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1515 Sherman Avenue, Suite 2-SW
Evanston, IL 60201


A Night To Remember...


What do you get when you mix 3 architects; 2 designers; 3 design professors2 illustrators; 2 top school teachers; 2 school founders; 2 Hackstudio kids, 1 "innovator-in-residence"; a former derivatives trader; an urban strategist; a children's book author and an incredible spread from Evanston's Ten Mile House restaurant?

Answer: a full belly and a spinning head!

On the evening of February 23rd, the ideas were piled as high as Janey's mac-and-cheese as Hackstudio and Wonder By Design hosted a salon dinner to bring together some of our smartest and most interesting friends to build friendships and exchange thoughts around a common passion: improving the experience of learning for kids.

The event was inspired by (and held in) Hackstudio's wide-open 16,000 square foot "blank canvas" space. Knowing we have the opportunity to build anything we want to impact kids, we thought it would be fun to assemble some great minds and include them in an open exploration of possibilities. It was important to us that everyone benefit from the discussion so we expanded the topic to cover everyone's passions and interests.

The evening began in our makeshift 'living room,' with Wonder By Design's Christian Long setting the tone with a request for stories from our childhood.

(L to R): NU engineering professor  Amy O'Keefe , designer  Christian Long , architect  Martin Klaeschen , computer science teacher  Jeff Solin  and Hackstudio founder  Mike Meiners .

(L to R): NU engineering professor Amy O'Keefe, designer Christian Long, architect Martin Klaeschen, computer science teacher Jeff Solin and Hackstudio founder Mike Meiners.

With the mood light, we moved on to dinner, focusing on two questions:

"How would you improve the experience of education if you were completely free of tradition, dogma and fear?" and

"How can school be the place you go to become the person you were born to be?"

Hackstudio founder Mike Meiners speaking to (L to R)  Ryan Robinson and Alison Vellas  of  Ink Factory ; Wonder By Design's  Trung Le ; and Janey Matejka.

Hackstudio founder Mike Meiners speaking to (L to R) Ryan Robinson and Alison Vellas of Ink Factory; Wonder By Design's Trung Le; and Janey Matejka.

The discussion was lively to say the least. Howell Malham of GreenHouse jumped right out of his seat (though we get the feeling that may be a common occurrence).

Howell Malham (standing) speaking to (L to R)  Firebelly Design  founder  Dawn Hancock ;  Design for America 's associate director  Sami Nerenberg ;  Donda's House  director  Donnie Smith ; and Urban Strategist  Tim Swanson .

Howell Malham (standing) speaking to (L to R) Firebelly Design founder Dawn Hancock; Design for America's associate director Sami Nerenberg; Donda's House director Donnie Smith; and Urban Strategist Tim Swanson.

As the evening progressed, opinions flowed more and more freely. As we pushed and coaxed each other to re-examine our beliefs on identity, privilege, and the value of finding oneself, our Hackstudio kids really blew us away. Ryan Sander, our hip-hop choreographer, jumped right in and shared what it's like to be a high school junior today, freely speaking his mind in some potentially intimidating company. 

(L to R):  Jeff Bell , founding principal of  Beacon Academy ; Martin Klaeschen, founder of  HouseHaus ;  Drew Peterson  of the Greeley School;  Ryan Sander . (Foreground): Hackstudio founder  Randy Blaugh .

(L to R): Jeff Bell, founding principal of Beacon Academy; Martin Klaeschen, founder of HouseHausDrew Peterson of the Greeley School; Ryan Sander. (Foreground): Hackstudio founder Randy Blaugh.

And how proud we were of our 13-year-old cook, Janey Matejka, who not only contributed thoughtfully to the discussion, but bravely contributed her first Hackstudio project - a baked 3-cheese mac-and-cheese - to great acclaim. 

(L to R) Architect  John Syvertsen ; Hackstudio Evanston Manager,  Katy Bradford ; Janey Matejka.

(L to R) Architect John Syvertsen; Hackstudio Evanston Manager, Katy Bradford; Janey Matejka.

As we hashed it out, Ryan Robinson and Alison Vellas of Ink Factory recorded - in drawings - everything that was being said, creating a permanent graphic artifact of our discussion. It was a major boost to the ego to look up from time to time and see a full-color illustration of a comment you made just a minute before. (The process has to be seen to be believed!)

(Counterclockwise around the table from Left) Tim Swanson; Amy O'Keefe, John Syvertsen, Ryan Robinson, Alison Vellas, Katy Bradford, Janey Matejka,  Trung Le  of Wonder By Design; children's book author  Amy Krause Rosenthal .

