Update coming soon, but until then…

28 Aug

I’ve been featured in Echoing Green’s Typical Tuesday series! I visited Echoing Green’s offices in New York in April to conduct interviews with Lara Galinsky and Linda Kay Klein, so check back in the next month for those interviews to be posted 🙂 Read my feature here!

Updates/Catch-up posts from this summer coming soon, including:

  • Reflections on the AMAZING experience I had this summer at The Bold Academy
  • Profilees including a girl who until recently attended NYU and is launching a social business start-up based in Hungary, a young filmmaker with interesting insight into the way Generation Y is viewing school and work, a traveler/musician/writer in his 20’s who left traditional schooling after 5th grade and has been working to develop various skills since, and others!
  • Next steps for myself and The Eduventurist Project 🙂



Isabelle Rizo: The BellaVie

14 Jun

Isabelle originally reached out to me after hearing about the Eduventure 2012 project on Facebook. After checking out her site, I saw that we had similar interests, and that she herself was crafting much of her own higher education experience. I ended up interviewing her a week before she jetted off to China!

Isabelle, who graduated from high school in 2011, became interested in filmmaking early on in her school career. “I went to a public high school, but I was always DIY learning.” She owned a camera, and “I was always the person in charge of taking videos or pictures for family events.” She started becoming involved in the Youtube online community, and through vlogging she taught herself more about filmmaking and editing. When one of her teachers found out, he encouraged her to submit one of her films into a film festival, where it ended up winning an award. It was at this point that she began considering a career as a filmmaker. “I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I should go into this!’”

For college, Isabelle had applied and been accepted to attend a private college in downtown Chicago, and was planning on double majoring in social justice and international studies. She had spent a lot of time applying for scholarships, but was still going to have to take out several loans to attend the school. “Even living in the city of Chicago was going to be a whole other expense, and I couldn’t do that to my parents. But my parents were saying, ‘no, no, this is an investment in yourself!’ That’s what everyone was saying. But I just had this gut feeling.” Looking at the student loan papers, Isabelle thought to herself, “Oh my god, people are just signing their lives away!” So two weeks before Isabelle was supposed to start college she made a decision and told her parents that she wanted to save money and instead attend the local community college. For many of Isabelle’s peers, “there was still that stigma” around going to community college. “I had friends going to Cornell and Princeton and they would tell me, ‘no, don’t do that!’ and I would say ‘Well, I don’t want to have all that debt!’”

She was able to use the scholarships she had received to both cover community college tuition and to buy film equipment and other things for her learning plan. At the college, Isabelle discovered that the professors were actually “pretty fantastic” and helpful in pointing her to resources and internships, especially when they saw her passion for learning. “I didn’t see what the big deal was with the stigma towards community college.” Besides attending classes, Isabelle made a point to self-educate. “I literally lived at the library last summer, and I found all these books on DIY and indie filmmaking.”She also worked on developing other interests outside of film. After hearing about the TESOL certification for teaching English, Isabelle signed up to become certified, since she was interested in travel and working abroad. Social media has also played a huge role in Isabelle’s learning path, “I don’t think I could have the same resources and opportunities if it wasn’t for social media.”

Through the Uncollege community, she was able to find paid writing and blogging jobs, which also helped to build her resume. Socially, Isabelle was able to find community through Youtube and Meet-up groups. She is in China where she is teaching English and making a documentary film about entrepreneur expatriates living in the country, which she hopes to eventually screen at her high school and submit to film festivals. Isabelle hopes to inspire others and keeps a blog called The BellaVie, in which she interviews entrepreneurs, authors, and artists about how their work and how they got to where they are today.

Andrea Savage: Self-Designing an Accredited Degree

27 May

I have updates! First of all, I returned from New York a month ago and have been busy with a few other projects, but am now beginning to tackle the hours of video footage I took from the interviews I conducted on the East Coast. Stay tuned for that! 

One of my other new projects is contributing content (i.e. resources for DIY learners) and cross-posting profiles to DIY U author Anya Kamenetz’s Edupunks Guide site! This post includes the first profilee I posted to the Edupunks Guide site. I met Andrea Savage after a friend of hers told me she was attending Goddard College, a school I am considering eventually attending which allows for self-designed distance learning, and has fully-accredited Undergraduate and Masters programs.

