life easier.

Third: Watch Tim Minchen

And remember, you can be inspired by inspiring others. Rock on Cohort 2!!

-Elizabeth Houck, Community Member

The best advice I got as a college student was from my great uncle. He said, "Learn to put yourself in other people's shoes."

-Ron Buel, Luminary

True confidence doesn't come from not being afraid or from feeling like you aren't going to make a mistake or get hurt. It comes from knowing you can handle whatever life sends your way. It comes from when you know you might get knocked down, and can shout out loud, "Bring it on!" because you know you will always be able to get back up. So don't be afraid to get knocked down. Spend your life learning how to get back up with grace, compassion, and integrity. Woohoo!!!!!

-Ana Verzone, Community Member

Reorienting is essential. It is a skill that the students of Cohort 2 will carry forever. Even before the events of that weekend, they knew enough about themselves to know how necessary it was.  

News As Experience: Wayfinders Visit the Oregonian

As I sat on the texture-coated concrete steps of downtown Portland’s Crown Plaza building, I grew nervous. I was early--I am always early--but in about eight minutes my class was scheduled to meet with Oregonian reporter Andrew Theen (he reported on Wayfinding in 2016), and so far I was all alone. It was my first time holding class outside of the classroom, and I had confirmed the time and place with Cohort 2 (and Andrew) at least a dozen times. Did I mention I was nervous?


Just then a truck drove past with two familiar faces, and soon enough I saw another Wayfinder approaching on foot and then another and another until ten students stood beside me eager to begin the day’s lesson, which for me had already started. “Relax,” I thought.

Andrew greeted us in the lobby and escorted us up to the offices of the Oregonian, where other reporters were quietly focused on producing the stories that reach more than 1.1 million readers each month. We wound our way back towards one of several conference rooms named after Oregon rivers, and once we settled in, Andrew told us a bit about what he does.

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“One of the most important parts of my job is talking to people and building relationships.” He was referring to his contacts on the transportation beat, but this also applied to the people he interviews. A large part of interviewing is establishing trust as well as demonstrating interest, and he talked about the importance of finding out more about people to help show that interest. He also emphasized the importance of asking weird questions.

“I always forewarn people that I’ll be asking some weird questions.”

We needed some examples.

“I’ll ask them how they got to work that day, or what the name of their dog is, or what they did that morning--things that seem unrelated but might make a difference later when you’re writing the story because you never know what might be important or useful.”

After inviting questions from the students, our conversation took different turns as we discussed other aspects of reporting such as bias and how reporters keep that in check. We talked about fake news,and we talked about the challenges of writing. We talked about circulation and readership and the struggles newspapers face, but we also talked about hope and the ways in which the news serves the community. We talked about how to select the best quotes, but more importantly we talked about how to find the heart of a story.

After our talk, I e-mailed Andrew to once again thank him. “It was a fun discussion,” he replied. “You have a sharp group.”

Cohort 2 talks news with reporter Andrew Theen

Cohort 2 talks news with reporter Andrew Theen

It’s true. I have been teaching writing for twelve years, but Wayfinding students are different. They are taught to nurture those qualities in themselves that inspire confidence and fearlessness. They spend so much of their time challenging themselves that they expect no less from others. They are curious to know more, and when given the opportunity to ask questions of a professional, they ask the kinds of questions that get to the heart of what those people do and why they do it. Students at the Wayfinding Academy are the kinds of students teachers wish for. They are interesting, engaged, and  insightful.

I learned a lot that day. We all did.

The Great Crew Office Swap: A Change in Space

As students began classes last week at Wayfinding, there were several changes that people new to the building would not have noticed. Crew offices had been repainted and rearranged, but more importantly they no longer housed the same people. The crew who mostly support the work of the college and do not interact with students on a daily basis now occupy the offices downstairs. Upstairs, where classes are normally held, the crew you’ll find are those whose day-to-day focus is serving students. With good reason, we decided it was time for a swap.

Two years ago, the Wayfinding crew who first welcomed Cohort 1 was comprised of creative and daring people who were excited to start something completely new. They dreamed together, and together they built a college from scratch, giving Wayfinding its all-important foundation by cementing its values in place. The crew did not worry about titles or job descriptions. They just wanted to create a college where the student, the whole student, comes first.

The day's agenda!

The day's agenda!

