Michelle Jones ’98 establishes Wayfinding Academy as a unique college alternative
by Carlos Anchondo ’14
When a new college is established there are countless details to be considered. How big will class sizes be? What is the best location for the campus? Will the coursework take two years to complete, or four? Who will the faculty be and what will they teach? These questions and more are currently whizzing through the mind of Michelle Jones ’98 as she follows her dream for higher education: the Wayfinding Academy.
Jones, an associate professor of organizational behavior and leadership at Concordia University Portland, is no stranger to the realm of higher education. For the past 15 years, Jones has taught at various universities across the United States, all employing traditional higher education models. Nationwide, Jones perceives a lack of institutions that emphasize community the way she believes a college should.
Inspired, Jones set out to create a college that intimately aligns a student’s aspirations with the curriculum they study. The Wayfinding Academy will be a two-year college in Portland, Ore., that actively prepares students for their lives post graduation.
“Students will come here to figure out what they want from their lives, what their purpose is, and how they want to contribute to the world,” Jones says.
Wayfinding students will begin their education with a course entitled Passion-Based Leadership, where they will ask the broader questions about their future goals. Students will then be assigned a team of two to three advisers and community mentors who will help craft a custom curriculum based on the skills the students would like to develop. Students will then assemble a portfolio of learned skills and knowledge that is customized to them as individuals.
All students will earn an associate’s degree under one major, with tailored experiential learning opportunities and internships as the base. Jones’ goal is to use the Wayfinding network to give students experience in any field they wish to pursue. A typical year will feature 20 “workshops” where students will be taught by professors and Portland-area experts.
“We plan to embrace the idea of being a community college,” Jones says. “We will have both a community of students, staff, and faculty, but we are also going to be constantly working with the Portland community so that, to some extent, our campus is Portland.”
Originally from San Antonio, Jones arrived in Portland five years ago by way of Massachusetts, California, New Mexico, and Washington. She calls Portland a place where she finally feels like she belongs and a city where “people deeply respect other people finding their own path and being independent, creative, and entrepreneurial.” Jones will serve as a professor and president of Wayfinding during its formative years.
The Wayfinding team consists of more than 20 individuals who are currently in the fundraising phase of their Indiegogo campaign. The idea to choose a crowdfunding campaign came from the notion that Wayfinding is something the community desires and should therefore emanate from the community as well. Jones wants Portlanders to feel as though this is their college too and plans to open unfilled workshops to the public.
Academy was chosen instead of “college” or “institution” because Jones and her team decided that academy best reflected the nature of their mission: to create a community of learners coming together to be engaged in the learning process. A trimester at Wayfinding will cost an estimated $3,500 and scholarships will be given to those who demonstrate financial need.
A psychology and business major while at Trinity, Jones says that the mentorship of business administration professor Donald Van Eynde greatly influenced her career path by introducing her to the field of organizational psychology and behavior. She says his counsel still guides her today as she founds Wayfinding.
Moreover, Jones says that meaningful relationships with faculty are what cause students to feel a part of learning communities where people are “genuinely there to help you find your way.” She aims to take her mentorship experience with Van Eynde and make that the basis of a Wayfinding education. Wayfinding plans to welcome its inaugural class in 2016.
“This whole experience has been fantastic,” Jones says. “And it’s been a great realization that I am at the right place, in Portland, starting this and that I have the team I need. It has been fun to imagine college in its ideal form and I think it’s a conversation we need to have.”
Wayfinding Academy plans to apply for accreditation with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. During its first year of operation, administrators will also be working with Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission Office of Degree Authorization.
Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a 2014 Trinity graduate. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.