Andrea grew up being told and knowing that going to college was “what you were supposed to do.” Sitting down at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley, California where she currently lives, she told me, “I was on the private school liberal arts-college path my entire life. When I was in second grade I asked my dad ‘When can I start my application to Stanford?’” She ended up deciding to attend a prestigious small private liberal arts school in California once she graduated high school, and for the first two years she enjoyed the experience, for the most part, although she would joke that it was “like an expensive summer camp.” At that point, “I started opening up spiritually and consciously” she says. She started to realize that this particular educational experience was no longer for her when she was sitting in an environmental policy class. “I really found it interesting, but we never learned any problem-solving tips, just about all the problems. I was sitting in that class and I was on Facebook, and I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? This class probably costs $300 per class and I’m on Facebook, that’s absurd! I wasn’t doing the reading but I was getting straight A’s and I knew the information, but it really wasn’t what I wanted.” She ended up stumbling upon a talk given by progressive education advocate Alfie Kohn, and as she puts it, “it blew my mind.” Andrea had been trying to self-design her major at Occidental, and she eventually realized that she was spending so much time jumping through hoops and trying to educate herself, and she “didn’t need to be spending $30,000 a year to do that.” At this point, Andrea had heard of Goddard College, located in Vermont, from a friend of hers who attended the school. Goddard College allowed for self-designed distance learning, with week-long residencies each semester that allowed for time to meet with professors to design the upcoming semester of work. It was also a lot cheaper than the college Andrea was attending- about $12,000 per year. Andrea’s friend had recently received her “packet” back from professors at Goddard, which included five pages of a professor’s comments on a thiry page essay she had written. “I’d never gotten that much feedback on an essay,” Andrea reflected.

Andrea presenting her research in Nepal

Andrea decided to transfer to Goddard for her junior year while still living near the campus of her previous school. She also was able to study abroad for a semester in Nepal and Bhutan, and became involved in projects involving the education systems and Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness method of measuring it’s country well-being. Eventually, Andrea moved to Northern California as she continued to to learn through doing. This included working at local schools, taking a permaculture course in San Francisco, working in community gardens, and learning to build a website that showcased interviews with people about their connection to growing and eating food. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in Education Studies through Goddard this past year, and is now starting her own edible landscaping business in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s hard to leave [traditional] school, you know, it’s such a cultural thing,” she says, “People think something’s wrong, like you have emotional issues. But no, I just didn’t need that.” Although it was a difficult choice and transition to change from one school to another, Andrea is very happy with the decision she made and experience she ended up having.

Point People, System Builders, Network Weavers, and Intrapreneurs

8 May

Language is a funny thing. Our entire worldviews can be shaped by the words that are or are not included in our vocabulary. Something may not be thought to exist or have legitimacy if there isn’t a word for it. This is something I keep coming up against. When people ask me, “Well Weezie, what is it that you want to be/do in the future?” I find it hard to answer because although I have an idea in my head of the kind of things I would love to do, there aren’t popular terms as of yet for many of them.

The word entrepreneurship has become a buzzword, brought on by the need for jobs and innovation given the economic state of our world. We know that the current educational system is not adequately preparing students with the entrepreneurial and flexible mindset needed for the changing nature of work. However, I feel as if there is in some ways too much of a focus on the word entrepreneur, which in most cases conjures up an image of a sole person who is building their own thing and creating something entirely new. Yes, we do need these people. And yes, there seems to be more and more resources, funding, and educational structures emerging to support them. But what we also need, are system builders, network weavers, point people, infrapreneurs, and intrapreneurs. Say what?

Two weeks ago I met with Rithesh Menon, Director of Partnerships for StartingBloc, which is a network and training program for young leaders. When I said that I was on a journey to explore the emerging trends and models for educating social entrepreneurs and innovators, he responded by saying that he wasn’t a big fan of the term social entrepreneur. StartingBloc, which is both a network and training program, is a community of people who are brought together by a common trait: they are all wanting to change or impact the world in some way. For some people this may mean that they have an idea for a social venture that they are willing to build and lead. However, there are many other roles that are needing to be filled in order to leverage true change.

It seems to me that many social initiatives, NGOs, and enterprises are siloed, which is not surprising due to tough competition for funding, investment, and recognition. But there are people who design their work to intentionally and skillfully weave together different efforts, often in the roles of consultants or free agents. They are connectors and facilitators acting as a neutral third party to assess various entities and efforts, helping to weave them together in such a way that their impact is more easily scalable and effective. As we see a demand for increasing collaboration in the work world, we will need these cross-pollinators to facilitate the partnerships and exchanges that occur. If you look around, you may notice that it’s becoming more common for people to work as a free agent or consultant to various groups (check out the Generation Flux article in Fast Company).

