Week 1: Design + Trip to the Lumber Yard!

Week 1: Design + Trip to the Lumber Yard!

Week 1: Design + Trip to the Lumber Yard!

OK, so this actually isn’t week one, but who’s counting? Anyway, welcome to the first weekly update of the Synergy office coffee table build! There’s so much that goes into making a piece of furniture out of wood, and I thought you all might enjoy being part of the journey. I’m going to do my best to keep you in the loop, and give you a little background on how this comes together, without revealing the final product too soon — hopefully! Forget what that book Jess is making us read says: In this instance, I think a big reveal is perfectly OK! And yes, there will likely be plenty of typos!


The idea for this table actually came pretty quickly, usually helped by a series of lunchtime walks. I told Jess pretty early on that I thought something more organic would be nice, but I can’t say why I felt that way. But she seemed open to that and so there I went. So in going with that direction, I found little things during my walks that stood out to me. One thing was an image inside this store. It ended up not being the direction I went in, but it helped spark the evolution of the idea.

I knew that the evolved idea from the store was the way I wanted to go, but I was still looking for ways to make this piece special. One of the things I tend to back and forth on is how far to take somehting for it to be unique and different, but there is also a comofort in the familiar, and often reasons why certian things are re-used in furntiure. Because they work from a design standpoint, and a structural standpoint.  When you go off on your own, you don’t have as many references on how to make your cool unique idea actually structrually sound and buildable. I guess there is fear in the unknown, but also excitement. For this project, I’m chosing to push myself into uncomfortable territory. I dont’ know if the piece will ultimately be successful, but at least I’m giving it a shot. Better to try and fail I guess?


The next little twist on this idea actually came while I was in church. Yes, this is my church and the direction I was looking in at that time. But no, it wasn’t a spiritual moment, and I’m not intending this blog to have any religious tones. Quite honestly, it’s just where I thought of something while I was supposed to be listening to the homily. Or maybe this is just what I was supposed to hear at that time. In either case, I was excited because it was an idea that I’ve never come across before and something that will make this piece extra special and meaningful. You’ll see what I mean someday, if it actually works in testing.  🙂

Trip to Owl Lumber!

This is where I get the majority of my wood for most of my projects. The have all kinds of wood from A to Z, but the walnut aisle is my go to. I’ve traveled to Wisconsin for larger pieces, b/c it’s cheaper, but this is just way more convenient and time-saving. I’ve been going here for years, but I still get kinda stressed out every time I go. You make all these drawings in advance and try and plan how to makimize your lumber so you’re not over-buying, but then once you’re in there, each board presents a new challenge, and so you just kinda end up winging it. As projects go, this one was less stressful than most. They say to buy 20-30% more than you will need, because of waste, bad spots or knots, or mistakes, etc. I think that’s about right. But when one piece of walnut that is 12″ x 12″ x 3/4″ deep is $10, I try and be careful. To put that in perspective, my coffee table at home cost about $350, just for the wood, and that was in Wisconsin. It would have been around $500 here at Owl lumber. That might not seem like that much, but that’s just for the wood. No time, or other materials, machines, etc. This is why I will always keep my day job  🙂

Some shots of the interior, along with my favorite walnut aisle 🙂

It took me a little over 2 hours to find all the pieces I wanted for this project. I was careful in selecting pieces that had the grain that I wanted, because it will have to do with the concept of this piece. But it can be frustrating because many of the pieces of wood are warped or twisted, which makes it harder to square up and use. So I found the best pieces that give me a head start on that. Then I’ll take them home and let them acclimate to my garage. This is an important step, because the humidity in my garage is different than the lumber yard, and if I started working with it right away without giving it a chance to acclimate to it’s surroundings, it will begin to warp after I’ve squared up all the pieces. I learned this the hard way many years ago. So this last shot is the wood stacked vertically in my garage, with air in between each board to allow for proper acclimatization. And by the way, all of this wood has been Kiln dried, like in an oven, to reduce the moisture content. Ideally you want it less than 10% moisture before you start working with it. I have a moisture meter that reads the level, so I know ahead of time.

