After graduating from Concordia University Wisconsin in 1994, I heeded the call to serve at Rockford Lutheran Middle and High School in Rockford, Illinois. Over the next six years, I experienced the joy of being a middle and high school teacher; religion department chair; technology coordinator; designer of one the first online high school pilot programs in the nation; and leader of experiential learning trips to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and domestic locations. I used evenings and summers to read voraciously and study at over eight colleges, eventually earning a M.A. in curriculum and instruction and a doctorate in instructional technology with a cognate in qualitative / ethnographic research.
At the same time, I started my first consulting business, Servant Innovations (1995-2000), helping non-profits and other organizations analyze emerging trends and devise strategic plans and projects intended to prepare them to thrive and accomplish their mission in new and emerging contexts. I continued that work in various forms and under different names while still working full-time in schools, up to 2018.
From Rockford, I moved on to be a teacher at Milwaukee Lutheran High School while completing a second master’s, this time a Master of Liberal Studies with a focus upon interdisciplinary approaches to teaching digital culture and media ecology. I spent six years there before becoming the creative director for a special grant-funded project devoted the design of experiential learning and online Spanish and math curricula for rural and other Lutheran schools.
After a dozen years working in K-12 schools; earning a few degrees; and being a trend analysis, forecasting, and scenario planning consultant; I became a professor of education and founding director of the Instructional Design Center at Concordia University Wisconsin. I spent the next fourteen years there, serving in a variety of roles: professor, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Chief Innovation Officer, and Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation. One of many joys and highlights of this time was helping to launch a team that grew online enrollment from a few hundred to a few thousand in less than five years.
It was during this time at Concordia that I also devoted myself to more research and writing (academic and popular). While still broad, I refined my scholarship around a number of key themes: 1) futures in education & education trend analysis, 2) current and emerging models of alternative education and self-directed learning, 3) R&D and innovation models and frameworks in the education sector, 4) the history and philosophy of Christian education), 5) the intersection of education and digital culture, and 6) designing learning environments based upon largely universal human concepts like wonder, mystery, curiosity, a love of learning, play, meaning, purpose, and mastery.
I created the blog Etale, which eventually ranked as one of the top 50 education blogs on the Internet for almost a decade. I wrote lots of articles, created the Moonshot Edu Show podcast, worked with others to launch over a dozen academic degree programs, designed and led a few well-known MOOCs (including what became known as #CheatMOOC), created the first master’s degree program in the world designed around competency-based (and project-based) digital badges, expanded my consulting, launched and became CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs, gave well over 100 invited and keynote presentations throughout the United States and around the world, and had the joy of writing/co-writing/editing a number of books.
In 2018 I was honored to be awarded the Jonathan D. Harber Fellowship in Educational Entrepreneurship at Wesleyan University. I took a sabbatical from Concordia and moved to the East coast. While there I wrote the draft of my next two books & conducted hundreds of interviews with educational innovators and entrepreneurs while also designing and teaching a course on social entrepreneurship in education.
Then an email arrived that changed the trajectory of my career, a call for applications for President of a small college in central Vermont.
While never aspiring to be a college President, out of curiosity I applied for the presidency at Goddard College, one of the original experimental and learner-driven schools in the United States. I was thinking about stepping out of the search process before it got too far until I learned that the school, a source of inspiration for my work on self-directed learning over the years, was on the brink of closure. It was in serious trouble with the accreditors, had a five year downward enrollment trend, and was in the middle of a financial crisis. Something compelled me to want the job more than ever, to be part of striving to save one of the great learner-driven higher education experiments in US history. They offered me the job and I moved to Vermont. Over the next three years we addressed many of the major concerns, were removed from probation with the accreditors, built back some financial stability, rebuilt admissions/marketing/development, and even achieved the largest incoming fall and spring classes in five years during a global pandemic.
Another unexpected twist arrived in 2020. I was contacted about putting my name in as a candidate for another position. This one would bring me back to my home in Lutheran higher education to serve as Professor of Administration and President of Concordia University, Nebraska (CUNE). While hesitant to leave Goddard College so soon and hoping to semi-retire to a life of writing and consulting after Goddard, Lutheran higher education is home for me. When a call was extended, I was honored to accept it, and I began service as the 11th President of Concordia University, Nebraska on August 22, 2021.
As much as I embrace the call to lead and serve as a University president, I’m still an applied researcher, designer, educator, and writer at heart, always at some stage of progress toward finishing my next writing or other creative project.