- Given the approaching July 1 deadline for our Geronimo Gap Year program, we thought it was a good time to dig up some interesting facts about Black Mountain SOLE.
The obvious — we’re a Self-Organized Learning Environment for higher education. We’ve built a community of lifelong learners, co-working entrepreneurs and freelancers, sabbatical seekers, visiting experts, and DIY students. Our culture is exploratory, innovative and passionate, fueled by ongoing events, societies, projects, and workshops that serve to stimulate this vibrant community.
And now for the not-so-obvious —
22 Other Things You Didn’t Know about Black Mountain SOLE
1. The acronym “SOLE” or “Self-Organized Learning Environment” was invented by education researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra. He found that when children are allowed to let their curiosity drive their learning, they CAN and WILL teach themselves nearly anything. He captured this idea of “child-driven learning” in his SOLE toolkit that he presented to the world when he won the $1 million 2013 TED Prize. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, you’re missing out.
2. We’ve built a network of over 100 mentors. Each member in this incredible group has agreed to pair up with our SOLEmates to provide personal 1-to-1 mentoring on their particular area of expertise. From a software engineer on the Google Glass project, to a physiotherapist who has served the US Olympic teams, to Teach for America‘s teacher of the year, the talent, energy, and dedication of our mentors is truly inspirational.
3. Our newest team member Steve Cooperman has been involved in pretty much every conceivable type of educational environment. He’s taught elementary school, middle school (math) and high school (phys ed); coached youth and college basketball; taught an MBA class; developed and implemented corporate training programs; worked at several summer camps, including Not Back to School Camp; and co-founded a community non-profit whose mission was to support passion-driven, self-directed learning.
4. Our campus is owned by the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly which was founded all the way back in 1906. It’s 1,200 acres of temperate rainforest in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the most biodiverse region in North America. More species of plants can be found in the mountains of North Carolina than in any other area of similar size in North America. [source]
5. SOLEmates are welcome to run their own events from our facilities. Whether you’re interested in running a two-hour workshop or a 3-day conference, we’d love to help you execute it at Black Mountain SOLE. Our main facilities include several large break-out rooms and a 700-seat auditorium. Other rooms and buildings on the YMCA campus may be available for booking as well, including extra accommodation rooms for out-of-town guests.
6. One of our founders has asked to remain anonymous. The Mystery Monk was a key visionary in the foundation of Black Mountain SOLE and a generous contributor who has asked to remain anonymous. He’s now pursuing the two things money can’t buy – love and wisdom – as a novice monk in Kolkata, India.
7. We’ve got you covered when you want to be active. SOLEmates have full access to multiple basketball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, archery, mountain biking (3.5-mile trail), an 18-hole disc golf course, climbing walls (indoor and outdoor), high & low ropes courses, an outdoor swimming pool with a 16-foot deep end, a beach volleyball court, and more than 10 miles of hiking trails (including a stunning view from the top of the 4300ft ridge). It’s also possible to take a road bike down the mountain and into town to join a yoga class or grab a cup of coffee.
8. We run our programs from a gorgeous building that is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The historic workspaces include one main large co-working space (desks, printers, couches), two mid-sized break-out rooms with flexible furniture, two smaller break-out rooms (one for quiet working only), and over the next year we’re building a conference room, a video editing studio, and a number of private offices. All of our big rooms have beautiful hardwood floors, cathedral ceilings, and lots of large windows looking out onto the mountains, the rainforest canopy, and the passing streams.
9. Chris Hanna, our Executive Strategist, completed the CPA exam, managed multiple private equity funds through the global financial crisis, and started his own business – all before the age of 30. He was involved with analyzing over $14 billion in transactions including some of the largest commercial real estate mergers/acquisitions in history.
10. We’re located on the same site as the historic Black Mountain College. Before moving to nearby Lake Eden, Black Mountain College (1933-1957) occupied the same buildings at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly that we’re currently using for Black Mountain SOLE. The historic College was formed around the principle of educating “complete” people. It balanced academics, arts, and manual labour within a democratic community where students and faculty were both heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the College. Former members of the college include Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Charles Olsen, and Merce Cunningham.
