Michelle Jones: College Professor Turned College Founder - Verbal To Visual Podcast with Doug Neill

Michelle Jones: College Professor Turned College Founder (VTV 018)

Michelle Jones has been a college professor for 15 years. Not content with the current state of higher education, she has decided to take a new approach: she’s starting a brand new college. In this episode we discuss the roots of the Wayfinding Academy and what it takes to bring a college to life.

Notes & Links

Header photo credit of Armosa Studios.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy1 - Sunny portland,

Today’s Guest: Michelle Jones (0:00 – 3:14)

Introductions and hellos, Michelle from sunny Portland, Oregon and me from two hours south in Eugene.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy2 - tedxmthood, tweet, coffee, illustrated intro slides

How We Met (3:14 – 8:09)

I share the story of how Michelle and I met. Thanks to a tweet from Chris Guillebeau, I bought a ticket to TEDxMtHood and tweeted about sketchnoting it live, which prompted Michelle to reach out and propose a coffee get-together, which lead to us creating illustrated intro slides for the event!

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy3 - how can I help?

What Michelle Does (8:09 – 10:39)

The story of our first project together is the perfect example of what Michelle does: “I see you’re interested in this thing. How can I help you build your skills and gain some meaningful experience?” She did it as a professor at Concordia University. She does it as the lead organizer of TEDxMtHood. And she’ll do it as the founder of the Wayfinding Academy.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy4 - hand-crafted education, 2-year program, portfolio-based

The Wayfinding Academy (10:39 – 14:10)

The purpose of Wayfinding Academy is to create for its students a hand-crafted education that helps them to understand themselves and their place in the world and gives them the tools and experiences they need to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy5 - community plus collaboration, network of connections

Community Plus Collaboration (14:10 – 16:15)

The diverse group of professors, advisors, mentors, and community partners will provide for Wayfinding students a network of connections, leading to collaboration opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy6 - self-directed learning plus advisors and mentors

The Right Combo (16:15 – 19:09)

The roots of Verbal To Visual grew through my own self-directed learning, but what I missed out on while building this thing was the structured support of a community of advisors and mentors. Wayfinding students will have that support network, and their efforts will be amplified because of it.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy7 - upside down to rightside up

Upside Down To Rightside Up (19:09 – 30:06)

The current structure of higher education is often based on a set of boxes that must be checked in a particular order and that leads students down a predetermined path. The Wayfinding Academy wants to provide an alternative approach, with student interests merged with an intentional curriculum that guides students toward a successful post-college experience.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy8 - gearing up - an alternative approach to education

Gearing Up (30:06 – 38:32)

The first class of Wayfinding students will enter the college in the fall of 2016. Between now and then there’s a whole lot to be done: finding a building in Portland, Oregon; developing community partnerships that will provide advisors and mentors to future students; planning workshops accessible to Wayfinding students as well as the local community.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy9 -  the intersection of learning and making

Common Cores (38:32 – 43:58)

At the core of both Verbal To Visual and the Wayfinding Academy is this intersection of learning and making. Wayfinding students will be making things right out of the gate that are intended to serve someone other than themselves (and someone more than just a single professor who hands down a grade). Through that making they will build both their skills as well as their portfolio, which they’ll be able to carry with them to whatever they go on to do after.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy10 - align then build

Align Then Build (43:58 – 54:32)

When building a physical structure, a business, a college, or a life, it’s necessary to go through a process of alignment before you begin building, otherwise you’ll be building on a slant and your efforts will come crumbling down in a few months or years. The team of folks getting Wayfinding off of the ground are currently setting that foundation, and learning a ton in the process.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy11 - the broader impacts of the wayfinding academy

The Broader Impacts Of Wayfinding (54:32 – 1:03:45)

Through the Wayfinding Academy’s physical location will be in Portland, Oregon, the impact will reach around the globe via the Wayfinder Curriculum (designed in collaboration with Sean Aiken of the One Week Job project), which can be downloaded and used by individuals and groups around the world.

MichelleJonesWayfindingAcademy12 - wayfinding meets the camino

Wayfinding Meets The Camino (1:03:45 – 1:10:22)

Michelle and I wrap our conversation by reminiscing about a trek along The Camino de Santiago that we took with other professors and college students a few years back, and brainstorming a Camino branch of the Wayfinding Academy (sorry folks, I’ve got dibs).


For more details on the Wayfinding Academy and their current Indiegogo campaign, check out their site


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