“You Can Imagine” – Reframing Mental Health to Brain Health with Dr. Jeremy Richman

“You Can Imagine” – Reframing Mental Health to Brain Health with Dr. Jeremy Richman

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people in my life that have influenced the way I think about things. However, the day I met Jeremy Richman was different. After telling me that his 6-year old daughter, Avielle, was murdered in her first grade classroom at Sandy Hook, he soon followed with three words…

”You Can Imagine.”

Since that encounter, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Jeremy and hope you will too. It turns out, I’m one of the lucky ones. My life has been pretty good. I was privileged to grow up and have a childhood without trauma. Dr. Jeremy Richman is a neuroscientist and introduced me to a whole new way of thinking. He shifted my mindset to understand the meaning of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Protective Factors, which now drives our curriculum at Noble Impact.

Joe Pucci is a young man I met this past summer. He is a New York City native that attends Hamilton College and is very curious about life…especially in relation to education and how he might be able to make a difference. We are years apart in age but very close in how we view the world. He took a leap of faith and joined us this past summer at the University of Arkansas to take part in our Noble Impact facilitation of the Fleischer Scholars Program. Not only did he do great job but he had great interest in our curriculum and wanted to know more. So I asked if he’d be interested in interviewing Jeremy in order to gain further insight. Of course, he said yes.

Below is Joe’s recap of the conversation he had with Dr. Jeremy Richman.

In the brisk, dark morning of December 14, 2012…

20 children and 6 educators were ruthlessly massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Among the victims was 6-year-old Avielle ‘Avie’ Richman. As I prepared to interview her father, Jeremy, I grew increasingly uneasy at the idea of asking him to reminisce on this day. “I don’t want him to have to relive that experience,” I thought. Before I brought it up, he began describing that morning. My core was shaken. A knot developed in my stomach. This is what Jeremy wants. Not because he enjoys my suffering, but because it’s the only way I’ll develop compassion and want to do something with it.

Jeremy needs us to imagine that day — to put ourselves there and to feel the associated emotions. This goes against the common, well-intentioned response, “I can’t imagine…” But we can, and we must. Only then will we begin to care. This is why “You Can Imagine” is the trademark slogan of The Avielle Foundation. When we do this, we are subconsciously building compassion for those in that situation. Ultimately, compassion is what will drive people’s support for the cause, but it is also what will prevent people from committing violent acts.

This is a simple, logical, and powerful progression, but it is one that is uncommon and often deemed an abstract or ‘soft’ approach to curbing violence. Instead, we constantly focus on negative solutions that don’t seek to affect change in the individual.

According to Jeremy, the top three are guns, safety, and brain health. Many people use the term “mental health” but Jeremy reframes to the organ in which it affects…the brain. These solutions don’t ask the important question of WHY someone would act violently.

“We need to have some very serious introspection and open discussions about what responsibilities come with the right to bare arms – we have become very irresponsible in this arena and tens of thousands of Americans have paid a tragic price as a result.”

Banning guns won’t stop people from thinking violently.

Surely our schools should be safe spaces, but vastly increasing protection is a temporary solution. Violent people will still figure out places or ways in which to be violent. And our fascination with mental health doesn’t actually get us anywhere. Instead we need to begin considering the reframe of mental health to brain health, which Jeremy believes to be a start.

“[The word] Mental is intangible and invisible. It doesn’t come with anything of value that you can use as a tool. At best, it’s a label based on symptoms and syndromes. We need to realize that the brain is an organic organ that houses our behaviors, feelings, and memories. If a behavior is abnormal, it must be the tangible, organic consequence of abnormal brain biochemistry or structure.”

With this being said, Jeremy warns us not to get caught up in simple solutions. Analyzing brain health is critical to understanding the roots of one’s actions, but there’s more to it.

“There’s also a fallacy with associating violence with just genetics. For example, if we look at psychopathic behaviors…and see that it existed in their family history, we think that it must be genetic. But it’s also what you learn and know; the experiences you were exposed to. Both are right and wrong. No behavior is just genetic or just environmentally influenced. Behavior is always influenced by both nature and nurture.”

In short, we shouldn’t be focusing on guns, safety, and mental health, but we also can’t get caught up in attributing violence to one thing; it’s complex. Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) has helped us better realize the environmental influences. It showed that the more one is exposed to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect and household dysfunction in their childhood, the more likely they are to be obese, smoke, drink, break bones, fail to graduate high school, engage in a risky life-style, and die younger. However, we can add to this foundation if we begin studying the brain and focusing on ways to improve it.

Guns, safety, and mental health fill our discussions following violent events like those in Sandy Hook, or the recent shootings around our country, but something isn’t working. Violence seems more prevalent than ever. To do something about it, Jeremy is creating a paradigm shift in how we approach these situations. A focus on prevention and intervention rather than solely on reaction. The Avielle Foundation believes in “Preventing Violence and Building Compassion.”