Ok that’s all for this week! Stay tuned for more. Next steps are refining the design in Illustrator, deciding on how to construct the legs, then building a scale model at 1/3 size!

Before the Point of No Return

Before the Point of No Return

Before the Point of No Return

Keep your college freshmen coming back for more.

According to The Chronical of Higher Education, as many as one third of your freshman class is likely to disappear before their sophomore year. That’s a third too many at a time when enrollments are on the decline and costs are on the rise. Efforts to help with the transition to college and retain students have been going on since the 1970s. To make a real difference today, it takes a number of different approaches executed with a sense of urgency.

Rethink the first-year experience

“While institutions may have once relied on a single program to promote first-year success—a seminar, say, or an orientation—they’re now stitching together multiple solutions”, says Suzanne Walsh, deputy director for postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is financing a project in which 44 regional state colleges are redesigning the first-year experience.

In an effort to see things from the students’ perspectives, admissions officers are taking a close look at common concerns, which may prevent a student from returning. Often, it’s a combination of financial stress, unrealistic expectations, or falling behind due to not being prepared for college-level work. Many students need to work long hours to cover tuition. Others experience a family crisis or simply just don’t feel like they fit in. With the right integrated approach, you can offer the right blend of financial, educational and emotional support to help struggling students before they reach the point of no return.

One approach is to replace traditional freshman orientations with a broader, more inclusive experience. You can still cover all the basics such as course registration, placement exams and meetings with academic advisers. The difference is you would also add in community-building, mental health, diversity and social justice.  Many colleges offer sessions for family members as well. It’s an approach that takes a holistic view of who and what matters most to students. One that helps them stay connected and move forward with confidence and support.

Fight failure rates

“In past decades, institutions had the luxury to take a ‘fail all you want, there will be more’ approach” to their students, says Drew Koch, president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Many colleges “measured prestige by the percentage of students they flunked out,” says Betsy O. Barefoot, a senior scholar there. Those days are long gone.

With growing financial and political pressures, policy makers no longer tolerate high failure rates. And of course it’s more cost-effective to retain the students you have. Just in case you need another financial incentive, both colleges and students are able to keep the federal aid they receive if a student stays at least 60 percent of the term. Under the Republican plan to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, colleges would have to return all the money for students who withdrew in the first quarter of the term, and at least a portion of the money if they left at any time during the semester.

Build community

It may sound like a simple solution, but creating a feeling of belonging and support makes students want to come back for more. Often first-generation, minority students struggle to connect and have feelings of self-doubt. There’s no need to wait until they arrive on campus. The earlier you start the process of building community the better. A good example of this is at the University of Texas at Austin where an online pre-orientation session includes messages from current students about how they overcame doubts during their first year.

The simple truth is students are less likely to fear failure when they feel like someone has their back.

University of Rhode Island Assistant professor, Bryan Dewsbury, places a trash can at the front of his lecture hall on the first day of class and asks students shoot a basket from where they are seated. The point of the exercise is to show that students are all starting from different points and some will struggle more than others. Helping students see their own potential to overcome self-doubt helps to fuel their drive to continue.

Level the playing field

Typically, freshman “gateway courses” are high enrollment, lecture-heavy courses designed to weed out students who can’t keep up. The problem is that a majority of students who fail out are minorities and low-income students, who also happen to make up a growing share of the undergrad population. It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, some schools have adjusted their gateway courses to allow struggling students to seek the materials and support they need. It’s a simple change in mindset that goes from weeding out the herd to working together to help everyone do better.

Send in the peers

Another approach is to supplement instruction for challenging courses with peer coaches. By leading regularly scheduled study sessions, students who previously excelled at the course can help struggling students review the material, discuss readings and learn study skills.

Studies affirm that studentswho take advantage of this type of supplemental instruction are much less likely to fail or withdraw from high-risk courses than those who don’t. Their final grades are higher, too. What makes it great is also its greatest drawback in that it is completely voluntary. It makes sense that the more motivated students who use it also end up doing well and staying in school. Bringing peer coaches into the classroom is a good alternative for students who may be having trouble committing to sessions outside of regular classtime.

