Welcome NEIA's
Digital Publication!

A note before you dive in: As you scroll through this publication you'll notice the page moving horizontally and/or vertically at times. This is the intended experience. No adjustments to your normal, vertical scrolling techniques (up and down) are required!

What is Innovation Studio?

December 15, 2021
By Vicki Grisanti
Photos Rob Bossi

At NEIA, we believe that in order for a student to flourish, they need to feel a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-love – the whole person needs to be healthy.

Read the Article

At NEIA, we believe that in order for a student to flourish, they need to feel a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-love – the whole person needs to be healthy. As healthy individuals, our students are able to nurture their creativity. They develop into innovative thinkers who approach complex problems with empathy through human-centered design. This experience unfolds, in part, through students’ time in our Innovation Studio.

NEIA’s Innovation Studio is a cornerstone of our curriculum and the design of our school, central to our fundamental value proposition. The concept of the Innovation Studio is borrowed directly from the MIT Integrated Design & Management program.

How the Innovation Studio Fits In

It’s important to recognize that innovation can’t happen solely in a lab. The Innovation Studio at NEIA is both a construct and a concept to teach human-centered design. Our teachers are working closely together to align content and create interdisciplinary learning. Students are educated across a broad range of content areas and, whenever possible, these traditional subjects such as math, science, humanities, art, and wellbeing come together in Innovation Studio.

The best way to paint a picture is through an example. Imagine students are learning how to calculate the trajectory of a payload in math. In humanities, maybe they’re learning about the politics of 400 BC in Sicily. And in science, perhaps there’s a study of wood – different types of trees and their molecular structures, for example. Seemingly disparate, these topics come together in the Innovation Studio.

There, students might be asked to build a catapult. They might explore a museum or interview a person knowledgeable about the subjects at hand. They’d use their math knowledge about calculating trajectories, and their scientific knowledge about different types of woods to develop the most effective version of a catapult. They build empathy for those living in this time period to understand what necessitated creating a catapult and put themselves in the scene through roleplay.

Suddenly, students understand not only the value of how any one concept works in the real world, but how they work together, and they most likely will never forget it.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

Our approach using human-centered design is just one of the meaningful ways the Innovation Studio impacts a student’s experience at NEIA. The complex problems our students seek to solve in Innovation Studio could result in demonstrating their understanding of a concept, like the catapult example, but their work could just as easily result in a product or a process.

Part of becoming an innovator at NEIA is learning to create things of value that are accessible to others. While the act of prototyping and designing happens in the studio, the real opportunity lies in scaling the impact of the innovation and sharing it with the outside world. Entrepreneurship comes in to take a product, solution or service and get it out to millions of people.

As students continue their path at NEIA, we envision opportunities with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and other partnerships to learn how to scale an innovation by understanding marketing, presentation skills, and mass production techniques, injection modeling, supply chain, fulfillment centers, logistics and shipping.

We envision an experience where students could run a business within the school. Students at NEIA might get summer jobs and internships with businesses, but they might also make their own job for the summer. To make a living as an innovator we must teach entrepreneurship as well. This is the culture and type of thinking we seek to promote as the Innovation Studio evolves.

The Heart of Campus

As a physical space, the Innovation Studio serves as the heart of the NEIA campus. The teachers understand the practice and employ it in their day-to-day work with each other and with their students. In addition, the space itself is comprised of three components:

  • Studio Space: In keeping with what you might see in a design or architecture studio, this area features flat desks with tables and chairs where students can collaborate on teams, think, discuss and assemble. This open and airy space is intended for ideation and offers a location to evaluate work and make adjustments.
  • The Hive: A state-of-the-art makerspace that features all the tools a designer could imagine using to bring their idea to life. Specifically, the Hive offers assorted 3D printers, a laser cutter, vinyl cutters, and every machine tool you can imagine such as band saws and drill presses, and materials to make circuit boards. It’s a very high-tech version of a traditional makerspace. This is where students go to build, experiment, and create.
  • Design Review Area: This is where students pin up their concepts or give presentations about the work they are doing. A critical element of being a persuasive innovator is to learn how to take feedback and give it in a way that produces positive results – both emotionally and in terms of the work.

