Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

The Vision

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My vision for Sphere College—and in fact, America, and even the world in general—is simple: those in power listen to those who put them there and accomplish the difficult task of finding common ground and implementing win-win situations even when the task seems impossible.

What would this look like in practical terms? Try this:

100 students and 10 faculty members with a diverse knowledge base in the Phoenixville area. Classes on a wide variety of topics in different places around town, providing some rental income and building a strong relationship with area businesses. Students and faculty getting together in small groups to share meals, get to know each other better and discuss topics from their classes, bringing their cost of food down while fostering a people-base learning community. Students and faculty coming together to apply their creativity to design and implement practical ways to develop Phoenixville in a manner that creates truly sustainable, environmentally sound businesses and jobs in a way that is harmonious with and respectful of those who have lived here for decades. These goals being accomplished while enhancing the natural beauty of our area and keeping our hard-earned money here in the borough rather than going into the bank accounts of people who have no emotional investment in our community. Students identifying and pursuing their passions, and becoming involved in community-enhancing projects like community gardens and youth education activities, with the mentorship of faculty members and local community leaders. The College taking on projects that will financially sustain it and help it to grow, and continuing to unfold in a way that pragmatically serves the student population.

I’m quite convinced we can do this when we adhere to the following principles:

* learn how to listen and communicate effectively
* apply the creativity and experience of multiple minds working together
* don’t expect perfection—learn how to detect when a solution is good enough (you can’t please everyone!)

We’ve already been putting these principles into action for, gee, going on eleven months now! And I must keep congratulating the students who form the solid core of the college. These individuals continue to take time out of their busy schedules to attend the classes, and some to participate in the Steering Committee, Fundraising Committee and Advisory Group. They do this even when from their perspective (this must be acknowledged), things may appear to be faltering. Because we do not yet have a full-time project coordinator for the College and the faculty is only now beginning to grow, something they see is that we have not begun offering a variety of classes other than the Self and Other classes we’ve been doing all along. Not seeing significant progress takes a toll on the students. We need more class offerings, more faculty members, a space to call our home, additional students (there’s a waiting list, but I have hesitated to bring them in until we do have a project coordinator since each new student would bring on more tasks), a full-time development director, a support system for students as they encounter their “selves”, and much more.

And yet, a number of students continue to come to the classes. They do this because they share in the vision, they find the classes to be stimulating, they maintain hope in the face of hardship, and they place their trust not only in me, but also in the process if leveraging the best of all of our capabilities for the greater good to take the College in the direction we need to go.

I also try at every turn to convey to them the sense that things are moving us in the right direction. What do I see that is so positive?

* Expanding faculty (we’re currently in discussion with two more potential faculty members)
* Sue Kern, who has begun donating her time as a part-time coordinator
* Continued support of space from Wolfgang Books and Colonial Theatre for classes, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for Steering Committee meetings
* Continued participation by a core group of students, and other students who check in on classes from time to time
* Significant increase in donations (thank you, thank you, thank you!)
* Continued support from the Ursinus College ACM in the form of fundraising and book drives; I even heard from an Ursinus professor that Sphere College came up during a discussion in one of their classes!
* Weekly progress by the Steering Committee
* Completion of the current version of the Business Plan
* Support from Sheltering Arms, Inc. in the form of providing the information we need to seek grants even when, like most non-profit organizations, they have many tasks they need to accomplish
* Support from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation in the form of the funds to support the Sphere College Short Film Contest, and an upcoming program to develop our self-evaluation model
* Support from others in getting the word out about the Sphere College Short Film Contest
* Advisory Group members who contribute their time and expertise to the College
* Indications that nearby communities are already interested in the College expanding in their direction
* Creation of the mission statement by students on the Steering Committee (who now have solid practical experience developing a good mission statement for an organization)
* Development of the College brochure by Sphere College students

No doubt about it: the going is tough. Nobody said starting a college that ushers in a new model of education was going to be easy, but to me the only reasonable course of action is to continually detect what needs the most attention at any point in time and give attention to it. And this is where listening pays off the most.

One thing I’m sure of is that there’s no way the learning culture I’m trying to establish will stabilize if we’re not exemplifying our ideals at the outset. So I’m listening to people like Mel, who made a donation and gave some feedback: she said that it’s difficult to grasp the vision of the College when reading the About page. And I’m listening to Sue, who said that I need to blog more to keep the wider community informed about the College. So I’m listening and responding by writing this blog entry, some of which has been added to the About page. Check it out!

And keep those donations coming! Remember, 10,000 people contributing $10, $25, $100 WILL take the College to the next level, and one you donate you’ll KNOW you helped make it happen!

And please join us for our upcoming events:

Wednesday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, print this coupon and join us for dinner at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant. 20% of your bill (excluding alcoholic beverages) will go to Sphere College. Please take a moment and pass the word along to your friends. It’s that easy!

Submissions will open for the first Sphere College Short Film Contest beginning 11:59:59 pm (EST) on March 21, and close on April 10. There’s still plenty of time to make and submit a film. It doesn’t have to be a polished product to get high ratings and airplay on YouTube. Let your filmmaker friends and family know about it!

We’re celebrating the first anniversary of the college at the Colonial Theatre on Tuesday, April 20. Winners of the Short Film Contest will be screened, and we will sponsor a feature film, Living in Oblivion. Mark your calendars!


Author: Richard Liston

Musician, computer scientist, educator. I'm creating a new educational environment for adults.

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