January 10, 2018

State of the Union | Experience Institute 2018

The famous philosopher and education reformer John Dewey once said:

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

That spirit of reflection is what guides how I start each year. And though I have no interest in anything “presidential,” I do appreciate taking a collective moment to share an honest, behind-the-scenes look at what went well, what failed, and where Ei is going in 2018.

So let’s dive right into the annual State of the Union for Experience Institute:


Graduated Fourth Class of Fellows

Ei’s first-ever program was our year-long Fellowship — a debt-free, experiential Masters program focused on design, business, and social impact. In August, we graduated our fourth cohort of smart, talented, and caring individuals. This crew became quite the family, and are now working in places like Salesforce, Capital One, Steelcase, Indeed, SY Partners, and NowPow.

Graduated the Largest Cohorts of Workplace LEAPS program

2017 was a banner year for our flagship Workplace program: Leaps. We ran the program at three companies and graduated nearly 100 new participants — all of whom created meaningful projects while learning how change works personally and professionally.

Expanded Workplace Offerings

A while back, I became friends with a prominent leader and strategist in Chicagoland — Melissa Quinn. Melissa was COO of Doblin, which was acquired by Deloitte to become their design and innovation practice. She recently left to join an old colleague, Dane Jensen, to create and lead innovation workshops for teams. After several meetings with Melissa & Dane, we’ve joined forces to expand Ei’s menu of programs for the workplace. And since then, have led transformative day-long workshops for teams at Method Homes and Farmer’s Fridge.

Melissa Quinn | Innovation Strategist & Facilitator

Grew Our Team!

As we expanded our corporate work, we needed more facilitators to help us teach in the workplace. Luckily, another dear friend, Betsy Ramaccia, was up to the task. She’s since become one of the anchors on the Ei team. We also began working with my good friend, Katie Crain, to explore how to streamline operations and program delivery across Ei. And with Melissa spending part of her time with us, and our amazing bookkeeper (Stephanie) and accountant (Mike) — the team is feeling full and awesome.

Streamlined Ei Products, Fulfillment, & Website

Over the years, we’ve created a few helpful products for people who are at points of transition. In 2017, we brought those products under one roof to streamline fulfillment, and built a new website that includes a store for you to find them when you need them most. Since then, sales have grown and we have a better grasp on inventory and customers.

Funded & Shipped The Shapeless Shape: A Children’s Book

At the end of the year, a team of friends and I completed a long-awaited children’s book project about fitting in and finding your way. We blew past our funding goal on Kickstarter and, in December, shipped nearly 2,000 books around the world. The reviews have been heartwarming and encouraging. It’s been an incredible project from the start.

Learn more & order yours at: http://www.theshapelessshape.com/


College Program

We believe college students should have more opportunities to launch into the real-world before graduation. But doing so shouldn’t be a considered a “gap.” It should be an accredited and celebrated part of the undergrad experience. So we worked with our partners Sage Corps and a local college to create and launch a prototype of a program called Leap Semester. Even though we had plenty of student interest, the credits were never quite right, and student applicants had to drop before the program could get off the ground. That one hurt.

WeWork Grant (+ a silver lining)

In May, we competed for a $75k grant with WeWork’s Creator Awards. We made it to the top 10, traveled to Detroit, and then advanced to the final seven. But they only funded five companies and we weren’t one of them. It was brutal.

The silver lining?

WeWork offered Ei a year of office space. And we’ve absolutely loved working out of their WeWork Kinzie office. The team here has been wonderful!

Our first pitches were in a glass shipping container to a panel of judges in downtown Detroit.


In trying to keep up, I’d rushed past the grief of losing my father and took on even more projects personally and professionally. In the Spring, I faced setback after setback. And by June, I was in a tough spot. Thankfully, I sought some help from a newfound friend, and throughout the rest of the year, we worked through a few hard things together. By the end of the year, I found my footing again, and I’m really grateful to be starting 2018 with healthier rhythms and a renewed excitement for work, life, and improving our world through experiential education in higher ed and the workplace.


A New Fellowship for Recent College Grads

Currently, 2/3 of college graduates struggle to find their fit after college. And within a year, over half are either unemployed or underemployed. That’s unacceptable.

Students simply aren’t given enough space to connect their learning to the marketplace sooner or they didn’t have the resources to do so. In turn, we’re missing out on those individuals’ contribution to the world.

So, we’re taking everything we learned from 2017 and creating a new Fellowship that will be for recent college graduates. By slotting this after college, we avoid the tricky landscape of accreditation and gain more control in accepting and supporting a wider demographic of students — all with the backing of a university.

An upcoming campaign for a new post-college Experiential Fellowship.

Workplace Programs

We’ll spend a lot of 2018 meeting with new companies and organizations interested in investing in their people. We hope to be a go-to partner for helping companies grow by training teams how to build new products, communicate effectively, and create a culture of curiosity and learning.

Working on a microsite to describe our newest workplace programs.

Build with the Stanford Students

The thirteen Product Design Masters students at Stanford are incredible. And working with them has challenged me as an educator, builder, and person. The team and I are thrilled to co-design the next portion of the class with them while also helping them grow through meaningful off-campus experiences throughout the next two quarters and summer. In our wildest dreams, this would both become an ongoing part of their program, and lead to other ideas for supporting growing numbers of students on campus.

2017–2018 Stanford Design Impact Masters Students (aka: The Loftees!): Hiroshi, Sukhita, Paricha, Samira, Thomas, Tayo, Cindy, Ali, Alex, Katie, Abhay, & Sita (not pictured: Yuri!)


Experience Institute is now in a unique place — directly between academia and industry — during a time in history where both sides are reimagining learning. Our ultimate goal is to help students and professionals navigate those tricky waters with greater confidence, leading to purposeful employment and lives. We’ve been able to work with incredible schools and companies that want to invest in their people in a similar way. We’re thrilled to be a part of this collective effort.

We are resolved that the best way to improve the world is to help every person become a learner — curious, empathetic, and active in solving local and global problems. And there’s no better way to learn than through experience.

I’m thrilled to be here for another year with you. And wherever you are, I hope our efforts will help you navigate your life and work with greater confidence.

Thanks again for being here.

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