Cassie Robinson helped to create http://www.thepointpeople.com, “a creative adhocracy working across sectors to facilitate systemic and cultural change.”

I first began thinking about these roles while I was in London last October and met with Cassie Robinson who was based at the co-working space Hub Westminister. Cassie is a perfect example of someone who is deeply committed to the system as a whole rather than just one project. As she puts it, “I’m interested in system builders as opposed to entrepreneurs.” She works on several different projects, and is able to bring various perspectives and opinions to them. Cassie and I talked about how much our society celebrates the entrepreneur, when we really need to be looking at these system changer roles as well.

As Cassie explained to me, “I can never apply to any programs for personal development, or support, or funding. You can apply if you’re a social entrepreneur.” She gave me an example of something called The Big Venture Challenge which awards 25 of the top entrepreneurs in the country. “I phoned them up because I just wanted to challenge them a little bit. In the application you had to say how you would go into an area in the UK and how you would basically help low-income people out of poverty. My argument to them was, ‘Why are you looking for a lone entrepreneur with one idea to be able to do that? There’s no way one organization or entrepreneur will be able to do that. There’s different aspects of a social problem like poverty and it would require a system for people. Why don’t you invest in people who know who those ten organizations would be and who could hold that together?'” They didn’t get it, although Cassie was understanding of their reaction as this need isn’t widely recognized at the moment. In addition to Cassie, I have had various other similar conversations that have come to the same conclusion. Funders and investors need to recognize, reward, and incentivize these critical roles to enable more people to take them on as jobs in the realm of social development. 

On the other hand, there is also a need for those who work within an organization or business that already exists and who innovate from within. I’m all in for creating new structures and recombinations. But the fact is, there are so many existing things that can benefit from fresh insight and begin to evolve to become something more adapted for the present and future. We call these people intrapreneurs, and like system builders, I feel that there is not enough emphasis or even education on these roles and their importance. Let’s ensure that the evolving educational systems will be mindful of these gaps that need to be filled.

I could go on about this but for now I will just leave you all with a TEDx talk that also touches on these ideas!

Making Sense of Motivation

22 Apr

You may have noticed that there are two emerging themes of The Eduventurist Project: Learning for the 21st Century and Social Innovation/Entrepreneurship. At first I had a hard time verbalizing how exactly the two concepts were connected. Of all of the Eduventurists I’ve interviewed, one particular common trait seems to continually be that they are striving to make a difference in the world, one way or another.  Yesterday I attended the first annual Penny Conference hosted by Skillshare, where I heard education innovator Tony Wagner speak. His talk touched on the connection between these two topics, and a lot of it has to do with motivation.

Our education system is based on extrinsic motivation, which is defined as “motivation that comes from outside an individual,” such as money or other rewards. In the conventional school system, students go through classwork in order to receive a good grade, to get their diploma, to go to college, and to then get a job in our consumer market-based economy (which is an unsustainable economic system in itself). The love of learning purely for the sake of learning tends to leave us early in this system, and we also lose a sense of relevance. Besides becoming a worker and consumer in our world’s economy, for what other reason are we learning? Many people get to college after having worked hard in high school to achieve acceptance at their dream school, only to end up asking themselves, “why am I doing this? Is this what I want?” It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race. 

Contrary to the conventional school system, innovators and world changers are motivated by intrinsic motivation. They find joy and a sense of purpose in leaving a positive impact on the world. Several friends ask me how I continue to have a drive to learn on my own without school. I answer that I genuinely love learning about these issues, people, and projects. By learning, I am better able to help contribute to new solutions and ideas. Even if I am not receiving extrinisic rewards (like compensation or a grade), I would still be motivated to do these things. Of course, we all have bills to pay and making a living wage from working and learning based on intrinsic motivation can be the challenge, but there are ways to do it.

My own personal belief is that we are all aspiring changemakers. Whether we know it or not, I think that everyone wants to live a life in which they have done something that has a positive impact on something besides one’s self. The emerging neuroscience of compassion and empathy shows us that we are hardwired to do good, and that people do not find sustainable happiness through competition, greed, or envy. We feel better when people around us are healthy, happy, and productive. If we were to have an educational system that encouraged collaboration, made learning relevant, let students take ownership in their education, and was productive in terms of making our environment and people around us better, students would be more motivated, interested, and happier in the process of learning. 

