Look back before looking ahead: Highlights from 2014.

A few days ago, one of my dear friends and I were catching up over coffee. She has known me since I was a nerdy high school student and has watched, at a distance, as I attempted Leap Year Project and sparked Experience Institute. So, it was no surprise when she asked me, “Are you still excited about the work you’re doing?”

Not wanting her to hear any doubt or hesitation, I quickly replied, “Yes, of course!”

But, then she challenged me. “Why?"

My brain fumbled for the right words and stories, but I’ve been moving so fast that they weren't in place yet. I was stuck.

We talked about the amazing people who are here (many of you) and the various stories from the past year.

Afterwards, I went home and began writing the major highlights of 2014, most of which I've shared below.

So, before you hurl yourself into the New Year, here is a quick look at the people and projects that made 2014 so formative for Ei as a whole and for me as a young founder and old friend:

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Graduated first five students

They came to Chicago in September 2013 as total strangers with big ideas and a slew of questions. Throughout the year, they hit all of the turbulence you can imagine for being the first one's in the air. But, in September 2014, these five students completed their amazing years by designing their own graduation (EXPO). Now, their working at architecture firms, starting new businesses,  and building environmental initiatives around the world. Watch their final capstone videos here.

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Welcomed our second class

At that very same EXPO, a new group of students joined our 2014/2015 class. They hail from all corners of the country and a myriad of industries. The height difference is also staggering.

This month, they'll complete their first of three terms. They’ve already worked on remarkable projects that are building their portfolios and shaping how they see the world and themselves. If you don’t believe me, just follow our student blog.

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Launched the Ei Studio

How do you keep a school running without putting all of your students into crippling debt? How do you keep your educational staff sharp and engaged in ground-breaking projects? We’ve been asking ourselves those questions all year. One of the ideas has been to simply launch a Studio where the Ei staff works alongside corporations and educational institutions to rethink learning for staff and students.

We launched in August and now have projects lined up with two amazing school districts and our friends at Leo Burnett.

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Hired Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom

In order to help lead our Programs and manage the Studio, invited the talented Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom to join Ei. With 30,000+ hours of experiential learning practice with Stanford, IDEO, HFLI, Big Picture Learning, etc., he is well suited to help lead the Ei students and staff to great places.

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So, what's next?

This month, we're kicking off studio projects, welcoming our students back to prepare for their second experience, and working on a top secret project for 2016. Also, nominations are open for the 2015/2016 class, which means Ei’s community will continue growing.

So, yeah…I’m excited. And you should be too.

Here’s to another great year.

Victor