 

It hinges on the belief that compassion can prevent violent memories, feelings, and behaviors from ever transpiring in the first place. It is admirably grounded in positivity and embodies curiosity, selflessness, passion, and resilience. In tying this back to Jeremy, we can see that his story isn’t defined by the tragedy itself, but rather by his response to it.

Jeremy’s unique, resilient approach can be contextualized even from his earliest experiences. His story begins in the “hippy trippy” 1970s in Boulder, Colorado. The time and place made for an open-minded environment filled with a diversity of people, ideas, and ways of life. Although he left at nine years old, its values are evident in him today: The ability to find compassion and optimism in the face of adversity; The interdisciplinary nature of his work; The discontent with the status quo. It’s prevalent in his identity.

His adolescent years continued in the sprawling, then small town of Tucson, Arizona. Jeremy’s isolated, desert home was shared with his mom, an ESL teacher, his dad, a chemist turned technology expert, and his sister. It’s no wonder that his current endeavors span from neurological research to educational implementation – a rarity in the scientific community.

Shortly after moving, Jeremy’s grandfather was diagnosed with a severe form of Alzheimer’s. He reminisces on how misunderstood the disease was and how hard it was to watch his dad deal with his father’s pain, but says that it was ultimately eye-opening. He was deeply fascinated by how our personalities were dependent on the proper functioning of the brain. As he sought to learn more, it dawned on him how little we actually knew about this organ. But that’s what excited him. He saw an opportunity to make profound discoveries in such an unexplored realm, and that’s exactly what he would wind up doing.

This same curiosity however, did not translate to his early schooling experiences. Considering he was already thinking about brain science, this surprised me. But this is often the case in our school system; we tend to squash creativity, curiosity, and fun (see Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk for more on this). But it also didn’t help that Arizona’s education was ranked 51 out of the 52 states and territories at the time. This left him woefully unprepared for college.

Upon entering the University of Arizona, Jeremy described himself as a “long haired party man who thought good grades came with just showing up.” He would go on to achieve successes in molecular and cellular biology, neuropharmacology and toxicology, and meet his wife, Jennifer, where they’d “geek out together,” but long before this, he was on his way to flunking out.

Things only began to change when a friend of his called him out for complaining, and not studying. He took this to heart. He became aware of his short attention span, inability to effectively manage time, and lack of study skills. But most importantly, he now wanted to do something about it. He began attending study primers at the Human Resource Center, going door-to-door of professors at the university, and generally becoming more proactive. This is the Jeremy I assumed filled his adolescence, but it didn’t. So how’d he end up where he is today?

We tend to mistakenly associate profound thinkers with being exceptional intellects in their youth, but studies have disproven this theory. It turns out that having character, curiosity, and determination is much more important than having a high IQ or getting good grades. As Albert Einstein, who struggled mightily as a child, once said:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

This is part of the reason that he was thrilled to partner with Noble Impact – whose student-centered curriculum focuses on purpose driven outcomes. He believes that Noble is “thinking in an innovative, out of the box fashion to build value, integrity, perseverance, and compassion through emotionally intelligent platforms.” Through The Avielle Foundation, Jeremy and his team are providing profound scientific insight into brain health and the importance of compassion, while Noble is using and facilitating that knowledge in its programming for students and teachers.

On top of this, we now know that our brains are extremely plastic – meaning they change in response to experiences – particularly from three-years-old to the end of adolescence. It doesn’t matter whether those times were good or bad, but it does matter that we learn from them. For many people, it takes a large degree of suffering to develop – as was the case with Jeremy. He nearly flunked out, but he responded and came back stronger.

Many years later – with exponentially greater suffering – the same might be said about his response to Avie’s death. In times like these you are tested immensely. Although it was an “infinitely heartbreaking, unforgettable moment,” Jeremy’s character shined through.

Surely, rage was pent up in him, but he translated it into self-growth and an application for greater good. After Avielle’s murder, Jeremy notes, “Jenn and I, literally within days, decided that we had to do something. We knew that it had to be meaningful, prevent violence, and build compassion in any possible way that we could.”

The resiliency it takes to swiftly respond with action that will prevent others from experiencing their pain is unbelievable. It is selfless. It defines strong character.

It’s been five years. It’s been heartbreaking. What have we done? What will we do?

If you ask Jeremy and Jen, the answer is compassion, and I’m sure Avie would agree.

Individual vs. Institution: Who continues the story?

Individual vs. Institution: Who continues the story?

When I was a teenager, I remember my Dad telling me…

“Whatever you resist, persists.”

Professional Development

Last month, we organized a professional development workshop for about 130 faculty, staff, and administrators from eStem Schools. I was excited about the opportunity because I believe very strongly in the importance of acknowledging individual identity in any institutional system…especially education. The fascinating thing to me is the disconnect of this acknowledgement and why every institution doesn’t focus on individual identity to communicate their brand, whether it be a for profit company or non-profit organization.

