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I am a designer, developer, teacher, videographer, and small business owner. I have taught at the university level to nearly 1,000 students. I have mentored disconnected youth ranging from 8th grade to 12th grade as well as high school dropouts. I have invested hundreds of hours in social change projects ranging from local city politics to arts and culture movements to undocumented students and their access to financial aid.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach at the university level with only a bachelor’s degree. Being mentored by nationally recognized academics definitely has it perks. I have filmed, edited, and produced films to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for various foundations and university departments on topics ranging from local city politics to undocumented students to disconnected youth. I have worked in the traditional corporate world as a marketing director, community manager, web developer, and senior designer. I started and managed two successful small businesses, and a few failed attempts as well.
I got into a lot of trouble as a kid. Trouble with my parents. Trouble at school. Trouble with the law. My journey reached a pivotal moment which you will read about in the following paragraphs.
I only began to somewhat slowdown when my epilepsy became a health hazard. I had to stop partying which was difficult as a college student. I had to develop a regular sleep schedule which, if you know me, is not the easiest task for me to accomplish.
Out of all the people with epilepsy, most of them are born with it. However, I have a more rare diagnosis. I grew into my epilepsy around age 16. It is called Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. I have grand mal seizures which means I black out before, during, and after the episode. I have heard that it is quite scary to witness one of these. I say, “Thank you,” to my friends and family who have endured watching me have a seizure. From what I understand, it is not the most pleasant experience. Having epilepsy seems like a bad thing. However, it has had more of a positive impact on my life than when I did not have it.
Growing up, I disliked most aspects of the education system. I was born into a lower class than my peers which disconnected me socially. It seemed as though most of my peers were born close to the finish line, and I was still at home waiting for a ride to the race. This concept of inequality was discouraging, and it led to me not participating in grade school. Why would I try to run the race if everyone else is already celebrating at the finish line?
I was told I could break the cycle and increase my quality of life by going to college. However, I was not prepared for college. I never took my SATs. I did not apply to college in high school.
I went to the local community college for my first semester and earned a 3.1 GPA. That allowed me to transfer to a private university in Massachusetts for my second semester. I made the dean’s list with a 3.5 GPA. The following summer, I went to Notre Dame University to take a Calculus class. My uncle was a priest there and my father was the academic advisor for the football team so it seemed like I was aligning myself with a good opportunity. I earned a 4.0 GPA in the Calculus class, but unfortunately I was denied admission for the following fall semester. Determined to get into Notre Dame, I stayed in Indiana and enrolled in Indiana University. I applied to Notre Dame three times. After being rejected the final time I was ready to go back to New Jersey. I took a semester off, and then applied to Rutgers for the spring semester of 2005.
You can imagine my disappointment as I prepared to finish my degree only to find it no longer held value in the workforce.Four years never to be returned, and no idea what I was going to do with my life. Social mobility is what gives us hope. It is an opportunity to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, work hard, get a good education, and build a better life. That is what makes this nation the land of opportunity. Without it, the American Dream is not accessible.
Education innovation is about fixing this problem. It’s not about technology and laptops in the classroom. It is about preparing a generation of American youth to think for themselves, weigh their own options, learn how to make decisions, and self-direct their life’s design rather than blindly choosing an occupation just to follow the sequential steps to get there.
In 2007, I was preparing to graduate from college. I needed two more credits to finish my undergraduate degree. The problem, I did not have any plans for after college. Instead of finishing the two credits I needed to graduate I dropped out of college for 18 months. Once I decided to finish my degree something incredible happened.
The Last Class
I randomly selected a summer course in 2009. I was looking for the shortest and easiest class so I could just get it over with. The class I chose was titled, “Writing as a Naturalist”, and it was only two weeks in length. Eight hours a day. Monday through Friday. I was excited to sit in the back of the class and sleep through a simple writing class.
I walked into the classroom on the first day, and I was presented with a surprise. There were no desks. There were about 16 chairs organized in a circle. Multiple video cameras were set up to record the circle of chairs from every corner of the room. So much for sleeping through this class.
