A Story of Perseverance and Conquering Uncertainty
In the furthest wastelands of the ocean there is a vortex where sea and sky bleed together in a monochromatic mural of uncertainty. On all accounts, there is no natural escape from this place. Viridescent fog stains every perspective of space, marring all sense of direction. The stench of salt is enough to numb the nostrils and taint the mouth with a sulfuric zest, and there is nothing to be heard but the angry murmur of waves. The vortex is cold, that any creature unlucky enough to be lost in this horrible prism will surely find itself anesthetized to the bone. There is no bounty to be fished in this place, no merit to its peril. It is a labyrinth of another dimension. There is nothing but doubt, the horrors of loneliness, and the weight of some quiet thing, lurking deep beneath the surface.
When first discussing the contents of this blog, I was asked a question:
What is your favorite mythical creature, and how does that play a role in the mindSpark Learning culture?
In all honesty, this caught me off guard. Even for a blog, a relatively informal mode of writing, this was not a prompt that I would typically expect from a professional business entity. It was bizarrely unrestrictive.
To me, this is a question that perfectly illustrates the culture, the attitude, and the prolific innovation of mindSpark Learning: it is fun and unconventional; it inspires creativity; it is a personal and empowering source of possibilities.
Preparing Students for the Modern Workforce
Contrasting Professional Experiences with Education
It is some years ago that I was on a northbound icebreaker, plowing through the ice of the arctic seascape in pursuit of a boreal expedition. The ship was small, the crew minimal; winter had set in, and there were few level-headed sailors willing to abandon their warm port homes and embark on such a questionable voyage. Still, my colleagues and I had our sights set to the scientific plunders of the Arctic -- succinctly the Barents Sea -- and we had no patience for the monotonous melt of spring. So, we had managed a ship.
We had been on the sea for five days, and spirits were high, despite hard work and frigid surroundings. Skies had been clear, and the ship had cut through the northern glaciers with speed and precision. No doubt our voyage would have been ultimately successful, were it not for the misfortune that would come to plague us.
To provide a little information about myself: my name is Bryan McDonald. I am an 18 year old Digital Design major at Colorado University - Denver, and I have been working as an intern at mindSpark Learning (mSL) for a little over 9 months.
My duties at mSL are those of a Graphic Designer; I help the marketing team by working with the mSL brand, providing visual solutions to marketing problems, and assisting the incredible, official company designer, Devyn, with a variety of creative projects. I also keep the office hip and fresh.
mindSpark Learning has played a powerful role in my professional growth. My professional experiences/education prior to mSL, while beneficial in their own right, mainly provided me with a set of technical skills and personal connections. mindSpark Learning has not only given me the opportunity to hone my professional skills, it has also allowed me to contrast the professional world with my ongoing education.
mSL has supplemented my traditional education with a level of personal development, giving me the ability to orient myself in the professional world and determine what it will take to accomplish my goals. My “formal” sources of education have tended to operate in the confines of facts and textbook information, while my internship at mSL has catalyzed the growth of skills such as teamwork, communication, and flexibility.
This work in the professional world has conditioned me for real-world difficulties that the education system simply failed to prepare me for; sometimes, projects fall through; sometimes, schedules morph and deadlines shift; sometimes, you have to learn new techniques on the fly and think outside the box in order to get a project done. Over the last 9 months, I have developed an appreciation for the more “visceral” skills of industry work, and I have come to realize how ineffectively my general education prepared me for the real world.
Perspectives of a Professional
The Importance of Industry Education as a Professional Designer
On the sixth morning of our voyage, a darkness descended over the body of our craft. Biting winds tore at our faces and a heavy fog obscured our view until we could scarcely see our hands before us. The storm pounced upon us with a brutality that could never have been anticipated. In all my years, I have never seen a monsoon of such ferocity. The ship was torn apart, tossed across the venomous surf like a toy. I cannot guess how long the tempest persisted.
I awoke to find myself in an emerald envelope. A green, ghoulish screen of fog stained the horizon, bleeding into the sea, fusing water and air in a thick alien mirage. I was stretched out upon a patch of wreckage, wood and rope, the only apparent remnants of our ship. If there were any other survivors, they were remote to me in that horrible pool of purgatory. Sulfuric odors invaded my nose, filling my mouth with a ghastly taste. Waves murmured against the frame of my delicate raft, seeping into my skin and chilling me to the soul. I drifted aimlessly through the waters, lingering between shades of green and black, attempting to ignore the tenebrous abyss that brooded beneath me.