See the warning signs

 Trying to predict student success isn’t new. Professors have been sharing students’ midterm grades with academic advisers for decades.More sophisticated early-alert systems technology has made tracking students much easier and more sophisticated.

The result is an environment that is more proactive than reactive.

Often called “student success coaches”, advisors now dig deeper to learn about coursework but also about the student’s social and emotional well-being. Meeting with students in coffee shops, libraries or student centers offers the flexibility and support students need to succeed.

Mind the gap

Heading straight to college after high school isn’t always the best plan. Whether students are feeling burned out or simply want a break, a gap year after high school offers time for personal growth that often leads to a more successful transition to college. Taking a year to travel and search inwardly helps students start fresh with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.

Knowing this, many college admissions officers are allowing accepted students to defer their admission for up to one year. Others are offering service-oriented gap-year programs for incoming students—often with academic credit for service learning, internships, study abroad, and more.Based on the results, it has a positive impact on the entire student body and the campus culture, making it a win-win for everyone.

Give it your all

Clearly, this isn’t a one-and-done solution. The key to first-year retention success is to support students from all sides. Start by rethinking freshman orientation, which begins before students even set foot on campus. From there, continue to be aware of the progress students are making academically and emotionally. Not all students are ready or willing to take advantage of the support you have to offer. All you can do is make support relevant, accessible, comprehensive and collaborative. When done successfully, the community you build will provide a safe and inspiring place to make their degrees, and futures, a reality.

Share:< PREVIOUS   |   ALL   |   NEXT >




Synergy is honored to be engaged to create the identity for Lori Lightfoot’s campaign for mayor of Chicago 2019. After meeting with Lori and her team, we began the process of creating a platform that captures the passion and progressive leadership she brings to the race. Inspired by a beacon of light, the logo we created reflects her ability to shine a light on the issues facing Chicago.

Making history
Lori Lightfoot is one of nine candidates who have declared they will run against incumbent Rahm Emanuel.  If elected, she would be the first African-American woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor, and the first openly LGBT mayor of an American city with more than two million residents.

“In order for Chicago to remain a world-class city, we need to create a new path. A path in which fairness and inclusion are our guiding principles. As our mayor, I will respect the experiences of all Chicagoans and ensure our city government works to uplift the quality of life for everyone.”
—Lori E. Lightfoot

Overcoming obstacles
Lori Lightfoot’s values were shaped as a young woman. Her parents overcame obstacles and worked multiple jobs to provide for their children. She learned the value of education and hard work and paid her own way through college. Lori later became a federal prosecutor and the first African American woman to serve as President of the Chicago Police Board, where she has been a forceful advocate for bringing accountability to the police department, working to rebuild trust between officers and the communities they serve.

Fierce for change
Impossible to ignore at 5’1”, her stance remains fierce and forward thinking as she focuses on changing the us vs. them way of thinking. Lori believes that Chicago cannot reach its true potential until all of its residents have access to opportunity, so she will make equity and inclusion the cornerstones of her governing philosophy and policy-making. Her campaign will build a coalition to unite progressives, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color seeking criminal justice reform and safe neighborhoods, good government reformers and public education advocates.

To learn more about Lori’s vision for Chicago, check out lightfootforchicago.com. And be sure to check out the Lori Lightfoot feature in this month’s Marie Claire.

Share:< PREVIOUS   |   ALL   |   NEXT >

REAL OR FAKE? Why critical thinking is so critical.

REAL OR FAKE? Why critical thinking is so critical.

REAL OR FAKE? Why critical thinking is so critical.

There’s fact and there’s fiction. And sometimes there’s a bit of both.

With the constant influx of blogs, anecdotal evidence, sponsored content, political spin, clickbait, old stories packaged as new and peer-reviewed articles, being able to distinguish between actual news and propaganda is kind of a big deal.  Well, it is if you care about reliable sources.

As recent headlines have shown, the difference between what’s true and what’s not isn’t always easy to spot. While misinformation is not anything new, it now travels farther, faster. With social media, a news story has greater reach and power than the days of email alone.