It has long been understood that the place in which someone learns affects how they learn. The first rooms to be set up at Wayfinding HQ were the student classroom spaces, and students often think of the building as home. There are cozy places to quietly work or study, shared spaces for meetings or chance conversations, and no barriers exist between students and crew, faculty, guides, or anyone else who comes through our doors. We are all part of the Wayfinding community, and in any community there will naturally be growth, conflict, and change. The makeup of Cohort 1 changed, as has Cohort 2, and members of the original crew began this adventure knowing that their time would be finite. They helped see the college through its first stages of transformation, and as it continues to grow and transform, they still are still a part of our community. They are no longer as active day-to-day, but they still attend events, check in, and look on, eager to see what happens next.

“The future is uncertain,” our creed reads. “That’s good.”

Everything sits in the Navigation Hall, waiting for its new home.

Everything sits in the Navigation Hall, waiting for its new home.

In the two years since Cohort 1 first stepped through the doors at Wayfinding Academy, a lot has changed. The formerly bare walls of the Navigation Hall are now encircled by a colorful mural designed and painted by Cohort 1 student, Austin, who had plenty of thematic help from the Wayfinding community. The founders’ wall hangs in the commons, a colorful assemblage of tiles that catch the light as students study, and Cohort 3 is working with new Guides as well as some new faculty members who are teaching several core courses. On top of this, the current crew has decorated and painted their new offices. They are settling in for the new year, making the spaces their own as they invite students to continue growing, stretching and exploring.  

“The first team dreamed everything up, but now it’s about perfecting the model,” Michelle recently said. “It’s important to remember that it takes a different team to start a thing than to grow a thing.”

Tiffany hard at work

Tiffany hard at work

Co and Travis setting up their new spaces

Co and Travis setting up their new spaces

Michelle making it new again

Michelle making it new again

In start-up culture, organizations face challenges after the initial momentum dips. As organizations scale up, retaining their values and their culture is essential, and it’s important to confront changes fearlessly. Our students are taught to explore feelings of uncertainty and discomfort. They are taught to stretch by challenging themselves constantly. They are taught to try, and to fail, and to always question and to always learn. As an organization, we have to be prepared to do the same.

We call our current time of transformation “The Great Crew Office Swap.” It represents another cycle in the life of Wayfinding, an intentional and visible reaffirmation of our core value to always support our students first, to always learn, teach, serve and explore. Together.

A Wayfinder Heads to TED

Wayfinding Academy student Austin Louis attended TED, the most inspiring and influential conference on the planet! This is his story. 

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I went to TED. Yes, that’s right - the TED. The big TED. Yes, that one, the one in Vancouver, BC, and now I’m faced with the impossible task of trying to summarize this experience in a newsletter for y’all… Wish me luck.

The theme this year was "The Age of Amazement." And it was truly amazing, but amazing isn’t always all good. Amazing can be scary. Amazing can be joyful. Amazing can be lots of things, and TED was certainly lots and lots of things: incredible, exhilarating, invigorating, scary, terrifying, shocking, and overwhelming.

It was A LOT.

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When I first arrived at TED, my excitement dwindled as a wave of insecurity crashed over me. I felt as if they had mistakenly handed me a ticket--like I had snuck into the event and they hadn’t yet discovered their error and would soon yank me out. I felt like I didn’t belong, like I didn’t deserve to be there.

I’m no CEO, I told myself. I’m just a student. What do I have to offer? I’m not interesting. I haven’t done anything yet. I’ll never measure up to any of these people. So many deserving people didn’t get to come to this event because I’m hogging a seat.

Austin and OK Go's Tim Norwind discussing the fun of making music. 

Austin and OK Go's Tim Norwind discussing the fun of making music. 

Well, it turns out this is totally normal for first-time TED attendees, and it even has a name.

"You just have TED imposter syndrome," I was assured by my new friends, all TED veterans. "You'll get over it in no time." They were right.

Most everybody at TED hates the “What do you do?” kinds of questions. So do I. These questions are more about sizing each other up than looking to make a genuine connection. So, luckily, I didn’t have to answer questions like these too often. In fact, I fit right in with my Wayfinding line of questioning. You know, questions like: Who do you want to be when you grow up? What do you most regret during your life? What’s the best part of your day?  What advice would you give yourself at age 22? All the good stuff.

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I made tons of new friends. I connected with people over the things I’m interested in, things like redefining what it means to be a man in today’s world, reclaiming play as essential for adult learning, understanding shame and its role in forming our identities. I also got to talk to neuropsychologists and Grammy-award winning producers and angel investors and AI enthusiasts.

Austin sitting up front for one of his favorite talks by speaker  Emily Levine, a comedian/philosopher who "makes dying funny.'

Austin sitting up front for one of his favorite talks by speaker Emily Levine, a comedian/philosopher who "makes dying funny.'