This is why The Eduventurist Project is not driven to simply tell the stories of people learning in different ways. It’s more specifically looking at how people who are intrinsically motivated by doing good are finding ways to take ownership of their education, careers, and life paths to better align them with a deeper sense of purpose. This fuels Eduventure 2012, and further explains why I am exploring these models of educating changemakers. 

One particular model of action learning for changemakers that I’d like to share is being used by Make Sense. Several weeks ago, my friend and Make Sense gang member Kate Ettinger of Mural Institute offered to organize a “Hold Up” for the Eduventurist Project. Make Sense was started by a French business school student Christian Vanizette, and is an international organization with “hot spots” around the world in which trained members of the Make Sense gang (a.k.a “gangsters”) organize Hold ups and get together to creatively help social entrepreneurs in the challenges they face. Learn more from the video below: 

My hold-up was organized in the San Francisco hot spot, and the challenge was to help me think further about what I could end up creating out of what I learn from Eduventure 2012. Kate made a video from the hold up and the resulting ideas which included:

  • Mimic My Comic: A web platform in which people can create comics out of their alternative education paths
  • The Eduventure Challenge: Get teams of students from various educational backgrounds together to compete in a competition to come up with solutions to various global challenges.
  • Playground: Traditional schools are paired with an alternative learning program through an evaluative process, and together they incubate ideas for the future of education, which are showcased through 5-minute pitches and can be awarded with a “kid’s choice” or “guardian’s choice” award. 

Definitely some cool ideas to get me thinking big about what can come out of this journey!

After the Eduventurist hold-up, I was trained to be a gangster (oh yeahhhh) and helped to co-animate a “friend up” for a high school girl, Reika. Reika wanted to find  a way to engage her classmates in becoming more worldly and aware of multicultural issues. I brought my two high school-aged cousins and brother along, all of whom got pretty into the process and contributed great ideas! That video can be viewed here
While in New York, I’ve met up with two gangsters from the NYC hotspot, Marion and Juliette. They are attending business school in France but are on exchange at Pace University for the semester. We are hoping to organize a hold-up before I leave, if you are in the New York area and would like to join, let me know!

If you’d like to learn more about the Hold Up process, you can watch the video which features Christian, the Make Sense co-founder: 

Job Amaro: “The One Who Liked to Figure Out How and Why Things Happened”

18 Apr

In my last post I talked about the financial challenges that many Eduventurists face. I’m always amazed by and admire those who continue to pursue their interests and passions, even when life brings on one challenge after another. In February I met Job Amaro at the Ashoka U conference, and saw him again when I sat down with him for a conversation over lunch in DC (he lives in Virginia) two weeks ago. Job is an IT consultant for Ashoka, he’s 21 years old, and I can honestly say that he is one of the most amazing and resilient people I have met on my journey thus far. Job is a perfect example of a talented autodidact who is facing challenges in the higher education system, but has still managed to foster his love of learning.

Job grew up in an immigrant household with very traditional and hardworking parents. He had to mature pretty quickly while facing various difficulties such as his parents divorce, the loss of his father’s job, and limited financial resources. However, this early independence is one of the contributing factors to his ability to learn on his own. From a young age he would take things apart in order to learn about how they worked. “My aunt would get frustrated whenever I went over to her house, because I would always take my cousin’s toys apart” he laughs. He also would do the same thing to computers, which taught him more about tech and computer systems. When he graduated from high school, he began attending a local community college, but was forced to drop out after one semester when his father became unemployed.

Job showed me around DC after our interview!

Even so, through a series of serendipitous connections, Job became connected to Ashoka through his IT company.  “I replaced a coworker there because I told my boss I was bored at work,” he tells me. He moved to an onsite role as an IT consultant for the organization and has become more interested in social entrepreneurship, as Ashoka is one of the most prominent networks for social entrepreneurs in the world. He also spends time attending hackathons and other networking and learning events in DC and the surrounding area. What does he hope for the future? He finds it hard to say, but aspires to work on his own start-up in the future. He definitely has the talent and drive for it if you ask me!

