April 15, 2015

Where are they now: An alumni update on Joe Burgum

At 20 years old, Joe Burgum was the youngest and most clean-shaven student in Ei’s founding class. But what he lacked in years, traditional schooling and facial hair, he made up for with an infectious entrepreneurial spirit and love for community that had already seen him start a community project called Alley Fair and launch and sell his first business, TAG.

As a budding entrepreneur, Ei suited him perfectly as he explored very different spaces over the course of the year.

“I was able to curate my own year of learning,” he shared, “it was a balance of getting to dive into new environments all while building a portfolio of work.”

Joe designed a year to explore the intersection of community, meaningful experiences, and leading teams.

His first term was spent in Chicago at Redmoon, a theatrical production company that had him do everything from making shadow puppets to promoting events that we’re held in their 14,000 sq.ft spectacle hall.

His second term was spent in Santa Monica with Sapient, a global digital creative agency that had him strategizing and pitching alongside creative directors on multi-million dollar accounts.

In his third term in Seattle, he was mentored by artist and designer Samuel Stubblefield at NBBJ and contributed to urban design projects in the city while also studying the role that built environments play in effecting creativity. He also happened to live in an apartment complex full of software engineers from Amazon, so he learned a fair bit about designing online spaces in his after-work hours.

You can watch his year in review below:

But, what’s Joe been doing since graduation in September?

Learning & Leisure in Europe:

Like most of our founding class, Joe took to traveling after completing his year at Ei. He dubbed his trip to Europe an “Ei special elective: a 1-month mini term”.

This “mini term” had him rendezvous with his mentor Samuel Stubblefield in Paris, as well as connect with classmate April Soetarman, as she was sketching her way across the continent.

He entered the trip with a curiosity about how cold-weather cities are designed. Being from Fargo, he was eager to learn from architects and city planners in places like Oslo and Copenhagen so that he could take insights back to his hometown.

“What could be seen by many as a holiday actually turned into an incredibly value opportunity to document and research what people in Europe’s greatest cities could teach me about urban design,” he shared. “With documentation and thoughtful questions, any trip can be turned into a learning adventure.”

Fargo & Folkways:

With a deep-seated love for Fargo, Joe returned from Europe facing the question of, "How can I serve my community?" (As an aside, Joe delivered a TEDx talk about the value of asking good questions.)

As a response, he and some friends have launched a startup called Folkways, which exists to nurture and support culture creators. They're driven by a hopeful mission that states “a compelling culture instills a sense of purpose and identity within a community.

Starting this social venture has required him to turn refining questions back on his own vision for how to build community in Fargo.

Implementing the design thinking process acquired from Ei's curriculum, Joe and his team have been doing empathy work in the community; asking musicians, artists, service industry professionals, and small business owners about their work. With a clearer understanding of his community’s needs, he and a small team are testing prototyping the efficacy of house concerts, alley fairs, and placing way-finding signage throughout the city to support culture creators.

How Joe’s Changed:

Joe shared that he’d do Ei all over again because of the incredible relationships that were formed throughout the year. To this day, he’s still in regular communication, and some collaboration, with mentors and classmates alike.

“Validating personal experiences are really important when you’re beginning a startup,” he shared. “Because of Ei, documentation and reflection has become an ingrained habit with me. And it’s serving my current endeavors in ways I wouldn’t have predicted.”

He pointed to the variety of experiences offered through Ei as having helped him define what he’s most passionate about pursuing in his early career:

“Ei creates a controlled environment where you can delve into an array of topics,” he said, “it’s a year of trying very different things that help you see what’s available.”

Joe claims that he is now more confident in his skills and in what he can bring to a team. He’s also been more able to recognize where he has room to develop and grow.

“Growth happens when things are new and challenging,” he shared, “growth doesn’t happen when we know the routine.”

Now at 21 years old, in addition to all of the personal and vocational growth, Joe has also grown a mustache.

Photo one by Kevin Von Qualen

Photo two by Simone Wai

Photo three by Zach Davis

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