May 18, 2022

Couch Surfing to Stanford

My first experience at Stanford was unconventional.

I was attending a New Year’s party in Chicago at the end of 2012. A friend introduced me to a guy named Erik Olesund, and we hit it off. Erik told me about starting his graduate program at Stanford, and I told him about the Leap Year Project. “Wait, I’ve heard of you!” he exclaimed. “Could I interview you on my radio show?”

"Um, yes!"

That unexpected conversation actually led to me leading a workshop with a small class at the (thanks to Erik’s generous nudging). And that opportunity led to joining a series of projects with the most incredible people exploring the future of Stanford. I had no money, so I cut costs wherever I could. I knew I just needed to get out there as often as I could.

First trip to Stanford in 2013. Sleeping on Erik’s dorm room floor for a week.


Nearly every quarter, I’d travel out to Stanford to host discussions and design sprints with groups of students and educators on various aspects of the university system. There were several groups working on different threads, each important and amazing in their own way. My main area was rethinking the idea that education should be crammed into four straight years of on-campus, classroom learning.

That entire project was the first time I’d really seen a group of leaders design with a group of people, not just for them. We spent time listening intently, ideating thoughtfully, and prototyping playfully. It was a lot of work and so much fun.

"Stanford 2025"

The project culminated with an amazing exhibition where visitors “time traveled” to the future and presented four major provocations of what higher education might look like. I wasn’t just proud to be a small part of the work, I was thrilled to see the pride that everyone — from staff to students — had in the final project & site. It was beautiful.

And ever since, a good chunk of my life has been spent building programs for students alongside those amazing people. All of that has changed my life more than any of those friends may know — going from a couch (and floor) surfing to co-leading a team of educators working at all corners of learning in higher ed and the workplace.

Over the Past Few Weeks…

We’ve received some soul-filling responses to the initial thoughts of “our big question” and “lifelong learning university.” If you have any thoughts to add, just send a note to hello [@] and we’ll compile them (anonymously) for an upcoming Wednesday Words.

As we begin exploring, we’re realizing we don’t just want to try building some perfect, polished new thing and present it to you. We are going to build with you. It's our intention to listen to your stories, and soon begin building ideas that you can apply to your lives and work while sharing feedback along the way. We’re going to announce that effort soon, and plan a few experiences this summer.

For Now...

Whatever you’re working on, maybe it’s time to start sharing your ideas — even if they’re not polished. You never know who’ll come into your life with an encouraging word or something you might need next.

Thanks for doing that with Ei.

The Spark You’ve Been Looking For

Visit our store to find award-winning education tools used by individuals and teams around the world.