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Alumni Profiles

Matt Robertson: "The Five Pillars of Personal Transformation"

matt robertson

What was the central problem that you wanted to address through interdisciplinary studies? 

Through study in Writing, Peace Studies & Religious Studies, I focused on how we can transform pain and dissatisfaction into deeper purpose, understanding, and happiness. 

How did the balance of the head, heart, and hands play out in your major?

My Religious Studies work was “the head,” as personal transformation/philosophy/theology is my main intellectual curiosity. Peace Studies represented “the hands” as pragmatic skills of working with people and communities. Writing was “the heart”—as poetry performance seems to be the natural expression of my most deeply held passions. 

What role did diversity, community engagement, and research play?

Diversity helped me glean the universal aspects of personal transformation into the five pillars of my thesis. Community engagement is the fourth pillar in my thesis. As I came to Naropa University to follow my own path of transformation, I learned things I never would have known about myself. I have a deeper sense of purpose and clarity of vision for what’s next because of engaging with the Naropa community. Open-mics, student government, community events, and extra-curricular interactions with friends all contributed—as a kind of “informal research.”

Why did you choose to study at Naropa University?

I came to Naropa so that I wouldn’t have to compromise my passion and integrity to get a college degree. After losing my father in a drowning incident when I was fifteen, I didn’t know how to heal, which I needed to do before I could focus on any kind of work in the world. I came to Naropa University to heal, to explore, and to get support in recognizing that the journey of personal transformation is worth taking on.

What was the most valuable aspect of your Naropa education? 

The opportunity to practice my authenticity—to let my voice be heard and to tell my truth. I was perpetually disappointed and left wondering how I could be authentic (be “me!”), until I came to Naropa University. Now, I feel empowered to create the change that’s needed in our world.

How are you making a positive difference in the world?

I am grateful as an admissions counselor to introduce people to Naropa University and help them through the admissions process. I’m continuing to write and perform my spoken work pieces, which will soon live on a website I am creating called “The Spoken Now.” I am co-founding a record label this summer to encourage other local, young artists to produce their own creative work, and becoming more involved in the Authentic Leadership Center. Eventually I plan on writing a book that includes my thesis work, targeted at young people coming of age between 16–20. 

How did your Naropa education prepare you to be a leader/artist/activist?

Naropa empowered me to step into my own natural capacities, and helped me expand these capacities and envision how I could translate them into real work. Sharing vulnerability, reframing challenge as opportunity and cultivating the courage to face my most deeply held fears with curiosity and compassion were huge facets. Naropa is an initiation into a new way of being in the world, as opposed to just a means to another end.

Michaela Hollo

Micky HolloWhat was the central problem that you wanted to address through interdisciplinary studies? Please share what areas of study you brought together.

My three focus areas were Early Childhood Education, Studio Art, and Contemplative Psychology. The overarching concept I wanted to address was the lack of interest and focus on creative expression in the modern world. By introducing many forms of creativity to children at a young age, we can give them the opportunity to uncover their unique gift, something they can cultivate for the rest of their lives. Eventually, the purpose of my thesis became a chance to explore the will and need for art as a call to wake up to the world, using the child as the key to understanding this will.

How did the balance of the head, heart, and hands play out in your major?

This is a hard one for me to put into words, because it all came pretty naturally for me. I guess the most literal way to look at it was the way I displayed my senior work. My head: my thesis, putting together something sensible and well researched, so it made sense to others. My hands: my senior art show and sharing my artwork for the first time; and my heart: really sharing myself in the whole process, making connections, and experiencing an enormous amount of personal growth. 

What role did diversity, community engagement, and research play?

Community engagement played a major role in my thesis process. In my classes, we were able to learn a lot from one another, especially being at a school with diverse students with all kinds of different life experiences. I really enjoyed my time volunteering with other students at various schools around Boulder and connecting with the community together. It created a bond between the students and the community around us, which is not always the case at a university.

Why did you choose to study at Naropa University? 