We had two goals:

  1. Engage participants in activities related to individual brand building
  2. Take professional headshots of every single eStem employee

Over the past several years, I’ve shared numerous conversations about this individual brand idea with professional photographer, John David Pittman (JDP). We went back and forth with ideas and terminology. Call it marketing, branding, messaging…whatever you want. Our collective belief was in the power of controlling your own narrative and being conscious of how you’re communicating that narrative to the world. I believe it to be more important from my position as a high school educator as access into college hinges greatly on judgment that students receive through social media channels. It’s no secret that college admissions officers look at an applicants social media accounts to make judgments regarding acceptance.

Therefore, I believe my professional responsibility is to introduce students to this reality…what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth – ZMOT (“it’s the new decision-making moment that takes place a hundred million times a day on mobile phones, laptops and wired devices of all kinds.  It’s a moment where marketing happen, where information happens, and where consumers makes choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every brand in the world”.)

In a 2002 letter to shareholders and prior to the Google terminology, Procter and Gamble’s CEO, A.G. Lafley referred to the First Moment of Truth (“when consumers stand in front of store shelf and decide whether to buy a P&G brand, or a competing product”) and Second Moment of Truth (“when consumers use a product and it delivers a delightful and memorable experience – or not and then decides whether to buy it again”). In 2006, P&G employee, Pete Blackshaw created the Third Moment of Truth (“where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand”). Reference – Keith Ewart | ZMOT, FMOT, SMOT, TMOT

Business Sector Language

A.G. Lafley would probably tell you that all this started with a simple question…

What do our brands need to stand for in the hearts and minds of their strategic target?

Social Sector Language

Translating that to a students, teachers, and schools…

Who am I in the hearts and minds of friends and colleges?

Who am I in the hearts and minds of students and parents?

Who are we in the hearts and minds of parents and community?

As an educator, I’m curious how these moments of truth translate to the education sector. ZMOT, FMOT, SMOT, and TMOT…do they apply to a school, to a teacher, to a student?

Absofrickinlutely!

Who are we kidding? You want to check out a school…go to the website. You want to check out a teacher…google them. You want to check out a student…check social media. Furthermore, if the teacher isn’t on the website or is represented with a crappy photo and bio, it’s not good! JDP has since redefined that for eStem’s “Our Staff” page.

This is the world we live in and it’s not slowing down. You either adapt or get left behind as an individual and as an institution. The secret lies at the intersection of both. If institutions have individuals that value their brand and control their individual narrative in a healthy way, the institution will flourish. And…the individual will provide tremendous value to the institution by showing people they are a good citizen of the community. Therefore, it makes everyone better. Not just the individual. Not just the institution. Everyone!

Let’s get tangible. What can we do?

As A School

Start with culture and create a culture of communication. Challenge all teachers to post something once a day. One tweet, one instagram picture, one facebook or blog post. Encourage teachers to be themselves while embracing their own voice, their own style, and their own authentic selves. All posts should focus on positive stories being created in the classroom or school. This will drive a healthy school culture.

As A Teacher

Think of your classroom as a brand. What stories are you telling and how are you telling them. If you aren’t telling them, no one else will. Is it through social media? Through emails to parents? Through school newsletters? How are you connecting with parents, with students, with other teachers…these are your stakeholders. The more communication the better.

As A Student

What does your social media account look like? Perform an inventory and see how you’re talking about yourself and others. Based on social media alone, are you someone you’d want to accept into Harvard? What is your messaging to the masses? The majority of students have much more power than any teacher or school because they have more followers.

Change is Hard

The transition from discomfort to discovery is painful and some people never make the transition. When I was trained in the Change Cycle curriculum there was one quote that stood out and resonated:

Image result for socrates the secret of change

As I stated above, we had two goals for the workshop and my job was to engage teachers in what we believed were relevant activities related to identity building. I had facilitated these activities with students and have received great engagement with the majority of students. Last year, I decided to introduce a new activity that had students perform an individual activity, mirroring what Google does on an institutional level, which they call, Ten Things We Know To Be True.

Translating that to an individual basis required students to spend significant time in reflection mode. I was beyond impressed with student results. In fact, many students put their results on personal websites and one student, Bethanie Gourley, even made a video it, which is awesome!

I was very interested to see how teachers would respond to the same challenge and most of them embraced the process while sharing results with colleagues. However, there were some that I just didn’t reach and I put that on me. My fault.

After cleaning up, I was on my way out of the building and came across a paper on one of the tables with the “Ten Things” exercise. My eyes went to #8…

I understand that not all teachers or administrators will agree with me about the importance of individual identity and how I believe we should treat it as a branding opportunity for students, teachers, and schools. I understand that branding can have a negative connotation in the social sector but…the world we live in today is very fast. It’s not a matter of if but when. You might not believe in the “brand” identity approach but every market (business and social) in the world is showing us that “brand” is important and has the ability to control messages, actions, and attitudes towards individuals and institutions. I know we’re not products, but the ZMOT to TMOT approach is now applicable to people. How do we leverage ourselves and our stories for the common good?