11. Katie Cleary, our Community Director, has worked with New York Times best-selling author Janet Attwood who wrote The Passion Test. During her three years with Janet, Katie became a certified Passion Test Facilitator, trained in facilitating Byron Katie’s The Work, and gained expertise in group facilitation and individual coaching.
12. The Geronimo Gap Year program uses more than a dozen revolutionary education techniques that visionaries like Ken Robinson have been talking about for years. We’re not just talking the talk – we’re walking the walk by actually implementing the creative and engaging approaches recommended by the experts. From flipping the classroom to maximizing free open-source digital content, you can find more details on our webpage.
13. Dave Dobias, our Executive Director, served as a helicopter rescue swimmer for the US Coast Guard. He’s saved dozens of people with medical emergencies out on the water, chased down drug trafficking boats in the Caribbean, and swam with sharks during rescues and training. At the age of 20 when he first decided to become a rescue swimmer, he could barely pass the basic pool lifeguard swim test. He went on to become the honor graduate of his rescue swimmer class (AST 62-07).
14. We offer room and board at cost price. Our dorm rooms sleep up to two people and have their own private ensuite bathroom with shower. Our meal plans include 1-3 meals per day (the frequency can be custom-tailored to your needs) of nutritious and sustainably-sourced food. We offer both of these services – meals and accommodation – to our participants at cost price, meaning that the actual cost of the room/food is what we charge. More details about our finances can be found in this blog post.
15. All of our Geronimo Gap Year participants are given personal coaching throughout the 9-month program. Each participant is paired with an on-site facilitator whom they work 1-on-1 with to build their personal curriculum, find field-specific mentors. The coaching sessions are tailored to the preferences of the participant and the phase of the program. A typical coaching session lasts from 1-1.5 hours per week, though sessions near the beginning of the Gap Year program may be shorter but more frequent.
16. The vibrant and creative city of Asheville, NC is only a 20-minute drive from our campus. Enjoy delicious food, unique shops, live music, artistic events, entrepreneur exchanges, and spontaneous drum circles, all mixed with the chilled-out mountain vibe and warm Southern hospitality.
17. We have private offices available. For those Cowork, Radical Sabbatical and MOOC Campus SOLEmates who need a quiet place to take a conference call or want the option to close the door whenever they need to, we’re offering a membership package that includes a private office. That way you’re still free to enjoy your work-time amid the other SOLEmates, but with the flexibility of retreating to your office whenever necessary.
18. Jeff Brown, one of our co-founders, founded the chess club at George Mason University. As president, he lead the club to 6 Virginia Collegiate Chess State Championships. The after school chess program he started graduated 100s of students in five years and raised thousands of dollars for chess scholarships for future generations of George Mason students.
19. Our faculty are not here to earn a lucrative paycheck. They’re here because they love seeing people blossom into their full potential, and it shows in their commitment, their energy, their drive, and their unrelenting pursuit of excellence. Money cannot buy people like this. They’re willing to invest their entire beings – emotionally, mentally, and financially – into the success of their students.
20. We’re working towards a totally sustainably-sourced meal plan. This includes locally grown, fair trade / rainforest alliance / food alliance / protected harvest certified, USDA organic, AGA Grassfed, cage-free, pastured-raised, and social responsibility elements such as farms that are cooperatives or have profit-sharing with all employees.
21. Andra Adams, our Geronimo Program Director, was previously a software engineer intern at Google. She worked on mobile GMail for iPhone and Android devices, and shipped code to more than 1 million users.
22. The Geronimo Gap Year curriculum focuses on the “Uncommon Core”. We’re teaching real-world skills in an experiential way. Skills like building your personal brand, finding mentors, giving a great TED-style talk, developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and earning a living doing what you love.
Know something cool about Black Mountain SOLE that we left off the list? Feel free to leave it in the comments!
Don’t forget to apply to the Geronimo Gap Year program by July 1!
- Andra and The Black Mountain SOLE Team