My path to Naropa was a bit of a long and winding one. I moved to Boulder to attend Colorado University, mostly to be in the mountains and around more like-minded people (I grew up in Texas). During my sophomore year, I started dealing with pretty severe autoimmune issues, which totally changed my life and focus. I met several people who went to Naropa all at once, and I started dating someone who came from a Buddhist family. I guess I started looking for something deeper, and Naropa was the obvious answer. I was also very drawn to the Interdisciplinary Program. I had previously been an art major, but this didn’t feel complete. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it.  The INTD Program gave me the chance to combine everything I wanted to do into a major that made sense and could be the beginning of a career.   

What was the most valuable aspect of your Naropa education? 

The most valuable aspect of my Naropa education did not really have to do with school at all. It had to do with learning to cultivate the self with growth, change, and community. After the Boulder flood in 2013 and during the completion of my thesis, I got sick again. Since graduating, I have had to let everything else go and focus entirely on my health, both mental and physical. I don’t know if I would have survived it and understood the purpose of it if it wasn’t for what I learned at Naropa. 

How are you making a positive difference in the world?

As I mentioned above, I have had to take a step back from my plans for the future and focus on myself first. As I learned at Naropa, we have to cultivate the self first, so that we can help others. I am building my strength and gathering information about the world and my experiences, so I can have a strong foundation to stand on and share with others in the future.  

How did your Naropa education prepare you to be a leader/artist/activist?

The first step in becoming a leader was overcoming my fear of large groups and public speaking in a supportive and caring environment. Naropa gave me the chance to cultivate the strength and confidence in myself to be able to lead comfortably. Naropa’s Studio Art Program helped teach me how to be a healthy artist and completely evolved my artistic practice. My art has completely changed, as has my relationship to it, and letting go of my emotional hold has allowed other people to connect with my work as well (which is really the whole point). I suppose becoming an activist is the next step. Using the new tools I have gained as an artist and leader (both of which are still in process), I can become an activist in the world. I am not sure exactly where this will lead me, but I know it will involve children, art, and education.

Nathan SnyderNathan Snyder: “The Power in Questioning Yourself”

What was the central problem that you wanted to address? 

For me, the central problem was twofold. The first part is based in my belief that the complexity of “work” continues to increase in the advent of huge technological booms, and because of increasingly volatile market conditions. That belief and my observations posed a problem I wanted to address: How do we design organizations to address 21st century challenges? I was really looking at this relationship between how humans—adults, specifically—develop cognitively through their careers, and how that impacts the way we currently design organizations, or think about organization design, and how we should think about organization design in the future.

Second, there continues to be a problem with individuals’ ability to find real fulfillment in their work. I think that one of the things that leads an individual to that lack of fulfillment with their jobs is that there’s a mis-match between the sort of task work that they‘re required to perform at every day, and their life tasks–the bigger, deeper reason and sense of purpose that they have in our world. And that second problem is becoming increasingly evident because of the way organizations are designed today, and because of the type of challenges those organizations face to survive and continue to innovate.

How did the balance of head, heart & hands play into your INTD major? 

To begin with, I was encouraged to do research and learn research techniques to understand cognitive development in adults. So I would say Naropa’s curriculum, and being in an interdisciplinary program at Naropa, gave me a strong foundation to go out and do extracurricular activities. Whether I was inside or outside of the Naropa program—currently enrolled or not enrolled—I always had a foundation that I referenced. I really feel that having taken a learning, focused approach to designing my work and my career was really important – there’s a needed a skillset to do that, and Naropa really helped me to cultivate that skillset because of the flexibility that the INTD program provided, along with the support of my Naropa professors there. This is primarily where the “Hands” aspect of Naropa played out for me—getting my hands into it, directly.

I was also encouraged to practice meditation, which I think, in my current life today, is still really important, and significant. My practice of meditation has helped to teach me reflective skills (though I think I originally pursued it for different reasons). So as I’m dealing with my work – and “work” – I’ve found that the skills I learned in meditation practice I can easily apply in my workplace. All of this is where the “Head” aspect came in.