As Tristan Walker says, “No one else should be telling my story.”

It’s easy for me to empathize with people that state, “I am not a brand.” I totally understand where they are coming from. This whole social media thing didn’t exist when I was in high school or even when I started teaching. In the whole scheme of things, it’s totally new to me but I’m trying to embrace the change. Innovation isn’t limited to institutions, it needs to happen to individuals and if you don’t innovate yourself, no one else will.

So, let’s reframe. Fine, you’re not a brand. How about this…you’re a story that isn’t finished yet. As my friend Dave Knox told me many years ago, “Marketing is telling the story, and branding is continuing the story.”

If Dave is right, and branding is continuing the story, it begs a couple questions…

  1. Who continues the story?
  2. Who consumes the story?
  3. Who cares about the story?

Embrace it or resist it…your headshot is the first line of your story, and the story continues. What will it be?

Here is what we did. Enjoy!

A new hashtag I’m playing around with…

#InnovateYoSelf

New Partnerships, Same Purpose

New Partnerships, Same Purpose

In the 2017-2018 school year, we are going with “others” and are pumped about the potential for each new partnership. Our purpose is the same…to increase access and opportunity for every student we serve.

New Partnerships

We are very excited to announce new partnerships with Sheridan High School, Hope Public Schools, and Virtual Arkansas. In addition, we are adding to our capacity at eStem Schools, which has been our flagship partner since launching Noble Impact in 2013. At eStem Schools, and through the leadership of CEO, John Bacon, we will continue our curriculum innovation process while increasing our scope with a school wide implementation plan, including the new Office of School Culture.

Sheridan High School

Spearheading our new partnerships is Charlie Kinser at Sheridan High School. Both a high school coach and teacher, Charlie is a veteran Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher and has been following Noble Impact since the beginning. His interest has led him to reach out to us, observe our classrooms, and even serve as a mentor at many of our events. In fact, his student team from Sheridan recently won the University of Central Arkansas High School Startup Day. Combining his industry and educational experience provides tremendous value as a Noble Impact facilitator.

Below is a picture of the Sheridan High School Startup Day Winning Team and Charlie at their photo shoot with professional photographer, John David Pittman. The prize for winning High School Startup Day was receiving professional headshots taken by JDP.

Words from Charlie…

“Introducing Noble Impact to the Sheridan School District and our community will allow our students to participate in a cutting edge education model.  After witnessing the student experience of Noble 101 at eStem High School in 2013-2014, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Noble Impact educational movement. Through this state of the art program, student interests’ drive the curriculum, and the community reaps the benefits of employable, credible, and prepared young adults.  It had been an exciting time watching the momentum of Noble Impact during this past semester.  I can’t wait for all the successes and stories that will begin in the fall of 2017, where almost 100 Sheridan High School students become novice Noble Scholars.”

The most exciting thing to me about the partnership with Sheridan High School is related to their enthusiasm and excitement about bringing Noble 101 to their classrooms. They even created a partnership logo and flyer to get the word out about Noble 101. Limitless potential!

What is Noble 101?

Noble 101 is an introductory course for the Arkansas Career Education Noble Impact program of study, which engages students at the intersection of entrepreneurship and public service. Industry concepts and Silicon Valley case studies are used to foster collaboration and competition with classroom experience and community events, i.e. High School Startup Day. The understanding of social emotional learning (SEL) is central to the curriculum and promotes the primary skills of listening, storytelling, and reflecting. The course includes guest speakers from for-profit companies and non-profit organizations who will share their personal journey to success. Students will connect with one another through their personalized my.nobleimpact.org platform, which will provide an avenue to capture experiences and events while building social emotional competencies, for example – High School Senior, Andrew Rickard. Each semester will end with a culminating event to connect students across the state and upon completion of the Noble 101 course, students will have increased access and opportunities throughout their local and statewide community.

Hope Public Schools

In the 2016-2017 school year, Hope Public Schools partnered with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service to launch the Hope Academy of Public Service (H.A.P.S.) for grades 5th-9th. Through their work with a Clinton School practicum team, H.A.P.S. has developed a public service curriculum which will be implemented in the 2017-2018 school year.

In January, I was connected with one of the pivotal people in that development, the Principal of H.A.P.S., Carol Ann Duke. Carol heard of our partnership with the Clinton School and was curious to know more about Noble Impact, so I drove out to Hope for a meeting.

I love the character of old buildings and as I walked through the doors of the administration building, I was welcomed by Carol and Hope Public Schools Superintendent, Bobby Hart. Listening to Bobby explain his passion and purpose for the Hope School District was an awesome experience and it only took me five minutes to understand that we were on the same page. Discussing social emotional skills, student led projects, and service learning experiences…I knew that a partnership would be valuable and mutually beneficial.

Through the leadership of Bobby Hart and Carol Duke, our Noble Impact identity portfolios will be complementing the Clinton School curriculum created by the practicum team to capture students experiences while building individual identity. The Hope School District has also committed to adopting the Noble curriculum at Yerger Middle School and Hope High School.