As a growing professional, and a college student fresh out of high school, I cannot overstate the value of workplace-oriented education. Traditional education is heavily depreciated by its archaic metrics of success. In a traditional education setting, students’ capabilities are judged based on quantitative, rather than qualitative, results. Consequently, students are often unprepared for the workforce or the “real” world. The antidote to this scholarly stagnation is an education system that is dynamic and industry oriented, an education system that prepares students for the future instead of conditioning them for the past.
I was first introduced to mindSpark Learning through my association with Warren Tech, a local technical high school that strives to bridge the worlds of education and industry. In hindsight, choosing to attend this school was one of the best developmental decisions that I have made in my professional life thus far (more on that later).
In addition to providing me with internship opportunities such as mindSpark Learning, the Warren Tech program provided me with invaluable skills, knowledge, and industry insight that ultimately solidified my decision to pursue professional design. At this point in my life I can confidently say that I would not have chosen to pursue design without the industry-oriented education I received from the educators at Warren Tech.
Occasionally during my days in the mSL workspace, I will observe an elementary school student interacting with the mindSpark Learning staff. Their conversations will usually go completely over my head, as they delve into topics of STEM, Computer Science, and software development. Hearing these dialogues always invigorates my appreciation for the type of education that mindSpark Learning facilitates. Many of these topics were not introduced to me until my Junior year of high school, and even then I was given no impactful education in these fields of study.
Now, as a college student pursuing creative fields and User-Centered design, I have developed an appreciation for such sciences, and I understand their importance in the modern, up-and-coming workforce.
Perspectives of a Student
The Importance of Industry Education, as a Student
After what felt like an eternity, my raft began to dissipate. Ropes drifted into the gloom, wooden planks disappeared under the befouled ebony. Icy tendrils of water swarmed up around me, pulling me beneath the waves, and I gasped. Exhausted from the wreck and the long-lasted drift, my resistance to this submersion was weak and wild. I thrashed about, determined that I would not be lost to the bowels of the sea. It was no use. The water, the raft, the haze, all came together in an eddy of confusion, sucking me down, down, down into the wet somber chasm until all light had dissolved, and I had lost every sense of hope and direction. My lungs struggled to retain their supply of oxygen and the weight of the sea began to crush me. A throbbing agony resounded throughout my skull, and soon I ceased my floundering, resigned to the inky embrace of the void.
I was within the last moments of life when my leg was gripped fast by some great, unseen entity. I gurgled, startled by the touch, and peered through the blackness in search of my assailant. In the darkness I could see a single orb of light, flickering some indeterminable distance from my face. Then, the orangish sphere was joined by another, and then a third. One by one, a galaxy of eyes manifested around me. The ink of the sea receded under the glow of this incognizable observer, and my surroundings began to fade into startling clarity. The ocean floor came into sight and I witnessed a glorious host of creatures and crustaceans, the likes of which have evaded me ever since. The water about us glistened in an iridescent sheen of light. I laid eyes upon the behemoth.
My own experience with the education system was adequate, at best. My creative interests were fostered by a limited number of patrons, and by my sophomore year of high school I was relatively directionless, playing along with a system that seemed to have no interest in preparing me for the modern workplace. I was absorbing information that didn’t seem applicable, learning from teachers that seemed out of touch with the modern workplace, and working hard for grades that offered me nothing more than the abstract promise of an adequate college education.
This is not to say that I didn’t have goals, or that I wasn’t hard working. When I was 15, I was working a part-time job, getting good grades, and healthily indulging in artistic persuasions. I knew that I wanted to pursue a creative field, I simply did not have the resources or the education to translate my skills and my interests into a real world setting. I was operating under the belief that visual arts were useless to the professional world, and I was planning to abandon my creative interests in pursuit of a more lucrative profession.
In my Junior year my direction was clarified. On the advice of my school counselor I joined the Graphic Design program of Warren Tech, the aforementioned technical high school to which I owe so much. In this program I attained the skills and knowledge necessary to steer my life in a solid direction. I was taught by industry professionals, worked with industry tools, and made industry-level connections, many of which I still utilize today. I was treated like a professional, by professionals. After only two years of focused workplace-oriented education I had the tools to pursue my career goals. I had a firm foot in the door of the professional world, and perhaps most importantly, I knew where I wanted to take my life.
This is the impact that professional development and career literacy can have on a student’s life, but it all starts with the educators, the facilitators. Without the educators from Warren Tech, or the outreaching staff of mindSpark Learning, I have no doubt that my career path and personal goals would be far less certain than they are today.
