Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning


We Have a Home!!!

Local Sphere is born! The students have come together beautifully to shape the new space at 12 S. Main Street in Phoenixville into a market of locally-produced food, arts, crafts and music, and home to the Sphere College Project. It’s hard to capture in words the feeling of community that is developing here. I think we all feel lucky to be part of something so gratifying, and we really appreciate each others’ efforts, and feel appreciated as well. It truly feels like home. Check out http://localsphere.org to see what’s going on. In the meantime, enjoy some visuals…


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It is with a great sense of accomplishment—and no small relief—that I announce a major shift in the Sphere College Project. I am stepping out of the role of President and into the role of Principal Mentor and Chief Education Strategist. Virginia Stewart, a student in the Project for nearly three years, has agreed to assume the role of Interim President. This will allow me to focus on the activities that I need to focus on, and will place into the role of President someone whose skills are a much better fit for the job.

Since this is such a departure from the way institutions are typically run, it may be difficult for some people to understand how a student can also act in the position of President. But this change accomplishes two things: (1) Having been a student, Virginia has a better understanding of what we are doing than almost anyone, and she can speak eloquently and convincingly about her experience; and (2) it demonstrates an important aspect of our philosophy in which members of the administration truly see themselves as students as well. Are there any institutions in which the President is taking courses in areas that truly challenge them and that are far outside their primary area of expertise, and where administrators typically work at learning as hard as the students do? Perhaps there are, but I’m not aware of them. (I would be very interested to learn about them, though.)

So there are some important transitions happening here, and they represent a significant forward shift in our strategy for expanding our operations.

I am delighted that Virginia has agreed to take on this position, at least until we find a permanent replacement. I look forward to supporting her as she carries us to the next phase in the evolution of this project.

A Very Proud Mentor,
Richard Liston

Oh, and please take a moment to view Virginia’s Kickstarter project that she has worked so hard to create, and pledge some amount no matter how small to help her reach her goal: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1079452190/ginnys-views-from-within

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Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It!

It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be true that three whole years have passed since the first classes of then-called Sphere College met. And yet, this Friday, April 27 we will be celebrating our 3rd Anniversary with a Community Night. How can I sufficiently sum up the successes, failures, lessons, feelings and current status of what we are doing? I can’t. No way. My words cannot do it justice. But I will continually thank the many, many people who have helped this project survive this far: anyone who has attended a class; anyone who has donated time, money, expertise, facilities or any other resources to us; and anyone who has expressed support and encouragement. It has all been appreciated more than you probably know, and tangible results are beginning to emerge.

SO, as we begin tonight our 4th 5-week session of the year we invite you to join us on Friday night at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Phoenixville to celebrate with us! Come share some food, help us raise funds, purchase some artwork, play some games, and enjoy some entertainment and comedy (Frank Wolfe) and outstanding music from one of our area’s most exciting and engaging bands (Silent Reunion!!). Games are from 6-9pm and entertainment/music from 9-11, with a suggested donation of $10.

And know that visitors are always welcome to our classes. Our next 5-week session begins tonight (Monday, April 23) with a topic selected by the students, a Writing Workshop that leverages our prior studies of Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion. Classes are held on Monday nights from 7-9pm at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Church Street in Phoenixville.

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Now Hear (Read) This!

Read this feature article about Sphere College in the Chronicle of Higher Education and learn about the college education you wish you had. One that was financially accessible, stretched your boundaries and aligned with your passion.

It is the education you personally can give to others, especially those talented people who don’t fit into the current box of higher education we’re trying to squash everyone into—those talented people who have something big to contribute to society and really are the change we need to create a more enjoyable and functional world, where we live rather than douse our dreams.

Read It and Be Inspired. Grab the article by following this link: http://spherecollege.org/ChronicleMay2011.pdf

And then take the step to make this dream come alive—for the present students, for those we can ignite and even, maybe, for someone you personally know.

Every bit helps foster the dream. You can donate the cost of lunch or a movie ticket easily. Just click HERE on this DONATE link.

You’re almost done. Now think of just a few people you know who understand that bringing effective education, individualized education, to a wider public is the key to creating a world where we are passionately productive, aligned with our joy, and choose to bring the very best of ourselves to make a contribution that matters to society and point those people to this entry. That’s it!