 

Words from Carol…

“We are looking forward to adding Noble to our campus. We believe the partnership will strengthen our mission of purposeful Service Learning that allows all our students to actively engage with both the local and global community.”

Going Virtual

When I first reached out to Cathi Swan, I had no idea how Virtual Arkansas worked, but it seemed like an interesting platform to pursue our purpose of increasing access and opportunities for students throughout the state. Cathi is the Digital Learning State Coordinator for Virtual Arkansas and after meeting with their team, my mind was blown. As soon as I left the meeting, I sent a text to our team…”Crazy potential.” Since that initial meeting, we’ve had several more meetings and even another one this morning as we were introduced to ZOOM, which is an awesome platform for high level communication.

Words from Cathi…

“Virtual Arkansas makes it a practice to explore and discover new opportunities to offer Arkansas students.  We believe that ANY type of learning can be delivered digitally and look forward to working with Noble Impact to meld their opportunities into the digital landscape…further knocking down the barriers of time and place. This new partnership with Noble Impact is one that we hope will produce graduates that are connected to their communities and prepared to make a difference wherever their journey takes them.”

WELL?

Change is happening and we are very enthusiastic about pursuing our purpose through these new partnerships.

Education is being delivered in many different ways and through many different mediums. In the coming school year, we will continue to stretch the walls of our classrooms in Little Rock to bring on these new partnerships that include new facilitators, new students, and new avenues of engagement. We are also looking forward to stretching ourselves in ways we deliver content to facilitators and students throughout the state. In the coming weeks, we will begin our professional development experience for our partners and are pumped about the 2017-2018 school year. If you’d like more information, please feel free to shoot me an email, chad@nobleimpact.org.

As change remains constant, one thing will remain the same at Noble Impact…we will continue to increase access and opportunity for every student we serve.

The #NobleJourney continues.

Tuning In: A Culture of Identity

Tuning In: A Culture of Identity

 John David Pittman is more than a photographer, he’s a storyteller.

I met JDP in the spring of 2014 as we hosted the first ever High School Startup Weekend at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. He volunteered his time that day because of his connection to education and his interest in what we were trying to accomplish over a 3-day period with 80+ high school students. His work was awesome and it made me think about more ideas for collaboration.

 

Both of JDP’s parents are retired educators. His father was a high school teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent. His mother was a high school english teacher, gifted and talented coordinator, and elementary librarian. And his brother is currently a high school teacher and coach in Gravette, Arkansas. That’s just his immediate family.

When you start talking education with JDP, he has many opinions and also connects his current occupation of photographer to the possibility of utilizing it for the education sector, specifically K-12.

Since our first encounter, we’ve talked about doing projects together that would be mutually beneficial while serving a higher purpose and we’ve managed to do that through a couple different avenues, one being our Noble 301 Apprenticeship Course.

He’s also volunteered his time to provide our students with an opportunity to visit his studio and receive professional headshots of their own. We’ve seen our students use these headshots on their social media pages and in applications for college. 

In addition to projects with Noble Impact, JDP has been a guest speaker in many of our classrooms and his message of being “tuned in” resonates with me every single time I hear it.

“Being tuned in is being aware of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your environment, and how you fit into your environment…it’s a sense of hyper-awareness and not just walking through life half on.”

JDP connects the “tuned in” message to photography in many different ways but he’ll be the first one to tell you that it all starts with a professional headshot.

“Whether it be an athlete, an artist, or a teacher, I want everyone to be invested as a human…in themselves and their own identity, which connects to others through story.”

As we embark upon our most recent collaboration, I’m very happy to again focus our efforts on education while attempting to lift the teaching profession to new heights. With a professional headshot as the beginning, we’ll be laser focused on building a culture of identity. We both believe in the power of teachers and we also believe it’s a profession that has been slighted. In fact, one of the problem statements from this past summer’s Noble Summit was this…“The problem with education is that teachers are undervalued.”

The purpose of collaborating with JDP is to put teachers first while making sure that value is communicated at a very high level. A professional headshot signifies the importance of identity building and is an industry standard that most companies adhere to. Why not schools? Therefore, professional headshots for every single individual contributing to the organizational school culture should be non-negotiable. Here are a couple takeaways that connect JDP’s words to the significance of a professional headshot…

“This is important. This is a big deal. Research shows that people make snap judgments about who you are as a person within two seconds of looking at your headshot.”

“Handshake to headshot, people judge everything.”

“I want their ZMOT (zero moment of truth) to be confident and approachable.”

“Your headshot is the first line of your story…that’s the way I look at it.”

As we continue our series of professional development workshops with eStem Schools, the individual identity workshop will add significant value to cultivating a healthy school culture. We believe that individual identities feed into the collective identity, and it starts with valuing teachers for who they are.

As JDP would say, “It’s time to get tuned in.”

