State of the Academy - Issue #1


Greetings Wayfinding community!

We’ve received feedback that you are enjoying behind-the-scenes glimpses into our process of creating a college from scratch. So, we’re starting a monthly series of progress updates from me, as Founder and President, on the state of the Academy. If there are specific things you’re wondering about, let me know by sending me an email at

We also provide smaller, more regular updates on Facebook and Instagram, so if you’re not yet following along there, please do so you can get the breaking news as it happens (HINT: there is some breaking news on the horizon you won’t want to miss).

In this newsletter, I want to focus on two BIG developments: (1) students have begun enrolling for our inaugural cohort! and (2) the Wayfinding home base campus.

Our Inaugural Cohort of Students!

We recently celebrated “Commencement Day,” dispatching Wayfinding crew across the country to invite students to join our inaugural cohort. Among other things, we delivered caps and gowns to symbolize our quest to turn the higher education system frontwards. You can read and watch the full story here.

Over the past week, these students have been accepting our invitations by paying deposits and making plans to move to Portland by Orientation which begins August 29th. So, one of the things we’ve had our eyes and hearts on through the past 2 years has finally come to pass - we have our first enrolled students! Quite a few of them. And they are INCREDIBLE! We look forward to introducing them to you this fall.

Yes, we are accepting applications for our inaugural cohort a little while longer because we still have a few spots left. If you or someone you know is interested, contact us on our website before July 7th and we’ll get the application process going.

Our Campus!

8010 N. Charleston Ave. in the Portland neighborhood of St. Johns

A little over a year ago our team started touring potential locations around Portland to find a space that fit us well and could enable us to grow from start-up to full size (150 students + staff). We toured 12-15 spaces looking to sign a long term lease. Last fall we came across a delightful building in the St. Johns neighborhood in North Portland and got our sights set on it.

There were a few barriers we would need to overcome to make it work, though: (1) it was for sale, not for lease and (2) it was in a residential area not zoned for college use.

First, myself and another crew member, Colin, spent hours at the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services learning about zoning and occupancy codes and under which conditions we might be able to get a “conditional use” review to change the designation of the building

There were pages and pages of charts and timelines and we met with many people during these early stages. In the end, the City determined that yes, we could apply to change to use of the building from R1 (residential) zoning to Institutional - College use, but they would require us to go through the longest, most extensive, and most expensive Type III Land Use Review process. 

Next, we had to figure out how a start-up non-profit college could get a $1 million bank loan to purchase and renovate a building. So we got some members of our Board and community together to form an LLC to purchase the building and lease it to the Wayfinding Academy. We signed a purchase and sale agreement last December and the LLC - Live Your Life on Purpose - will close on the sale this week (7 months later)!

Through a connection by our amazing real estate agent, Tom Secolo of Doug Bean & Associates, we hired a very cool architecture firm, SUM Design Studio + Architecture, to draw up plans for renovation of the building (built originally in 1937) to update it from its former life as a YWCA and help us navigate the long bureaucratic process with the City to change its zoning.  

On January 19, 2016, we attended a pre-application conference at the Bureau of Development Services where we met representatives from all the agencies we’d be working with once process began: transportation, environmental services, design review, and more.

Last week, on June 6, 2016 (139 days after our pre-application conference when we were last in that room), our Public Hearing was held and no one showed up.

This is good - it means no one wanted to raise a concern or contest the proposed site of our campus, and according to the hearings officer and our case manager, this is a rare occurrence. You can listen to the entire 16 minute hearing here if you wish (yes, they record these and put them online as mp3 files!). To conclude the hearing, he said to us, “I wish you well on your project. I don’t know what you did to create a situation where the room is empty, but I compliment you on that."

What we did was be human and intentional and do what we felt was the right thing to do when making a new place your home: meet your neighbors and talk with them about things that matter to them.

Some people might have seen these as barriers that were not worth working through or that were not able to be overcome. Because of how much we believe in what we’re doing, and because of how connected we are to why this is important, we them as opportunities to stretch and build community. 

We have more new friends and supporters because of the Land Use Review process than we ever would have otherwise met. Not only do they support us with their specific talents as architect, traffic engineer, real estate agent, elementary school principal, local library director, neighborhood association board member, church pastor, or small business loan officer at a bank, they come to Wayfinding events and cheer us on in so many additional ways.

This may seem like it was such a big thing that it was all we were doing for the past 7 months, but, of course, it wasn’t. Not even close.

And if you have been following along for a while now, you might surprised to find out that this was happening in the background of other stories you’ve been seeing like these:

  • AmeriCorps VISTA - we were approved to host an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who will begin August 29th, the same day our inaugural cohort starts! We’re making an offer to our top choice candidate this week. Stay tuned to meet this person soon!

  • Wayfinder Weekend from July 29th - 31st - we’ve been preparing for our annual gathering of our community of Wayfinders and we’d love if you would join us for our first public event at the Wayfinding campus. Details and tickets are here.

  • Oregon Public House - we’ve been chosen as a Partner Charity with the Oregon Public House (the nation’s first non-profit pub) from July through December. They have a really cool business and charity model where customers get to order off 3 menus: food, drink, and donation, and all the profits from your drinks and meals go to a charity of your choice. So, please hang out with friends and host meetings at the Oregon Public house throughout the next 6 months and choose Wayfinding Academy as your charity.

You can always get the most recent updates by going to the News page on our website as well.

Thank you for being part of this epic story to create a college from scratch and start a movement to revolutionize higher education. We could not do this without the support of the thousands of you who receive this email and cheer us on in person and online. Thank you!

Signing off to a life on purpose,

Michelle Jones
Wayfinding Academy Founder and President