As far as “Heart” – I think Naropa’s culture specifically really encourages deep listening to one another, and it also encourages a sense of the importance of being able to be naïve — and this is a positive thing to me, in many circumstances — the way that I’m using naivete to ask original questions. Like the Buddhist principle of “Beginner’s Mind.” Because, for me, it takes a real sense of empathy, and vulnerability to approach problems and people and situations from that place. Being among the body of students at Naropa, supported my ability to learn in that way, so I think that was a big piece of how Naropa supported my heart.

What role did diversity, community engagement, and research play?

At Naropa we learn how to dialogue and discourse with one another in a disciplinary studies spirit, and I can’t tell you how much I use that – all the time. It’s the primary reason that I’m capable of doing what I do now – because I understand these group dynamics, and I understand how to approach facilitating and being a part of conversations that have many, many angles of perception to them. Being in the interdisciplinary studies program specifically, and having those discussions all the time, taught me how to synthesize those ideas, to simplify them, and to cogently present them back to the group. So that is a very rich skill set that I notice that many of my other friends that went to more science- or math-based institutions don’t have as much—they weren’t trained in discourse as distinctly as we were, so that’s a huge piece of what Naropa community and diversity offered me.

Why did you choose to study at Naropa University?

I was at a conference, maybe 13 or 14, and I was asked by one of the presenters what I wanted to do with my life. I said I wanted to help people, I wanted to improve the way that we live in the world, to help make it better, and they recommended Naropa. That was huge - once I found out about it, I really never considered going to another university - there was no other school that I could find that would give me the tools I needed to do what I wanted.

I really wanted to understand my mind, get to know my mind and how it works, and to understand the nature of the mind. That was a very specific reason that I came to Naropa. I wanted to do that only through meditation at first, and what I found through investigating myself was that I wanted to understand how the mind grows and structures knowledge – its own epistemology. So that was the introduction for me into studying adult cognitive development and socio-emotional development, which is then what I’ve used to understand big organizational environments. It’s been a natural progression from Naropa’s kind of first-person investigation approach, all the way through understanding giant, complex organizations.

What was the most valuable aspect of your Naropa education?                

Naropa allowed me to ask questions like “What is this Human life that I’ve inherited, and how does it unfold?” “What does it want from me, and what do I want from it?” Naropa allowed me, and really taught me from the very start, how to ask those foundational, fundamental questions. It’s removed so many obstacles that I still see people of all ages really struggling with, because they were never presented with the opportunity or freedom to ask those foundational questions about their identity – or what it truly is to be a human body-mind. And, because Naropa structures all of its knowledge and teaching from those original sets of questions, the trajectory of my life has a springboard - it’s taken a very empowered direction.

How are you making a positive difference in the world?

As I said, I was specifically looking at the original problems I wanted to address from the perspectives of employees operating and controlling increasingly complex organizations. I now work directly with organizations to help address both the increasing complexity and to add opportunities for greater fulfillment. Employees, leaders need to coordinate complexity, and then they need to be able to problem solve effectively and make effective decisions. This puts a lot of pressure on them as individuals. I work on systems to help equip these employees to function - and function well - in these increasingly complex organizations.

For instance, I worked in Asia for a year – part of the founding team for an organization based there – and I found myself applying the same questions I had generated through the interdisciplinary lens into work. I still do that nearly every day, asking the same or similar fundamental questions I learned to ask at Naropa. 

How did your Naropa education prepare you to be a leader/ artist/ activist?

Naropa’s open curriculum, and its support of my circuitous route through all of it, was really valuable for me. Allowing me to design a lot of my own courses, and then bring them back into an interdisciplinary studies major, taught me how to design my own learning experiences. I can now design classes and systems for myself and other people because I went through that process so many times.

In designing my independent studies, for example, every semester I went through a process of setting out a curriculum for myself, doing research—actually accomplishing the research, and reading a lot of texts—I had to set all of that up. That was extremely valuable to me—learning how to set up a 15-week learning sequence to answer specific questions that you don’t have answers for, that was AWESOME. I loved that!