Why an Innovation Studio?

When we began designing NEIA over a year ago, we used human-centered design to understand user needs. That told us what students wanted from a good school – and what they didn’t like about their current experience (no fun, too much homework, too much time learning about things that don’t matter).

We discovered that those students who are trying to invent, create and make are entrepreneurial in the way they think and quite self-directed. The experiential element that the Innovation Studio brings makes it fun – it provides them an opportunity to put things into practice every day. It also helps develop a deeper synaptic response to the new material, providing very profound learning without students even realizing it’s happening.

What’s more, human-centered design invites students to embrace their ability to be compassionate, loving human beings. The work in the Innovation Studio supports this growth throughout a student’s journey at NEIA. In the Innovation Studio, we are able to adapt our curriculum to the needs of the students, versus forcing students to adapt to what we want to teach. Undergoing the process of human-centered design not only makes learning more meaningful but also more sustainable and compassionate – it’s a mechanism for developing empathy.

Belonging at NEIA

December 15, 2021
By Matt Kressy & NEIA Board

"I think NEIA is a very special place. NEIA is brand new like a little sprout emerging from the soil. It’s fresh, idealist, pure and delicate. I’ve been to a lot of special places, this is one of them." — Matt Kressy

Read the Article

I think NEIA is a very special place. NEIA is brand new like a little sprout emerging from the soil. It’s fresh, idealist, pure and delicate. I’ve been to a lot of special places, this is one of them.
And here’s why we’ve worked very hard to make this special place:

Independent Thinking

I grew up on a mountain in NH. The forest was my playground. Every day I would wake up and sit on my front lawn or in my favorite tree and think about what should I do that day. I’d see the barn, our pastures, the two sheds, the mountains beyond with the lakes and rivers nestled in their valleys. I would design my day, and I did this every day. I was a poor student because of this. School just didn’t interest me, so it was not part of my design. I suffered through it creating my own lessons as soon as I was set free for the day. This is one of my motivations for creating NEIA. A place for independent thinkers and self-learners.

Inclusion, Acceptance, and Love

As beautiful as NH was, I was in a school system that did not appreciate artistic folks like me. I was humiliated and bullied on many occasions by classmates and even teachers. It was terrible. However, I consider this experience to be one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. It gave me tremendous empathy for everyone and anything. It caused me to always see the good in others, especially those who have been persecuted in some way. At NEIA, we worked hard to create not only a safe place, but a place that celebrates and appreciates being different (and normal too, whatever that means). We strive to build the most diverse community possible in every metric, from ethnicity to religion to gender to discipline. The only requirement is that everyone respect and appreciate each other and don’t ever rush to judge.

Professional Autonomy

I have never really had a job. My first real job was starting IDM at MIT (innovation leadership program) 7 years ago at the age of 48. I didn’t need the job because I have always been able to monetize my creations (aka entrepreneurship). As I got deeper into my job at MIT, I came to appreciate how autonomous I am, the power I have in the fact that I don’t need a job. I can make money whenever I want, doing whatever excites me. I am beholden to no one. NEIA is here to give our students this ability. The ability to go out into the world with the confidence that they can be successful any way they choose to be. That they are in control of their life. That they can design their day, every day.

Innovation + Entrepreneurship

Our vision is to create and enable people who are empowered with the ability to create beautiful things (we call this innovation) and monetize them (we call this entrepreneurship). These words are kind of trendy and come across as materialistic and pro-consumerism (one of our biggest environmental problems). But if done right, they are quite meaningful because if we can get paid to make beauty, we can keep doing it. And so then can others, and if everyone is creating beauty, we might have a beautiful world.

So what do I mean by beauty? I’m talking about the experience we create for each other. When I hold the door for someone, I have provided an experience for someone else, and I would argue that is a beautiful thing to do. When we cook a delicious meal for others like Mike and his team do every day for our students and did for us tonight, he has created a beautiful experience for us. When we design an elegant product, as Apple or Tesla does, a beautiful experience is had by millions of people.