There were SO MANY talks--so, so many, and summarizing them would make this newsletter much too long, but some of my favorite speakers were Emily Levine, James Bridle, Dylan Marron, Simone Giertz, Emily Nagoski, Oskar Eustis, and Chetna Sinha, all of whom shared engaging and amazing ideas. Look for their talks on TED.com as they’re released. They’re great! (That said, if you’re truly curious, reach out to me and I’ll overwhelm you with a rapid-fire burst of specific TED highlights.)  

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So, what did I learn?  A question at the top of my mind throughout the conference was, what makes us human? What makes us any different than the technology that impersonates us and automates our jobs, our relationships, our conversations, and even our arts?  What makes humans unique? This was a question I kept clinging to because I had to hope that there was something that indeed made us different. I had to believe that I’d find an answer because it was too terrifying not to imagine that there’s still some irreplaceable quality we share as humans.

I’m concerned about the state of the world as it is - with the environment struggling to keep up with the demands of production and consumption, with the human rights violations around the globe, with the systems of oppression in our own country and abroad, and with the profound disconnection that technology has ushered in along with its advancements and promises to make the world a better place.

During one of the final sessions, with these concerns looming, I think I found my answer:

Empathy.  My TED takeaway is that true empathy will never be automated, that being human and connecting with other humans in a real way is essential. People need people. We are social animals. We need each other. And we need purpose--and connection, and love, and community. Empathy contains the power to create change; it’s what makes us human, it can never be truly replaced, and this type of work is needed now more than ever.

At Wayfinding, I’ve been exploring empathy in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s my schoolwork around masculinity, shame, and identity; my independent study on scrappiness as a practice to connect to our physical world and our ancestors; or my passion for play and its effects on adult learning--my TED takeaway reassures me that this work can never truly be replaced.  And this type of work is needed now more than ever before.

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This is what learning looks like: A Wayfinding Student's Experience


From the moment we take our first breath, we begin processing information.

The tide of information today is often overwhelming, and in last semester's Engaging With Information course, students explored what it takes to understand all of this information and how to think about it meaningfully and critically.

From the beginning, Instructor Tiffany Vann Sprecher designed the course to be “flexible and responsive to students’ interests and needs.” Students pursued final projects that answered the initial questions they set out to explore in creative and surprising ways, and one student, Megan Lamberger, wrote their final paper exploring the initial question, “What is information?”, hoping that they could arrive at an answer that led not to an existential crisis but to “something applicable and real.”

Here is their paper in full,  an example of the kind of intentional, personalized learning that occurs when students have the freedom to explore their own ways of apprehending the world and its information: 

     Asking myself “What is Information” always seems to end in a nihilistic crisis.  I’ve always had a talent for going from panic level zero to one hundred in minutes, sometimes seconds.  I start with what feels like a concrete problem or question and manage to end with the belief that it doesn’t matter and probably wasn’t even real to begin with.  This brings me some sense of comfort - if none of it is real than none of it matters and I truly have nothing to worry about.  However, settling on the idea that it’s fake rarely answers my original question and often creates more stress.  If it’s fake, then why do I still feel confused?  My struggle often lies in the ability to draw connections from my philosophical crisis down to something applicable and real. 

     In Engaging with Information we, as a class, got better at asking the hard questions.  We started class by discussing “What is information?’ and wondered if you could call everything information.  The we started to delve into more analytical questions.  Often deceptively simple, the repetitive “why,” was a common theme.  Why was this written?  Why does this matter?  What is the author’s bias and why is it significant?  What are the implications and why should we care?  We were exploring big ideas and expanding our perspectives the way a toddler explores the world for the first time and it’s easy to arrive at the same answer we heard as a kid: because somebody said so. 

      When talking about museums I explored and discovered almost anything could be a museum.  I compared a large history museum to a small independent art museum.  When I started asking “What actually makes these museums?”  I discovered: they both, independently, decided that they were.  The only thing it really took to start a museum was to start a museum.  There were optional hoops to jump through or associations you could join, but at it’s core all it took was the desire to share content with the public.  I was so surprised at the simplicity of it all.  When we think about museums often we think about a trustworthy, powerful organization that we visit to get information, but my experience showed me all it really took was determination.  This means that museums might not be the authority on the topics that society often thinks they are, because you don’t have to be an expert to start a museum.  It also means that museums and information have the potential to be highly accessible sources for information, and may not be as elite and out of reach as they sometimes appear to be.


