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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New Space—Painting Party!

The Sphere College Project will be moving its classes into Local Sphere, a shop opening at 12 S. Main Street in Phoenixville. The shop will stock shelf-stable goods from local vendors in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and will have workshop/classroom space. Jesse Antonini, the store manager, will be hosting a painting party in the space starting at 1pm this Saturday, August 25. If you’re in the Phoenixville area, go join in, meet people. If you don’t want to paint, maybe bring some food or drink for those who do, or just drop in and say hello!

Here’s the link to the Facebook event: The Sphere College Project will be moving its classes into Local Sphere, a shop opening at 12 S. Main Street in Phoenixville! The shop will stock shelf-stable goods from local vendors in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and will have workshop/classroom space. Jesse Antonini, the store manager, will be hosting a painting party in the space starting at 1pm this Saturday, August 25. If you’re in the Phoenixville area, go join in, meet people. If you don’t want to paint, maybe bring some food or drink for those who do, or just drop in and say hello!

Here’s the link to the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/216482335148274/

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I received an email from Stephen Walsh, who worked closely with me and the other students in the Sphere College Project back in 2009 when we began. It was a very positive email out of the blue. I shared it with some of the other students who know him and they encouraged me to create a page with some testimonials. I’ve started the page and will be adding to it from time to time. You can read what Stephen had to say here: https://spherecollege.wordpress.com/testimonials.

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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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Keep It Going!

There’s no doubt about it, from time to time it can be a real challenge to keep moving forward with this education project, but we keep seeing students make progress and that’s all we need to keep us doing everything we can to make it work. I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of developments.

First, Frank Wolfe continues to work on his passions of poetry, entertaining, comedy and art. His signature piece is “Love and Bagels”, which he has performed many times at Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville. Well, now he’s making this piece available in a YouTube video to share with everyone. Thanks to our friend Kevin Coxe, who shot several performances and put a lot of thought and work into the editing, here’s the video for you to enjoy:

Congratulations, Frank, on completing this project!

Second, Lisa Longo recently began attending our classes. We’re currently studying Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion, and it seems to be having quite a positive affect on Lisa. You can read about it by following this link to her latest blog entry, How Rhetoric Rocked My World. It’s a real pleasure to have you in the classes, Lisa!

So it seems that the message is this: no matter how challenging things appear to be, just keep it going. There will always be things that will come along to make it all worth it!

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Sphere Communication Workshops

Last night at Steel City Coffeehouse I presented the second of two Sphere Communication Workshops. It went extremely well! We had a nice crowd: some members of the Phoenixville Green Community, some musicians, some students in the Sphere College Project, and several others who heard about it and dropped in.

Most attendees were there last night because people who attended last week encouraged them to come. And last night’s attendees were sincerely enthusiastic afterward about how much it opened their eyes with respect to problems and solutions of group communication. Ultimately, that’s how I want to publicize this: word of mouth. If the quality of a product is high enough, then people WILL tell other people.

Here’s a rundown of the workshop: I briefly discuss the motivation for the workshop, then present some principles of communication that emerge from synthesizing diverse disciplines. Then there’s a break. Last night during the break the audience was entertained by Frank Wolfe, student in the Sphere College Project. After the break I solicit a group of courageous volunteers to practice their skills by discussing an engaging topic based on the principles introduced previously. Naturally, the participants are a bit self-conscious since the rest of the group is listening intently to the discussion, but by this time it isn’t too difficult for the individuals to focus on the topic while simultaneously remaining aware of the quality of their interaction.

The night was so successful that I look forward to presenting this workshop often and soon. I’m currently working on a grant to offer it to unemployed/underemployed individuals. In the meantime, if you, dear reader, can think of any groups who would like to be more effective at finding common ground through improving their communication skills (who wouldn’t?), I’d appreciate being connected with them! I can be contacted directly with an email to info AT spherecollege DOT org. The workshop is also offered through the Center for Resolutions in Media, PA. Some information about the workshop is available by following this link.

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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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The News Is Getting Out

Quick note: Sphere College was mentioned in an article about the Saxifrage School in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday. (Here’s the website for the Saxifrage School. Kudos!) And we’re closing in on obtaining reprint rights for the feature article in Chronicle of Higher Education about Sphere College. When that deal is closed we’ll be able to place that article here for you to read. Good times!

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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!