When we talk about Innovation at NEIA, this is what we are talking about. Innovating with love. To stay on track, we use a process called Human-Centered Design, which is simply having the courtesy to ask people what they want before we make things for them. It means understanding their needs, emotions, dreams. It means connecting authentically with others before we take action or form an opinion. For me, HCD is the antidote to prejudice and fear, and NEIA is the prototype.

Getting back to beauty…to me the word beauty is interchangeable with the word love. Innovating or creating beauty using HCD is actually creating love. More than ever, the world needs love. It needs people who ask others what they need and make it. NEIA is here to help make those people.

NEIA is a unique and miraculous adventure. I am so grateful that you all have some sense of that, and may even appreciate what we’re doing. Thank you.

— Matt Kressy, Head of Innovation & Trustee

Enrollment Team

Maggie, Kevin, and Brynn share a passion for education that’s unsurpassed! Their genuine interest in making connections with everyone they meet is what sets the team apart and enables them to create meaningful experiences for prospective students to explore NEIA. Kevin brings a wealth of experience from independent school settings and is dedicated to finding the right fit for each and every student with the goal of seeing them thrive. Maggie draws on her own background as an educator and understands the parent’s perspective to help students develop academically and socially. Brynn’s ready to lend a helping hand to ensure the application process is smooth and worry-free.


Vishnu Bharath

Grade 6

Q What have you worked on at NEIA that you are most proud of at NEIA?

Something that I’ve learned about and am proud of is my progress with Mandarin. It’s been an enjoyable class, not to mention extremely interesting as well!

Q In what ways do you feel belonging at NEIA?

NEIA is a great school, where all students and teachers are very friendly. I have a great friend group, and we have a lot of fun together. All in all, the community at NEIA is very inclusive!

Q What has been your favorite meal that Chef Mike has prepared at NEIA, and why?

Definitely Taco Bar. (Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Completely. Unarguably.) It’s my favorite just because I love tacos. Tacos are great. My favorite song is the taco song. And you know, it tastes good.

Q What is something new that you’ve tried at NEIA?

Something new that I’ve tried is, well, Mandarin. Out of all my classes, it’s the most original by far. It’s interesting, fun, and has a great novelty to it. Tang, the teacher, is really nice, and always plans an excellent class for us!


Kayla + Ileana

A conversation with 2 students.

By Samantha Karl


Q What have you worked on at NEIA that you are most proud of at NEIA?

I’m really proud of how I organized Spirit Week. It was really fun and a big success. Being able to plan something with my peers was special to me because I’ve never been at a school where you can have a voice, without having to be a part of a certain group.

Q In what ways do you feel belonging at NEIA?

I feel belonging because at NEIA, I know all of us can be exactly who we want to be. We all share with each other, even the teachers, if we are having a bad day or a really great day. It’s rare to harbor a community of openness like that. We’ve gotten through so much together already.

Q What has been your favorite meal that Chef Mike has prepared at NEIA, and why?

Make your own tacos, for sure. It reminded me of a meal from home.

Q What is something new that you’ve tried at NEIA?

At NEIA, I learned how to play tennis, and now it is honestly my favorite sport. I am so excited to learn more about it and keep playing.


Q What have you worked on at NEIA that you are most proud of at NEIA?

Starting the Student House Leader program in East House. At my old school, I never really went up to teachers and staff because I didn’t feel comfortable, but I was able to go to the East House Staff and talk with them about changes we wanted to see, and it happened!

Q In what ways do you feel belonging at NEIA?

I feel belonging because there is no social hierarchy, nothing is a contest, and we are all just here together as a community. We’re encouraged to be a part of anything we want without fear of judgement. We naturally empower each other.

Q What has been your favorite meal that Chef Mike has prepared at NEIA, and why?

Definitely make your own tacos. The blondies we had for dessert that day were also awesome!

Q What is something new that you’ve tried at NEIA?