The fact is, not all misinformation being shared online is complete fiction. Sources such as snopes.com have been exposing whole and partial untruths since the mid 1990s. Their focus is on debunking fabricated viral messages, distortions containing bits of truth and everything in between.

Thinking critically isn’t just an issue for students. It affects all of us from the moment we reach for our ipad, smartphone or other news delivery device, to when we power down for the day. You can’t control all the news that is out there but you can control how your students evaluate it. Recent studies have shown that most high school and college students are unaware that not all links are created equally. That’s a real problem.

Most college students are unable to distinguish real from fake information when evaluating online sources.”

Recent study from Stanford History Education Group

As a marketer, it’s good to remember that the internet and social media age we live in is still a relatively new development in the whole scheme of things. You can start by taking a critical look at how you are marketing to students. Because if you’re not walking the talk when it comes to critical thinking, how can you expect your students to do the same?

There’s an opportunity to turn the negativity of fake news into a chance to step up and become the university that teaches students to think critically. And that starts with you.



Who are you actually talking to? Your audience continues to change and your marketing approach should, too. To stay real and relevant you need to make sure that the right people are fully engaged with what you are saying.

That means keeping your research and insights about your prospective students current and accurate. It’s easy to go with what you know year after year, however, serving up the same ideas may no longer make the same impact it once did.

Take time out to take a step back. Think about the message you intended to send and how it is actually coming across to your prospective and current students.



As an institution that helps prepare critically thinking world citizens, you need to take a critical look at how you communicate, starting with how your university treats news.

Are you clear and consistent about the claims you make in your advertising?

  • Can it be sourced? As you know, not all links are created equally so it’s a good idea to think before you add that link.
  • Is it current? Repackaging old news as new is easy for students to see through.
  • Are you conveying the right meaning? Be sure the words you are using are accurate and the meaning is clear.

Are you offering thought leadership to the media?

  • You have experts on campus. Make sure their voices are heard.
  • Consider bringing in fresh points of view and critical thinking advocates to garner unpaid media to boost your institutions profile as a school that teaches and practices the art of thinking critically.

Are you leveraging the importance of critical thinking in your admissions marketing?

  • Never assume that all colleges teach critical thinking.
  • If critical thinking is a strength, use it to your advantage.
  • If you want to stand out it’s time to take a stand as a trustworthy place for students to come and learn about themselves and the world.



By definition, authentic describes something that is not false, genuine and real. Its origins are supported by unquestionable evidence and verified to be true. Something that is authentic also represents one’s true nature or beliefs. If your messages, promises, outcomes and job outlooks convey authenticity, you’re off to a good start.

The good news is that authenticity is tough to fake. Keep your marketing real and relevant and your students will see and feel the difference.

Stay strong and hold true to these standards as a university and the news you deliver and the communications you create will not only feel real, they will be.



Many of today’s students are not in the habit of questioning a news source. However, once aware they become very good at knowing what to look for.

As marketers, we may have gotten out of the habit of questioning our sources and messages. But the more we practice critical thinking the more it will become a natural part of the process.

Now is the time to invest in programs and resources that serve as guardians for civic literacy. The more you adapt courses, programs, processes, environments, and initiatives to meet the needs of this next cohort of students the more you will stay relevant to students.

True story.


< PREVIOUS   |   ALL   |   NEXT >

We’ve All Got Issues. Gen Z is here to do something about it.

We’ve All Got Issues. Gen Z is here to do something about it.

We’ve All Got Issues. Gen Z is here to do something about it.

Universities are supposed to be a safe haven for discourse and self-expression. It’s like totally your time to speak your mind. But is that ability to safely self express still true today? What value does your campus place on advocacy and debate?

Taking a look at the social issues facing the incoming generation of students, and checking them against the values of your institution can illuminate some important marketing points.

Keep in mind that Gen Z is inspired by all things altruistic. Studies indicate they care way more about how issues impact the collective community than how they affect them personally.

This is a generation that practices what it preaches, and demands the same from the brands it aligns with. From the college they attend to the handbags, headphones, crop tops and Converse they buy, incoming students want transparency and a brand they can believe in. If your school walks the walk, and is a space that nurtures open debate and demanding better—then be sure to promote it in your enrollment messaging.