THEN sit back for a few moments and breathe a nice, deep sigh, comfortable in the knowledge that you’ve joined many other like-minded people in supporting what we would like to see happen—a world with a greater appreciation for the arts; with a greater capacity for understanding scientific thought; and a greater ability to be compassionate for those who differ from us while connecting more closely with those who are similar.

Ok, let’s really see what we can do to change the world now.

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Delete a Post?

It was recommended that I delete my previous post because people want to support a winner, and the previous post looks a bit desperate. Ok, I understand that. But I also must impress upon people that I’m not accustomed to having things I set out to do not be successful. I have a habit of accomplishing some rather difficult things. Simply put, I’m going to stay with Sphere College until it is a self-sustaining entity (and beyond). So don’t hesistate. Go ahead and get behind us now!

Also, upon reflection, the thought of deleting a post leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. To my mind, one of the greatest ills of our society lies in the belief that everything must be ‘spun’ in order to be successful. It’s almost as though we have a collective dysfunctional hysteria that says ‘Don’t tell me about the reality, just make me feel good.’ And I’ve been seeing businesses go under lately that apparently believed they needed to act publicly as though things were fine. Trying to look like a winner didn’t help them. So I’m going to leave the post and move forward.

Perhaps it’s my software engineering training, but if a software engineer is unwilling to think about what could go wrong, talk about it with other people and protect against it to the best of their abilities, then they’re not much of a software engineer.

Furthermore, I must also consider the fact that we’re setting a precedent for how we at Sphere College will conduct ourselves in the future. It is important to me to foster an environment in which it is normal to speak honestly and publicly about difficult situations, as long as appropriate individual privacy is protected.

So here it is, folks. We live in hard times. We need your help. A donation to a project I’m hosting at RocketHub will not only benefit a group of deserving youths in need, but it will also provide me with a bit of financial freedom to continue focusing on establishing Sphere College. And I’ll be able to purchase the PDF rights to reprint and distribute the article in Chronicle of Higher Education. It won’t take much on your part. A contribution of the cost of lunch or movie tickets will be significant and appreciated.

The project is doing well, too. So far there are 18 contributors and $900 has been raised! We’ve got two more days. Let’s see how well we can do. It’s easy. Click here, read about the project and contribute a small amount. Please know that contributing $10 IS very helpful. And please take a moment to help spread the word!


Permissions, Please?

Oh, what a day! So I’ve been waiting for two years for something this big: an article about Sphere College in Chronicle of Higher Education! The big time! This is the article that could turn everything around!

But oh, wait. It’s only available via subscription. So most people whom I know can’t read it. And even if I should obtain a copy (I don’t have a subscription, and I don’t actually have the money to spend on a subscription right now) I can’t legally email it out or post it on my website.

Hmm. What to do now? I’ve got to get people reading this thing. It was suggested that I just go ahead and get a copy and post it anyway. I considered this, but only briefly. It just didn’t seem very wise to me to start out a organization built on trust that way.

Ok, well, I’m the founder of a college, right? I should be able to figure this out. I’ll make a few calls and talk with a few people and see what I can find out.

WELL. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I spoke with a number of very nice people, and eventually discovered that all I have to do is pay a licensing fee (there’s this whole fee structure and details about how the article can be distributed) so I can get access to a nice pdf with advertising removed and pretty Chronicle masthead and everything. It turns out that the licensing fee is $675 for 1 year, which allows me to post the article on this website, email it around, and make and distribute copies. Cool! Only I don’t have $675.

SO I called my Dad and my uncle and they’re trying to come up with some money, and my sister offered to help as well. Meanwhile, I’ve got my RocketHub project that is doing pretty well—9 people have donated so far and it jumped from $150 up to $500 since yesterday! AND it was just selected as a Featured Project on the RocketHub home page! (It’s a kind of tiny photo—look for my smiling face.)

So if you’d like to see the article AND do something good for youths in Phoenixville, it would be a huge help if you could donate a small amount to my RocketHub project AND help spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, sending emails, etc. Then I’ll have the funds to purchase the license and make it available here. Sound good? Good.

And, oh look, it appears to have just now jumped to $550 in donations! Let’s go see who donated…Coleen! Thank you!

And check out this video.


Article in Chronicle!

