Portland College

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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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.

At the intersection of society and self is 'Futures and Citizenship'

This term, cohort 1 have been dreaming, being, and participating in the Futures and Citizenship core course alongside internships, independent study, and other projects. Wayfinding Academy Faculty member Sarah Iannarone led this course. This Wayfinding blog shares more about the intersection of society and self.

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The Backstory: World Domination Summit and Wayfinding Academy

The Backstory: World Domination Summit and Wayfinding Academy

Before founding Wayfinding Academy, Michelle Jones was a professor at Concordia University and the World Domination Summit (WDS) "Magician". For the five first WDS events, Michelle's mission was to weave the core WDS values of community, adventure, and service into the entire experience. WDS is an in-person gathering right here in Portland, Oregon where individuals with a shared pursuit of changing the world ask the question: How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?

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Meet the new Wayfinding Board Chair and Members

Building a college from scratch and flipping the higher education system frontwards is no easy feat. It takes passionate teams of people dedicating time, money, energy, and a willingness to learn, stretch, and endure through challenges and setbacks. In our world, one of those teams is the Wayfinding Academy Board of Directors.

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From internships to independent studies, our students are rocking Term 3

From internships to independent studies, our students are rocking Term 3

Real-world experiences are an important part of our 2-year program. Students get their hands dirty with internships, mentorships, and Learn & Explore trips (like our journey on the Camino in April). All the while, students document their experiences and learnings in a portfolio that they can carry with them far beyond college.

In this first month of Term 3 (and the last term of Year 1!), students started internships and working on pretty awesome projects.

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Ian Needham (current student) Named a Newman Civic Fellow

Ian Needham (current student) Named a Newman Civic Fellow

Wayfinding Academy is proud to share that Ian Needham has been honored as 2017 Newman Civic Fellow


Campus Compact, a Boston-based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education, has announced...

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The Camino de Santiago: More than just walking 250+ miles from point A to B

The Camino de Santiago: More than just walking 250+ miles from point A to B

Elizabeth, a member of the inaugural cohort of students, was one of 15 people who went on Wayfinding Academy's first ever Learn & Explore trip to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in April 2017. Not only was Elizabeth a participant, she was also the trip leader for one of the two routes explored during the 15-day journey on foot. In this week's newsletter, Elizabeth shares how the experience was more than just walking for 250+ miles.

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Maybe: the new Wayfinding Academy video

Maybe: the new Wayfinding Academy video

For the past few months, the Wayfinding Academy has been working on a new video to help us tell our story to the world, and gather new people into our movement. It's about the power of maybe.

From the early days of Wayfinding, we've been fortunate to have a curious, supportive, and enthusiastic group of followers. We sent the video to them first (Not on our mailing list? Sign up here) and now we're sharing it on our blog.

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Our Students are Revolutionizing the Way we Think about Debt

Our Students are Revolutionizing the Way we Think about Debt

Annie, a current student, tells us a bit more about a project she is taking part in...

"The seeds of the DFSS were actually planted in Term One as a bunch of us got together to discuss creative ways to pay for college.  This discussion quickly transitioned into one about the greater problem of student debt in this country, and our desire to try to do something about it..."

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The Wayfinder Way - In person Experiences

The Wayfinder Way - In person Experiences

The Wayfinding Way is to approach everything with intention and care for community.

This past Sunday, our second annual Wayfinder Weekend came to a close. We had over 60 incredible people from all over the country join us to refresh their purpose, learn new skills, and grow their community. Together, we...

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"We are Humans to be Cultivated" - Sneak peek into our application!

"We are Humans to be Cultivated" - Sneak peek into our application!

Over the past few months, we have been getting to know prospective students through incredible conversations and our intentionally-designed, human-centered approach to college applications. Our match making process is significantly different from most colleges' admissions process. It is different on purpose...

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We're Learning About 'Understanding Ourselves and Others'

We're Learning About 'Understanding Ourselves and Others'

This term, one of our core courses is Understanding Ourselves and Others. Wayfinding Academy Founder and Faculty member, Michelle Jones, gives us a closer look through her lens.

For the past 9 weeks, I have spent every Tuesday and Thursday morning in class with the students in the...

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A Closer Look Inside the Classroom

A Closer Look Inside the Classroom

Curious about what goes on inside our classroom? Faculty member David Rikert gives us a closer look at the core course, Engaging with Information.

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Building Cohort 2!

Building Cohort 2!

It’s hard to believe, but our March 10th priority deadline for Cohort 2 is fast approaching and we’ve started to review applications! This next cohort will join us as we continue laying the foundation for something truly special at Wayfinding Academy. 

Hear from Justin & Clara (current students) about their Wayfinding experience...

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It's Our Anniversary!

It's Our Anniversary!

On February 17, 2015 I booked a hotel room in my hometown of Portland, Oregon (a thing I do a few times per year when I have a big project I need to focus on) and submitted the official legal documents to bring the Wayfinding Academy into existence.

There have been many momentous days in the past two years since I officially started my own college, but February 17th will always have a special place in our history (and in the IRS database of non-profit organizations).

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