Gen Z not only challenges how brands communicate, it challenges the very notion of a brand’s authenticity and transparency.

— “Welcome to the Gen Z Challenge,” Ad Age, December 27, 2016

If it’s forced, forget about it.

Tip: Check yourself. Are the images you use authentic? False or forced diversity is not an answer. Be real, be aware and continue to work to revisit your marketing language to filter out any unintentional prejudice.

With constant access to world issues, Gen Z doesn’t just know about them, they want to do something about them and have the tools to do so. Describing themselves as loyal, thoughtful, compassionate, open-minded and responsible, Gen Z students are equipped with maturity, focus and compassion for others. With a mix of traditional and non-conformist values and behaviors, this generation is ready to make a difference.

Here are just a few of the issues that matter most to them now.

Human rights done right.

Socially liberal to moderate, Gen Z grew up with equality and have come to expect it at home and at work. Gen Z is about coming together globally and seeing diversity as an essential part of collaborating to solve the world’s problems, share different perspectives and strengthen society. For Gen Z, social equality is non-negotiable and education is the gateway.

Defying sexual discrimination.

When it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, gay rights today are very different than a decade ago. Gen Z may not be aware of prior discrimination issues but they do know about the debate over same-sex marriage, and will likely help shape future policies involving adoption, workplace protection and antidiscrimination rights in the future.

Tip: How are your campus LGBTQ support resources? Housing options? Peer networks and communities? Consider the inclusive options you have and don’t neglect to communicate about them.


This generation is writing new rules that favor liberal viewpoints on things like race, gender, identity and sexuality. Socially and technologically empowered, they are arriving on the scene at a crucial moment in history.

— “Gen Z Is On The Rise, Here Is What You Need To Know,” Forbes, Jan 4, 2017

Feeling the impact.

Studies show, being environmentally minded was already tied to higher education when Millennials were stepping onto campus. Gen Z will be forced to feel the impact of environmental choices made by previous generations and their own. The good news they seem ready for the challenges ahead with a positive perspective about changes that can and need to be made.

Living up to expectations.

Gen Z holds itself to a higher standard and expects the same from you. They want you to stand for something whether it’s equality, environment or human rights. Here are some things to think about as you try to connect with Gen Z.

  • Does advocacy have a place in your messaging? If your institutional culture is one that nourishes engagement with causes – consider which issues you can highlight. This is less about taking sides, and more about sending the message that your campus is a place to build your own personal voice – and that the expression of it is welcomed and encouraged.
  • Is the mission of your institution rooted in a cause? The history of your university may seem like old news to you. But the roots of your school’s founding can also tell a story about change advocacy or breaking convention. If altruism is in your school’s DNA, and remains true, Gen Z wants to know about it. The simple act of sharing it may inspire others to follow and forge their own altruistic path.
  • What does your university stand for? Students don’t expect you to stand for everything, but they do expect you stand for something. If you try to fake it, they’ll see right through it and you’ve lost them, most likely for good. Not good. Keep it real, and keep it focused on what makes sense for your campus and students. You can start small or highlight what you’re already doing and go from there. And be sure to a provide some way for students to express what they believe in.
  • What students and alumni do you choose to feature? Is advocacy part of how you define success? If so, you should promote students and alumni who are currently or have gone on to make a difference. Share their stories and let it be known that advocacy matters to your university. By featuring personal stories you’ll show what you stand for and how the altruistic environment inspires students to express themselves and make a difference.

Above all else, stay true to what you stand for and be authentic and transparent as you communicate who you are as an institution. You’ll not only build trust but you’ll connect with the right students in the right way. When it comes to altruism and authenticity, Gen Z doesn’t just want it, it demands it. Just keep it real and it won’t be an issue. Because ready or not, here they come.


< PREVIOUS   |   ALL   |   NEXT >

Send this to a friend
Hi, this may be interesting you: We’ve All Got Issues. Gen Z is here to do something about it.! This is the link: https://synergycreative.net/weve_all-got-issues/