Somehow, I registered for a pilot class that had just been invented by the ED of the Writing Program. The class was sponsored by Apple, we had an Emmy nominated backpack video journalist train us during the second week, and I learned how to use the internet for something other than a distraction. I knew, on the first day, this was the moment I had been waiting for. I immediately knew that I had finally found what I was missing.
Through this immersive academic experience I learned how to analyze complex social problems using new media. I did not even know what “analyzing complexity” meant before this class. Fortunately, I learned what it meant because it may be the key to a door that leads to an opportunistic future for humankind.
This class reconnected me with my humanity. The pursuit of profit had led me to compete with my neighbor when I may have needed them the most. Humans probably did not evolve by fighting saber tooth tigers with only one human versus one tiger. To overcome such obstacles we had to organize as one in order to realize our full strength.
I spent the next three years working one-on-one with the professor who invented the course I mentioned above. I did not know what the purpose of education was until I had the privilege to be taught by Dr. Richard E. Miller. The fortune he bestowed upon me is monumental. Empowered with the ability to design my own future, I was now ready to take on the world headfirst.
Three months after the course ended I founded an internet newspaper aimed at bridging the gap between the students and residents of the city. The university invested in this project. They provided me with a private multimedia studio and lab, eight student employees, and a small stipend for myself. We generated some revenue through advertising local businesses on the newspaper, but I did not have a business mind just yet.
Boutique Marketing Agency
In 2010, I founded a boutique internet marketing company which was also invested in similar fashion by the university. I was able to generate about $175,000 in 18 months while creating a path to employment for undergraduate students. This gave me more of the business experience I was lacking in the first project. I will continue to add to my portfolio on this site so you are able to see examples of the work we produced during this time.
In 2013, I spent a lot of time writing. I had a few clients on the side so I could pay the bills doing design work, marketing services, video editing, and business development. I felt confused about the world. I was at a standstill. I knew how to make money with my skills. I knew how to break free from the 40 hour work week. I accomplished exciting feats, but I was not fulfilled by the work. What is the point of working only a few hours per week if I am not adding value back into society? I had become a society-sucking leech. Disconnected from the community. Working my own hours, sometimes in my pajamas, and removed from the standard 9-5 struggle. I was only taking from society, and not contributing anything.
Future in Government
I am inching my way towards an interest in politics. Actually, it is more of an interest in government. However, it does not feel like the right time to get involved just yet. I also have come to realize that we, the people, may have more control over our lives than we think. The idea of voting, the quest to maximize profits, political arguments about personal rights, and our nation’s inability to find common ground on just about anything is more likely the underlying cause of where we are today. It is not our president’s fault. It is not the opposing political party. It is not the education system. It is not Matt’s fault. I learned to stop blaming other people for the outcome of the world. Blame is a solution, and it is the fastest solution. However, it is not necessarily the accurate solution. If I go down the rabbit hole just a bit it seems clear that the social problems which exist today are the results of this American life. It is me. It is you. It is our ancestors. To blame an institution is to blame the system which we perpetuate on a daily basis simply by participating. We are government. We are education. We are politics.
Five and a half years later, I have come full circle with my experiences to create something unique for society. My products are built to empower Americans to shape the future of this great nation. It feels like my life has been leading up to this point since I was child. It is a strange feeling, but also a freaking awesome feeling. It is hard to sleep at night because I want the sleep to be over so I can start working again.
I have both failed and succeeded at building businesses. What I learned from that is, I enjoy building businesses. I went through some difficult times in the last 15 years, and still deal with adversity daily. I think more people do than we are led to believe. What gets me through the day is knowing that if I keep doing the right thing everyday, eventually, the tides turn. Those brief moments of relief when I say to myself, “Oh my gosh it’s over! I can’t believe I just went through that!” As I gasp deep breaths from the butterflies in my stomach I prepare for the next adventure.