This morning I received an email from my former PhD advisor at Georgia Tech (and a dedicated supporter of Sphere College), Ellen Zegura, that read:

Woo hoo!


She also attached headlines from Chronicle of Higher Education, one of which was: “It’s His Very Own College, and Welcome to It”. That’s how I discovered that an article about Sphere College I’ve been hoping to see in Chronicle of Higher Education for quite some time has finally made it!

This is big. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Chronicle of Higher Education may be loosely described as “the Wall Street Journal of higher education”. An article in Chronicle gives us a level of credibility that is very difficult to achieve otherwise. They wouldn’t waste their resources on something that doesn’t have merit, and they have clearly put a lot of work into the article. Our task at hand now is to leverage the article, to get the word out about it and continue to raise the funds that will support us as we move to become a self-sustainable entity and truly provide students with the resources they need.

Hmm, maybe you can help. Maybe you can point people you know towards the article, particularly people who work in higher education (it does require a subscription). Maybe you can provide a small amount of financial support either directly to Sphere College or perhaps even better at this time to the project I posted at RocketHub. This is a project to raise some funds to help promising youths in the Phoenixville community and to help me survive (yes, it’s like that these days): http://rockethub.com/projects/1831-walk-this-way. And please encourage others to support it as well! You know what to do: facebook, twitter, comment on other blogs, send emails, etc.

The point here is that we are all connected and must help one another out. I’m doing my level best to help members of my community. I’m asking you to assist me in that, and you will benefit as well by living in a more educated, compassionate, sensible and fun community, peaceful in the knowledge that you helped make it all happen.

So… let’s get to play!

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What a Weekend!

In the last post I told you about some upcoming student successes, both of which took place over the past weekend: Virginia and Jonathan Stewart’s art openings in the Members Show at the Phoenix Village Art Center, and Frank Wolfe‘s book signing at Steel City Coffeehouse.

Stapelia Attack
WELL, not only was the opening a wonderful event, but early on Virginia told me she sold one of the two works she had in the show! AND Frank did a superb job of entertaining the audience with his poetry, wit, stories and comedy. He had them in the palm of his hand, sold some books and is very eager to get up on stage again.

These are very important steps for these individuals and I’m quite proud and honored to be able to travel this portion of their journey with them. Their stories are truly an inspiration!

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Student Successes

Other than the knowledge that we’re doing some very important work, what keeps us going after two years of struggling to establish a new institution of higher education in a challenging financial environment? Student successes, naturally–that’s the whole point!

Well, this is a big weekend for Sphere College students. On the heels of being awarded the Sunday Soup grant to have her artwork matted and framed, Virginia Stewart is showing some of her artwork in the Members Show at the Phoenix Village Art Center during the month of May. Virginia’s husband and Sphere College student, Jonathan Stewart, will have works on display as well. The opening is tomorrow night, Friday May 6 from 7-9pm.

AND this Saturday May 7 from 2-4pm, Frank Wolfe and friends will be entertaining during his book signing, Love and Bagels, at Steel City Coffeehouse. A superb article about the event appeared in the Montgomery News (with mention of Sphere College).

We invite you to come out to meet us and see the wonderful work our students are doing!

Meanwhile, classes continue each Thursday night from 7-9pm in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. As is the philosophy of Sphere College, the students select the topic of study. We are currently engaged in a 10-week session on Propaganda.

Please support the work we’re doing. Providing financially accessible education for adults in the way they learn is a critical component of a healthy society. You think a small donation won’t help? NOT SO! $10 from 10,000 people would raise the funds necessary for Sphere College to build an infrastructure that can grow. There are 15,000 people in Phoenixville alone. We need your help. Please donate!

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Congratulations Virginia!

Last night artist and Sphere College student Virginia Stewart was awarded a $200 grant for her proposal to Sunday Soup Phoenixville. I invite you to take a moment to read her proposal to use the funds to frame some of her artwork for exhibition in the Phoenixville area. The Sunday Soup concept is a fabulous idea and I would like to thank Emma Peabody for bringing it to our community. I also wish to thank Markels of The Diving Cat Studio for providing a location for the Sunday Soup dinner.

Virginia's winnings!

Virginia accepting the grant of the evening.

Please join me in congratulating Virginia on the beautiful and inspiring work she is doing and on winning the grant!