 

The Power of SXSWedu: Connection & Collaboration

The Power of SXSWedu: Connection & Collaboration

I am 1 of 30 million+ (last count) people that has watched the great TED Talk by Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability. In that talk, she states…

“The ability to feel connected is why we’re here.”

I’ve been going to SXSW since 2010 and have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with many great people over the years. It’s definitely one of my favorite events to attend and I spend most of my time in an observation role…fascinated by great talks, panels, films, expos, you name it. But the connections I’ve made with people have proven to be the most meaningful piece for me and by far, better than any event I could possibly observe during my brief time in Austin each year.

However, nothing could have prepared me for a connection I made last year, nothing.

Last year, I attended SXSWedu and arrived to Austin pretty early. In fact, they weren’t even giving out the name badges in the convention center at that point. So I went across the street to grab lunch while I waited for registration to begin. Being the only one in the entire place, I sat at the bar and was watching ESPN when a guy came up to the same bar and sat three seats down.

Life has an amazing way of connecting people. It was at that bar, on that day, at that time, that I met Jeremy Richman. Our ensuing conversation was so powerful that I blogged about it that night. It was also powerful enough to change the way I think about education, what we do at Noble Impact, and how we create meaningful change.

Since that day, Jeremy and I have become good friends and he provides priceless wisdom regarding our purpose at Noble Impact, while also running The Avielle Foundation. We even had a facetime meeting this week! Our relationship has grown so strong that he’s been to Little Rock to visit our classrooms and was a William J. Clinton Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Avielle Richman was six years old when the trajectory of Jeremy Richman’s life and the lives of many others changed drastically. Avielle was murdered in her first grade classroom, along with 19 other elementary students and six of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Like many other events in U.S. history, many people remember where they were when that tragic shooting occurred. When Jeremy told me this story during our first encounter, I said, “I can’t imagine…” Then he said,

“You can imagine…”

The trajectory of my life changed when I met Jeremy Richman because he made me think differently. He connected with me through his stories and I connected with him through mine. As we continue our relationship and begin a new partnership between Noble Impact and The Avielle Foundation, I’m so optimistic about our work together and I can only imagine the impact we will be able to create together going forward.

If you’ve watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk, you know that being vulnerable is a healthy habit and provides the avenue for deep connection. Jeremy and I were vulnerable with each other exactly a year ago this Sunday and those vulnerable stories created a relationship where collaboration is happening.

I challenge every SXSWedu participant to be vulnerable this coming week while sharing stories that might create the opportunity to connect and collaborate so that we might make a positive difference in education.

Startup Day: Tip of the Entrepreneurship Spear for High School Students

Startup Day: Tip of the Entrepreneurship Spear for High School Students

In November of last year, we had the opportunity to launch our first ever High School Startup Day. In partnership with Junior Achievement and the Innovation Hub, we welcomed over 100 students, 10 teachers, and 10 mentors to engage in the startup process to tackle a social sector issue.

Since beginning in the summer of 2013, our constant experimentation process at Noble Impact has afforded us the opportunity to learn in an environment that embraces ambiguity and organized chaos. Developing new experiences and events for students requires that we do this type work if we want to challenge the status quo while offering entrepreneurial curriculum and programming. Startup Day is just one example of our work, which is supported by our certified curriculum through the Arkansas Department of Career and Technical Education (CTE), which any Arkansas High School may utilize as a program of study.

Startup Day is special in its own right because it introduces students to the dichotomy of “What is…” and “What could be…” while exposing them to new environments outside of the classroom and outside of the school building. My friend Nick Seguin stated it best when talking about how a startup event benefits students. Nick says, “it serves as an access point to entrepreneurship.”

At Noble Impact, our purpose is to increase access and opportunity for every student we serve. Therefore, we are excited to announce that our 2nd High School Startup Day will take place at the University of Central Arkansas within the UCA College of Business. Through this event, our partnership continues with Junior Achievement and we’re also developing a new partnership with the Conductor, which is spearheaded by Jeff Standridge and Kim Lane. We will again be sponsored by Startup Junkie Consulting, who continues to be a champion of entrepreneurial growth and education throughout the state of Arkansas.

Although we’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot since beginning in 2013, we continue to ask ourselves, “What if?”

And so, it begs the question…

What if we launched High School Startup Days around the state of Arkansas that served as the access point to entrepreneurship for all students?

Answer: Maybe we’d get more feedback and reflection like we heard from North Little Rock Senior, Jayvin Johnson.

If you’d like to know more about High School Startup Day, come out and see it in action…just RSVP!

When: March 16th | 9:30am–1:00pm

Where: UCA College of Business

High School Apprenticeships: Dakota Felder Explores Real-world Web Design

High School Apprenticeships: Dakota Felder Explores Real-world Web Design

During his senior year at eStem High School and in the Noble Impact program, Dakota Felder spent his high school apprenticeship in web design and development at design and development agency, Few. He will tell you that his experience went beyond his wildest dreams, and it has also led him to become a freelance web designer while exploring a “gap year” before deciding which college to attend. Dakota has built credibility through his hard work, and the bond he formed with his apprenticeship host has proven to be the launching pad into a profession he loves.