At the end of our conversation, Job tells me, “I’m taking the lessons that I’ve learned, throughout my life, and trying to apply them to other people who would be in similar circumstances.” His love of learning comes along with a thirst to help others, which I continue to see as a shared trait among various Eduventurists 🙂

Equal Access

16 Apr

A clear day in New York

After having been in New York for two weeks now, it’s been interesting to contrast what I’ve been discussing with entrepreneurs and educators against what my friends and peers have been telling me in regards to the reflections from their own paths. Yes, I’ve been meeting with respected organizations and journalists, participating in entrepreneurial learning sessions at General Assembly, and even attending a great class at NYU on social entrepreneurship. But throughout all this, I’ve been couchsurfing in Brooklyn with art students, visiting friends who attend an elite small liberal arts school in upstate New York, and sitting down at cafes in DC and New York with other Eduventurists who are entirely out of the school system. This contrast between the two groups provides me with both a macro and micro view of the same issues. Anya Kamenetz, an advisor of mine who I interviewed last year and met with again last week, has written numerous articles and books about Gen Y and our future. These are my peers, classmates, as well as good friends that I collapse into laughter with and exchange deep thoughts and questions with. We spend hours talking about our futures, what we are proud of, and what is preventing us from accomplishing what we dream of. This brings me to what I want to talk about in this post: the bumps along the road or mountains we face as we navigate this unfolding landscape.  

Deciding to take the road less traveled can be difficult for various reasons. The degree of difficulty and challenges presented vary from person to person depending upon their life situation. I find myself constantly asking the question, “If we are to create a world and culture where different ways of learning, working, and living are more widely accepted and accessible, what concretely do we need to change?” I’ve often joked that I’m writing the very guidebook that I myself need and would want to use at this point in my life. I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the common challenges that have been described to me while interviewing various other students, those who have found solutions and those who are still trying to overcome challenges. One big challenge, which is the focus of this particular post, is finances and access to resources.

Whether you are talking about a gap year or a complete DIY approach to higher education, the “eduventurist path” has traditionally been available to those who can afford structured programs abroad or who can pay for living expenses locally while doing something else interesting that builds skills and knowledge. One of the biggest injustices in my mind is that people of more disadvantaged backgrounds are not able economically to take time off the beaten path in life to discover more about who they are, what they are good at, and where they want to go. Before investing tens of thousands of dollars into higher education, if you choose to go that route, it would probably be wise to have considered your options and be sure that it is the right path for you. Our government provides funding for “education,” but what if we began to see more programs that would give a stipend to students wanting to do something else before heading down the costly college path? Obama talks about wanting to boost numbers of students who actually graduate from college. Instead of pouring money into simply college preparedness programs, how about we also put an emphasis on providing access to “deep” experiences, self-identity development, and opportunities for self-directed learning, career exploration, or apprenticeships?

There certainly has been some progress with using federal funds to provide more of these experiences, through programs such as City Year and AmeriCorps. There are also non-profit organizations such as Amigos De Las Americas (in which all participants are trained in fundraising for their own trip), Global Glimpse, Summer SearchGlobal Citizen Year and others which offer opportunities for scholarships. However, for students who are a bit more DIY in their approach, or who have a specific idea for what they would want to do (start a business, write a book, make a film, etc.), it’s a lot more challenging and difficult to find funding. I’ve had to work side jobs while living at home or traveling to pay for most of what I’ve been doing over this past year and a half. Additionally, crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo,  can be helpful for students to find alternative ways to raise funds for their “eduventures.”

A girl wrote to me a few months back who told me that she had stumbled across my blog and was seeking advice. After a few semesters at Swarthmore College, she was questioning if it was the right choice for her, and was really looking for a way in which to take time off to explore her interests further. However, her parents live in a rural area of Texas and she didn’t have the finances to move to a more urban location to pursue an internship or similar opportunities. I’ve spent a few months during the past year living at home with my parents in the Bay Area, and I know that I was very fortunate to have been in an area that was well-suited for what I wanted to learn. The location provides me with access to mentors, internships, events, and classes that have helped to build my learning path. One solution I can offer to this is seeking out work exchanges. While traveling in Europe last fall, I worked at a hostel in Scotland last October in exchange for room and board between couchsurfing stints. Workway, Helpx, WWOOF, Transitions Abroad, and even using craigslist for au pair and housekeeping jobs can help. 

But beyond taking other jobs, fundraising, and work exchanges, in order to meet the demand of an increasing amount of students, the overall infrastructure needs to be analyzed and further developed. Creating and designing co-living spaces in urban areas for alternative or independent learners, made possible with scholarships and/or stipends of some sort (or other creative funding options) would be cool and could be further explored. I’m in ongoing discussions with several people about the potential opportunities for ideas like these. We’ll see where things go. Let’s make sure that Eduventurism is not something that is only possible for those with easy access to funds!

P.S. “The Project” section of this site has been updated, if you are curious to read how I am now describing what I’m doing and why, go ahead and check it out!