The Impact of mindSpark Learning and Plans for the Future
A tangle of gargantuan tentacles drifted all throughout the water, bathed in an ethereal light. At the stem of these powerful tendrils rose some sort of head, an other-worldly collection of eyes, a fleece of spindly cillia, and a colossal maw. The leviathan peered at me with a tone of curiosity, near benevolence. In hindsight, I expect any sane being would have fallen into despair at the sight of such a titan, but in the moment, I felt no such terror. The beast regarded me for a time, its tentacular appendage encircling my waist in a gentle grip. The hide of the creature was warmer than would be expected. I soon found that I had no yearning for air or light. I was lost in the creature’s embrace, my mind twitching under the intensity of its bulbous gaze.
My time at mindSpark Learning has been a personal and professional pleasure. The mSL staff consists of some of the most interesting, hard-working, and exciting individuals I have ever met. One of the things that I most appreciate about the mSL staff is their commitment to one another, and their ability to crush obstacles as a team. They harvest no finger-pointing, no ‘he said, she said’ nonsense; they work hard to complete the tasks that need to get done. This is a mindset that I have strived to adopt, and one that I hope to translate to my future endeavors.
Moving forward I hope to maintain my relationship with mindSpark Learning for as long as they will have me, and I’m sure the connections I’ve made here will follow me into the professional world. As I’ve said, I am currently a college freshman pursuing design: both artistic and functional.
My work away from mSL consists mainly of freelance design work, illustration commissions, and design consulting. In the next few years I am eager to develop my professional persona and swell my design portfolio so as to better prepare myself for a permanent job in the workforce.
While I do intend to maintain myriad artistic hobbies, I ultimately want to use my skills to help develop the image of progressive companies such as mindSpark Learning, and to push social ideals, while positively impacting audiences. My experiences at mSL have reinforced my belief that progress is not simply achieved by the talents/power of one person, but by a group of hard working individuals who are committed to bettering the world.
The ocean floor was basked in the monster’s biological luminescence and I lay witness to a vast ecosystem of plants and sea-beasts the likes of which I had never before seen. As I observed these wonders, a celestial insight began to creep through my cognition, and I found that my suffocation had ceased. Then, with a sudden jolt of pure power, the thing burst from its home, carrying me with it through a tapestry of abyssal currents. We traveled at speeds of a cosmic oddity, unfettered and undeterred by the labyrinthian walls of the ocean.
All the while, I was exposed to the wonders of the marine universe; glimpsing the most alien organisms of the deep, observing a subaquatic landscape of cyclopean worlds, stimulated by a torrent of sensations which bestowed an inhuman knowledge upon me. Reverie ensued. I do not know how long we migrated through that other universe. My envoy never seemed to tire, never slowed. It swam through the deep with a graceful intent. We moved ever faster, until the imagery about us was little more than a whirlpool of swirling hues and shifting transparencies.
At long last, I was guided to the surface of the sea. The murk of that uncertain horror in which I had been lost was nowhere to be found, and I saw before me a small fishing village. A collection of cabins sat above the shoreline, flickering with torchlight upon a seaside bluff. The sea here was outlined by a sheen of lunar radiance. My companion raised me from the waves and set me down upon a nearby dock, drenched and dripping. As its arm slipped from my waist, I swiveled to face the beast in parting, but it was already gone, replaced by a crystalline plateau of sea-water.
And so I turned and set out for the distant firelights, my head still bellowing with a strange celestial wisdom.
While the creature itself had vanished, I feel as though it has never fully abandoned my mind. Over the years the sapience of that night has aided me in my endeavors. Even now, in my later days of science, the beast’s wisdom calls forth the most incredible postulations. In my thoughts, fear is no longer an infant of the unknown.
In regards to the symbolism of my favorite mythical creature:
For many people, the ocean is quick to distill a sense of discomfort, a seemingly other-dimensional expanse of unpredictability and uncertainty. Of course, uncertainty translates to all aspects of life often producing offspring such as doubt, fear, and so on. Uncertainty lies in a blank whiteboard, a dead-end job, or an abhorrently large tuition number. Through a pessimistic lens life is a never ending ocean of uncertainties, and without the right tools it can be difficult to take control, or find a direction.
For me, a Kraken (or any great leviathan) embodies a mastery of the unfamiliar: it is powerful, and capable of consuming any barrier that it encounters; it is witness to a dimension that is almost utterly alien to man; it navigates the unknown with a confident ease, adapting to its conditions with dexterity and intelligence.
Such an animal embodies the goals of mindSpark Learning and industry-oriented education: to carry the education system (and consequently the workforce) into a dynamic state of being -- a source of intelligence that fosters the growth of new ideas -- and ultimately break into an adaptive style of educational development.
Thanks for stopping by! If you have any comments, suggestions or musings drop us a line in the comment section below.