“Working here at Few has definitely been a life-changer for me… it’s been the highlight of my high school career.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice


Over the last year, the terminology of “computer science” or “coding” has been a hot topic for Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and rightfully so. Our world is changing at drastic paces, and the need for a computer-literate workforce is increasing faster than the valuations of some of the world’s biggest startups. Reading “Race Against the Machine” (2011) or listening to the a16z podcast will give you ample insight to understand, in the words of Marc Andreessen, why it may be so that “Software is Eating the World” (also in 2011).

On day one of the apprenticeship boot camp, Dakota made it known that his interest was in the technology field, and more specifically, web design and development. The “student-industry fit” with Few seemed perfect… and it turned out to be nothing less than the life-changer that Dakota references. Having the hard skills of web design and development were critical to Dakota’s apprenticeship, and the relationships he created and built will lead to long-term success.

“We did not take it easy on Dakota. We wanted Dakota to feel the pressure that everybody feels in this office.
David Hudson, CEO, Few

Dakota put in many hours of hard work that definitely exceeded the 2-hour-per-day commitment for an apprenticeship. There were many days he would participate in lunch meetings and after-school meetings, and he even volunteered for the Made by Few annual conference that took place over 3-days in Little Rock, including a coveted weekend, where he could have been doing anything else. These are just some of the commitments that Dakota made to his apprenticeship host, and they proved to be the most important relationship building opportunities.

“We provide real-world experience and real world experience is far more valuable than theory.”
David Hudson, CEO, Few

Understanding what makes a successful high school apprenticeship is also in direct relation to the hosts themselves. The team at Few is dedicated to its community and that shines through in so many different avenues, including the company’s willingness to participate in the inaugural Noble 301 Apprenticeship program. In addition, they set the bar high for Dakota and treated him like any other member of their team. This philosophy is paramount to the success of an apprenticeship, as we also believe that high expectations lead to high performance and accountability.

“The skills that I’ve been able to develop through the Noble Apprenticeship, those are things that’ll carry on the rest of my life.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice

It’s great that we’re focused on computer science and coding, but it must go deeper. We must have programs in place that connect the classroom to community. We must treat our high school students like the young adults they are while holding them to high expectations. Content is the information grab, but credibility is the relationship grab… we have to connect both.

His apprenticeship has ended, but Dakota is just beginning the entrepreneurial journey. Imagine if all high school seniors were able to take part in high school apprenticeships that connected them more deeply to their interests. Imagine if these students became the next line of entrepreneurs in Arkansas. Why are we waiting?

“I started with nothing, right? Now I’m doing paid work for people.”
Dakota Felder, Noble Impact Apprentice

High School Apprenticeships: Hannah Young Discovers Soft Skills

High School Apprenticeships: Hannah Young Discovers Soft Skills

Senior Hannah Young sought out the Museum of Discovery for her high school apprenticeship because of her love for animals. Throughout the process, Hannah went from being quiet and reserved to becoming an effective teacher in her department while performing multiple presentations. In this apprenticeship, Hannah displayed the importance of going after her specific interest in animals and how that led to her development of both hard skills and soft skills. However, practicing soft skills proved to be the most critical measurement of her personal and professional growth.

“I really don’t think I’m the same person I was at the beginning of this year…I’ve learned a lot about dealing with people.”
Hannah Young, Noble Impact Apprentice

At every level of Noble Impact curriculum, soft skills are introduced and practiced on a daily basis. There are many different meanings of soft skills and the importance of developing them for the 21st-century knowledge economy. Whether it’s written about by top academics in “The Innovator’s DNA” or referenced by the Department of Labor with “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills,” this specific development is critical to success in the information age.

In addition to attending our two-week professionalism bootcamp at the launch of the school year, each senior that signs up for the Noble 301 Apprenticeship must engage in three distinct steps to provide the foundation for a successful apprenticeship:

  1. Identify Interest
  2. Research Industry
  3. Create Connection

The importance of going through these steps begins the journey of building individual credibility, and although many people call it the knowledge economy and the information age, we also like to see it through this credibility approach.

Credibility Model


Noble Impact Credibility Model

Hannah’s apprenticeship serves as a great case study that other students and teachers may look to when understanding the process. She had the courage to go after her interest, she conducted research on options, and then built her competencies by connecting herself to an industry that she truly cared about.

“I think it’s great that she’s had the opportunity to get hands-on super early so that she knows whether or not this is what she wants to do with her life.”
Nichole Ashley; Animal Room Manager, Museum of Discovery

Practicing soft skills is hard. Access and opportunities to the “practice field” is where Noble Impact curriculum intersects with the community, which becomes the ultimate playing field for soft skill development.

