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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

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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