(Counterclockwise around the table from Left) Tim Swanson; Amy O'Keefe, John Syvertsen, Ryan Robinson, Alison Vellas, Katy Bradford, Janey Matejka, Trung Le of Wonder By Design; children's book author Amy Krause Rosenthal.

(L to R) John Syvertsen, Ryan Robinson, Alison Vellas, Janey Matejka and Katy Bradford.

(L to R) John Syvertsen, Ryan Robinson, Alison Vellas, Janey Matejka and Katy Bradford.

If it hadn't been a weeknight, the discussion could easily have stretched 'till morning. As it was, the result far exceeded our expectations. Thank you to everyone who attended. To those we knew before: we're prouder than ever to be your friends. To those we met: we're so honored to know you now. We hope you gained as much from the evening as we did!

For those who couldn't be there, here's what we talked about:

Pursuing A Dream? Expect Some Closed Doors.


By Mike Meiners

When you first pursue a dream, it's like standing at the base of a wooded hill. The hill is gradual and inviting. You can see a few twists and turns that, from a distance, look easy...even fun. At the top of the hill sits your dream, shiny and glowing in the sunlight, holding all the promise of glory and self-realization. It looks so wonderful and so attainable you can't help yourself. You bound ahead. This is your destiny...

The beginning is easy. Each rock or stump in the path is joyfully conquered like hurdles in backyard game. You're having the time of your life. Here and there, you may trip and fall but you giggle to yourself, dust yourself off and bound ahead.

As you rise, the wood gets denser, the hill, steeper and and the angle to the top squeezes your view until your dream starts to recede behind the treetops. Soon it's gone. But your dream is so beautiful, you don’t need to see it. It's seared in your memory. And while the rise is steeper and the air’s getting thin, you don’t mind breathing a little more heavily. You're still having fun.

You marvel at how far you've come. You've gone so far in such a short time. You peer over your shoulder and see your house far below. You remember the naive loser who used to live there. You flush with pride. You turn to bound ahead and...

BAM! You're down. What happened? You're not sure. All you know is you're face down, head downhill, in pain. You roll over and look up to discover a fifteen foot wall and in the middle of the wall, a huge iron door. Closed.

The wall goes on forever in both directions. You might scale it, but you see the razor sharp pokers along the top. You’re not going over. You notice the door has no lock so you give it a nudge. It doesn't budge. You lean in and push. Nothing. You dig in your heels and HEAVE and it yields the smallest fraction of a millimeter. Aha! It moves! You push and push but after an hour, you’ve only moved it the breadth of a hair. It looks like it'll open, but - man! - at what cost?

You're at your first closed door.

The pursuit of EVERY dream starts this way and, sadly, this is where most dreams die. Here on the side of the hill, in the dense woods where you can no longer see the top, where the air is cold and thin and and your muscles and lungs are burning, things invariably reach a point where the fun stops and things get hard - where you feel stupid, untalented, weak. Here you find yourself staring at a challenge you didn't anticipate, a task you don't really want to focus on, one that will take more time than you bargained for when you were back at the bottom of the hill. This is when most people pack up and head back down in pursuit of another hill to climb.

But the people who get their dreams DONE understand that turning around solves nothing. They know that ALL dreams have these moments, that they're not evidence of failure, but a feature of real-world pursuits. All dreams are RINGED with walls like this, with doors just as heavy, which may explain why it’s so rare to see people actually reach their dreams. It’s not because it takes an unusually talented or lucky person to attain a lofty dream (it does take some talent and some luck, but not in unusual amounts). What’s unusual is the COMMITMENT. The people who get their dreams done are committed to the simple, mundane (often frustrating) task of opening every door that separates them from their dream.


WRITE DOWN YOUR DREAM along with a ‘Story of Why.’

It will help you keep track of what you’re doing when your dream is obscured by obstacles. The clearer you are about why you're in this fight, the harder it will be to accept the cost of quitting.

SHARE your story with others.

It will get them invested in your journey. And when other people are invested in your journey, they’ll throw their weight behind you and help you. Some of them might even be the keepers of the doors you're trying to open and open them for you.

Take them ONE AT A TIME.

When you find yourself at a closed door, make THAT DOOR the project. Forget about what’s next, how much more there is to do. Forget about how long it’ll take. Get the door open, get through it, then take up the dream again. The fun returns on the other side.

Remind yourself that ALL DREAMS HAVE DOORS TO OPEN.

The mere existence of a closed door doesn’t mean the dream isn’t your thing anymore. It doesn’t mean you're not cut out for it. You're right where you should be!

Turning back doesn’t avoid closed doors. It just postpones them. You’re sure to hit another one as soon as you get far enough on your next pursuit.