Wayfinding Academy

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?

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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.

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

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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.

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    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.

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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So, You’re Thinking of Dropping Out of College

So, You’re Thinking of Dropping Out of College

So … you’re thinking of dropping out of college? The first thing I’ll say is this: it’s okay. I’m sure you know this in theory. You’ve probably heard the “college is not for everyone” adage that’s thrown around all over college campuses and beyond. 

“College is not for everyone” is often the consolation remark when someone resigns to just not cutting it, not having what it takes, or not being able to afford the wildly high price tag of a college education. But maybe it is not the student who is the wrong match for college, but that college is a bad match for many people.

 

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Here's what Wayfinding students' parents have to say ...

At Wayfinding Academy, our core values are being human, welcoming adventure, and living life on purpose. In all that we do, we strive to embody these core values. 


We are proud of this new college we created from scratch and our alternative, intentional approach to higher education. As we near the end of our first student year, we asked parents of students in cohort 1 to share their perspective on the Wayfinding experience.

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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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