I’ve never had the chance to lead a club, but here, I can — The Media Club. At NEIA, I love how it doesn’t matter who the oldest or most experienced is. We all have a chance to lead something and make it our own. For me, as a leader and a member of Upper School, I even have the chance to be a positive influence, and I am very grateful for that.

Find Your Voice

By John Camp

Innovators focused their Humanities studies on voice! Following the study of the U.S. Constitution, the 7/8 grade cohort had their say in the topics chosen for the larger debate. After a class vote, their work will focus on students’ rights, particularly regarding privacy. The Upper School innovators in grade 9 learned and studied Nipmuc and Indigenous peoples’ material. They witnessed the power of sharing stories by watching a video presentation of Larry Spotted Crow Mann, an internationally acclaimed Nimpuc author and founder/Co-Director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Massachusetts, divulging history, traditions, and personal experiences. In relation to the “I Connect…” competency, the Innovators utilized their notes from the video to connect to previous learning by writing an assessed “Bite”: 200-250 characters that receive individual, targeted feedback to hone their written voices. After the break, Innovators did a reflection and sharing exercise on their learning from the first 10 weeks of Humanities at NEIA.


As you sink down into your favorite chair at home or at work, do you think about what went into designing it? Probably not. Sitting is something we do every day and while we may not think about what we're sitting on, we do give thought to the way it makes us feel.

By Emma Mattesky

During Innovation Studio, students researched and gave presentations about the history of iconic chair designs, including the influential furniture designers who made them. Students broke into groups and began exploring what goes into making a chair and why it is so important to get it right. They kept this aesthetic context present as we explored ‘functional design’ for their cardboard models. In this exercise, innovators are building prototypes and testing the strength and stability of cardboard as a material.

Continued →

“The methods we used to hold our stool together changed entirely when the ‘slot method’ we initially tried ended up failing,” said Hans Peter, Grade 10. “We had to brainstorm new ideas for how to connect the pieces which led us to create a new method — sewing. We cut the cardboard into very thin strips and used them like thread to sew together our design.”

The stool they create will enable them to test the strengths and weaknesses of their design, iterate on that design, and ideally create a successful end product.


The conversation is flowing!

By Tzuying Tang

Students are using their language skills to chat in small groups about life at NEIA in Spanish. Language comes to life through culture with the study of Spanish festivals and typical phrases used in Spanish-speaking countries. In Mandarin, students are learning the basics with names of fruit, vegetables, and colors. Students connected with NEIA’s sister school, the Wahaha International School in China, to share record mini-lessons and get feedback — they even had an opportunity to meet virtually and share language insights.


Learning ratios through belonging was the highlight of the term for seventh-graders.

By Cassandra Papalilo

They began their math project by reading an article titled, “Food transports Syrian refugees’ imaginations to a place that no longer exists,” to learn about the way food creates a sense of belonging and metaphorically brings someone back to a special place/time of their life. Inspired by this, Innovators determined the food that makes them feel this way and found the corresponding recipe. Recipes ranged from salted caramel brownies to zucchini bread. Innovators used their chosen recipe to study ratios, rates, unit cost, and proportions. The project culminated in baking with Chef Mike to bake brownies, a fan-favorite of our NEIA community.

Power at Play

Energy fuels everything from the cars we drive, to the laptops and electronics we use, and even the homes we live in.

By Tim McCauley

Encouraging students to think critically about energy and its use cases could inform their understanding and help revolutionalize the way we generate and store energy. Innovators were challenged to sustainably generate and store energy by designing their own rubber band-powered cars. Working in pairs, their design would need to meet one of four criteria, namely distance, accuracy, control, or ability to recharge. 

To begin they received axels and two wheels. They designed and 3D printed the additional two wheels in Innovation Studio. The end result meant that no two cars were alike and student ingenuity was on display in more ways than one.

Continued →

“I thought I did a decent job framing up the parameters for this exercise,” said Tim. “The kids were so creative and had such a broad range of ideas that they quickly found loopholes in this project and used each one to their advantage.” 

Tim believes that offering projects like this one provide challenging and creative opportunities to apply learning to real world problems and expects to continue this practice. Transportation is up next!