    When learning about wikipedia we debated the validity of information that anybody could edit, even altering a few pages ourselves to prove how easy it is to spread incorrect information.  There were wikipedia guidelines and a process for removing false information, but it was all dependent on the community.  As a result of wikipedia being self regulated,it is only as dependable of a source as it’s community.  During our fake news unit, we discussed how fake news spreads similarly.  Sometimes the news is propaganda and intentionally fake, sometimes the person is misguided and is creating fake news accidentally, and sometimes the news is real but is being taken out of context.  And while their are journalism standards, a lot of news is created and spread by people.  We talked in class about how Facebook had to revise the way it posted news because there was a viral spread of fake news stories.

     I realized throughout these units that people were creating a lot of fake information.  Between fake standards, fake facts, and fake articles, it seemed that people were at the heart of the inauthenticity.  After determining that information could be pretty much anything, and that a lot of fake information came from people, in the style of our class discussion, I asked another question; what does it mean and why does it matter?  So much of our society seems to revolve and rely around information and constructs that are socially created.  They fill some sort of community need, but does that mean they’re good?

     When Kaycie Lopez Jones came to speak to our class we talked about how media representation impacts society.  She showed how the stereotypes of people of color in media can perpetuate racism and prejudice in society.  Her presentation highlighted how subtle it can be, just the wording of the title or the pose on the movie poster, and how significantly that effect is.  Not only does it sustain the racism in society, but it has the ability to shape how an individual sees themself.  These fake ideas about people of color in the media has the power to make an impact on both a personal and public level. 

Meg's "Engaging with Information: Flowchart Edition"

Meg's "Engaging with Information: Flowchart Edition"

     This means that the information that most Americans engage with regularly, news, media, informational articles, have the power to shape society.  Fake information matters because it’s forming who we are as people, and we should care because it’s not just affecting us personally but it’s affecting our communities. 

     After realizing that information is anything we engage with, and by engaging with information we make it vulnerable to being fake, which creates a risk for the spread of false information, which has the potential to negatively affect and shape both individuals and the greater global village I asked one last question; what does that mean for me?  I stress the importance of understanding how fake things can be, but what am I supposed to do about it?  Thankfully, we touched on that in class too.  I found hope in learning about the radical role of libraries in the resistance, exploring zines and learning about how to critically analyze articles to get the most out of what I was reading - real or fake.  Figuring out what’s fake and what’s real feel important to me, it gives me something to hold on to and helps me navigate the information that's all around me.  It’s constant, over-stimulating, confusing, and often I still don’t have the answers.  The analysis model we used in Engaging with Information provided a structure to ask these big questions I’m often thinking about, and a way to draw connections from whatever my current philosophical crisis is to something more applicable in connection to the real world around me. 

On Courage: A Reflection About the Wayfinding Mission

A little over a decade ago, I was teaching Applied Ethics at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Of all the philosophical subjects I could teach, it was the one that I found the most satisfying because I felt that the subject and the way I went about it would actually help students live richer lives.

Tips for new faculty

Tips for new faculty

This week is the first week of class for our last term of the 2017/2018 academic year. And for our inaugural cohort, it is the first week of their last class at Wayfinding - The Good Life. They graduate in July (watch your inboxes for an invitation to our graduation party here in Portland) and are spending this term preparing for their next step and thinking about what kind of life they want to live. 

We're Making You A Gift

We're Making You A Gift

We've got a gift that we're working on right now, a gift that we'd like to give to our students and to our broader community. It's called 5 Talks & 5 Prompts to Help You Live Life on Purpose. The idea is that we'll select five talks (think TED Talks, commencement addresses, etc.) that are particularly impactful and then pair each talk with a prompt so that after watching you're able to process, reflect on, and then act on the ideas shared.

Wayfinding Academy's Creator in Residence Program

Wayfinding Academy's Creator in Residence Program

One of our priorities here at Wayfinding Academy is to weave together college and community. We did that last night when we hosted a TEDx Salon event, organized by many Wayfinding students and attended by Portland community members. Students do it through internships that take them outside of our campus to work alongside others in the community. Today we'd like to announce another way in which we're weaving together college and community - through our new Creator in Residence program.

The transferability of a Wayfinding degree

The transferability of a Wayfinding degree

In 198 days, the first-ever cohort of Wayfinding students will graduate. Weve started planning what a Wayfinding graduation will include with a blend of recognizable traditions from higher education and elements that are uniquely Wayfinding. For the next few months, our crew, faculty and these students will be focusing a lot on their next steps and helping them be prepared for success in whatever they choose to do after Wayfinding.

Let's get (Re)oriented

Let's get (Re)oriented

Unless you build in the time and the space for it, stepping back to reflect on where you've been and where you're going can be a hard thing to do. Right now, though, as we near the end of 2017, it's probably a little bit easier, and you might already be doing some version of that yourself. Just a month ago we did it with cohort 1 (our inaugural group of students) during a weekend at the Oregon coast.