Digital Portfolios: How One High School Filmmaker Showcases Who She Is

Digital Portfolios: How One High School Filmmaker Showcases Who She Is

High school junior Bethanie Gourley is one of the hundreds of Noble Impact scholars who have created a digital portfolio in our program. As a filmmaker, she uses her portfolio to showcase her work and build her professional network and budding career in videography. Let me emphasize: She is in high school, and she is actively pursuing a career in film, with her digital portfolio as evidence of her artistic acumen. We believe this is what high school should be about for everyone: Students pursuing their passions within an educational experience and support system that’s both relevant and purposeful. That’s what we provide at Noble Impact, and for many of our scholars, the digital portfolio guides our unique learning process.

Bethanie says her portfolio is a representation of her personal story and what she has accomplished — she’s even used her digital portfolio to connect with her favorite filmmaker, New York-based videographer Casey Neistat. In short, it represents WHO she is, WHAT she’s done, and WHY.

Who You Are Is Your Biggest Asset

The Golden Circle Simon Sinek

Millions of people have viewed management consultant Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about how great leaders and companies inspire action. He calls it the “Golden Circle” and defines it as the world’s simplest idea — his focus is on “WHY” people and companies do what they do.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
Simon Sinek, Speaker and Consultant

It’s understandable “why” people are attracted to his TED Talk and “why” over 27 million people have viewed it. I myself have shown it in many different scenarios. I’ve been thinking, though: Is it really the progression of why, how, what? It made me think about who I am and how that connects to why I do what I do. BOOM. WHO!

“I am Bethanie Gourley, and I’m a filmmaker.”
Bethanie Gourley, 11th-Grade Noble Scholar

In my first year of facilitating our Noble Impact classroom curriculum, I focused on “WHO” students were and challenged them to get beneath the surface… a lot harder than I thought. Three years later, I’m still convinced that “WHO” you are is greater than “WHY” you do what you do. It’s your unique value proposition. Thus, we have a revised quote and model for Simon Sinek:

“People don’t buy what you do… they buy WHO you are.”
Chad Williamson, Noble Impact

WHO > WHY

Ask the brilliant people at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz how they invest. More specifically, ask Tristan Walker how he created Walker and Company Brands — we use his case study in our curriculum to emphasize the power of using authentic and personal stories.

If we really want to be honest about the world’s simplest idea, it’s about WHO you are. It’s about creating a life that connects to individual narrative. That’s where “meaning” manifests itself. The Walker and Company story doesn’t exist without Tristan’s story about not having a father to teach him how to shave. It’s not a fun story, no, but it’s personal, memorable, and impactful. Yes, the Walker and Company website gives you the language about “WHY”, i.e. purpose. But once you click on the video, it goes deeper and provides the “WHO”, which is the signature story.

We begin our curriculum by challenging students to identify their stories by building their personal portfolios, and Bethanie has provided a great example. We believe this approach will lead to uncovering the entrepreneur within.

High School Apprenticeships: Jordan Young’s Pursuit of Photography

High School Apprenticeships: Jordan Young’s Pursuit of Photography

High School senior Jordan Young entered Noble Impact’s apprenticeship program with a passion for photography and exited the experience with a set of professional photography skills that will serve him as he continues to pursue his career in the field. While apprenticing with photographer John David Pittman, he learned about relevant techniques, provided his services to fellow classmates, assisted on professional shoots, and also scored his first paid client.

“I believe this has opened up a whole new realm of thought.”
Jordan Young, Noble Impact Apprentice

The Noble Impact apprenticeship program launched at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year with 24 seniors at eStem High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In partnership with local businesses and organizations, the mission was to connect the classroom to the community at the highest level possible. Therefore, 24 students were treated like adults and started the program with a two-week bootcamp that focused on professional communication and personal awareness regarding growth within their selected field.

Throughout the year, a tremendous amount was learned about proper means of assessment, communication with host companies, and what it means to have a successful apprenticeship. Also learned was the stark reality of what success doesn’t look. Truth be told, all apprenticeships were not successful, which has uncovered a deeper understanding of what it takes to ensure the highest likelihood of success for both the student and apprenticeship host.

To communicate Noble Impact’s vision of what an apprenticeship should look like, we developed a video series that consists of three videos that capture three unique stories. The first video portrays the story of photography apprentice Jordan Young and his apprenticeship experience with professional photographer, John David Pittman.

“It’s really been fun to watch the growth of this relationship go from an initial conversation to a kid that was kind of interested in photography to him learning how I do things…and then getting to do some stuff on his own and actually get paid for a job.”
John David Pittman, Noble Impact Apprenticeship Host

The importance of apprenticeships is amplified through the U.S. Department Of Labor‘s support of such programs. We believe apprenticeships are an experience that all high school students should have at their disposal. Students shouldn’t have to wait to pursue what interests them.

At Noble Impact, our apprenticeship program provides access and opportunity for all students that want to “open a whole new realm of thought” that Jordan, for one, has experienced… It’s time that every student has an option to be an apprentice while still in school.