Entrepreneur Spotlight: Gaelen Fechner ‘95

I hope you enjoy this interview written by current student Andrew Ayala with seasoned Pacific Northwest surfer and entrepreneur Gaelen Fechner 95’ as he shares his Evergreen experience and gives some advice to future Greeners. -Katherine

Gaelen Fechner ‘95 lives by the philosophy, “Do what you love.” Gaelen discovered his passion for surfing by age 9 and now lives in Olympia doing exactly what he loves: surfing and shaping surfboards for his company Machine Surfboards. Gaelen also runs the newly opened Fleurae Floral with his business partner, best friend, and love of his life Carissa Rose Dickson. We had the pleasure of meeting with Gaelen to talk about how Evergreen has influenced his life.

Author Andrew Ayala with his new Machine Surfboard.

Author Andrew Ayala with his new Machine Surfboard.

Andrew: Think back to Gaelen before college. What were you expecting from Evergreen and what were you planning on doing with your life at that point?

Gaelen: Well, I knew from the very beginning I was going to go to Evergreen, no doubt in my mind. My parents were not the conventional type, they always encouraged me to question everything and to think on a deeper level… to never just accept something for what it is. I didn’t even apply to other colleges. When my parents found out I got into Evergreen they were so excited. I knew exactly what to expect from Evergreen, I knew about the open curriculum and the small classes and my family and I just knew it was a perfect fit. When I went to Evergreen I had no idea what I wanted to do so I just went in with an open mind.

Gaelen Fechner enjoying the sunset after a long day of surfing.

Gaelen Fechner enjoying the sunset after a long day of surfing.

Andrew: How did Evergreen shape you as a person, and how did it prepare you to be an entrepreneur?

Gaelen: Evergreen gave me a model for life, and that model was “learn how to learn.”  Evergreen’s open curriculum also taught me how to adapt to life’s changes. While I was at Evergreen I also learned to take risks. How is anybody going to change anything or make things happen without taking risks?

Andrew: Evergreen has a reputation for encouraging cooperation rather than competition. What did you get out of that?

Gaelen: Well, I learned how to communicate and make connections with people. How can you not when you’re in a classroom that only has twenty to forty people in it? This classroom setting really allowed us to learn and exchange knowledge because at the end of the day, we are all different people with different backgrounds and we all have so much to teach each other. Everybody’s insight is valuable.

Another thing is being an artist. The adventure that art can take you on is amazing, you learn about yourself and you get in your zone… but you are by yourself a lot. So the question arises, how do you connect with people and get your art out there? Well, artists depend on each other and on the community to get their work out, and being able to communicate is very important.

Gaelen’s wife Carrisa Rose Dickson(on left) and business partner Iana Marie Franks(right) displaying their flowers for the first time ever outside Filling Station Espresso.

Gaelen’s wife Carrisa Rose Dickson(on left) and business partner Iana Marie Franks(right) displaying their flowers for the first time ever outside Filling Station Espresso.

Andrew: What were you known for around campus?

Gaelen: Oh the surfer kid definitely! I used to pick classes that started later so I could go surf before class. I remember rushing to class tired and cold. It was great to go to school, do my work, and still be able to do what I love.

Andrew: What was your favorite program?

Gaelen: The Mythic Image, I think it was Gordon Beck that taught that one. We traveled through time and explored Greek mythology and other literature.  It was the hardest, but the most rewarding.

Gaelen's workshop covered in snow.

Gaelen’s workshop covered in snow.

Andrew: Is there anybody from Evergreen you would like to thank, anybody that had a profound impact on you?

Gaelen: I would like to thank Mark Papworth. He was a crazy-brilliant human being. He worked on the Evergreen Task Force that helped find the Green River Killer. He was just a body of experience and knowledge. He was also a great storyteller, one of my favorites to listen to. When I started studying surfboard design he was my sponsor and support. Even though it wasn’t in his expertise, he gave me advice and guided me through it.

Gaelen Fencher displaying one of his works of art.

Gaelen Fencher displaying one of his works of art.





Andrew: Any advice for future Greeners?

Gaelen: Well I recently met a girl that is going to Evergreen and she said she had no idea if she was doing well or on the right track because she had no grades to look at.

I just asked her, “Are you excited about what you’re doing; are you passionate about your work?”

A grade is just a number.

Evergreen is a place where people look at you as a human being. Your skills and talents are appreciated. Go with it, create your own adventure.

Written by Andrew Ayala


New York-based alumna Cathy De La Cruz ’03 shares her thoughts on Evergreen and independent study

Last month, alumna Cathy De La Cruz ’03 appeared on the Actor Hack Podcast. She shared her first impressions of moving to Olympia to attend Evergreen and the challenges (and benefits) of pursuing independent study. She was gracious enough to write an introduction, and you can listen to the full interview here.

Cathy De La Cruz

Before arriving in my dorm room as an 18-year-old freshman in 1999, I had never even been to the state of Washington. I had grown up in in San Antonio, Texas and had only been on an airplane once, my junior year of high school, to visit some family in Missouri. I wasn’t culturally shocked by The Evergreen State College and Olympia (though my parents were) because it was exactly what I had been looking for. To say Evergreen and Olympia were polar opposites from my Catholic school upbringing and large but relatively conservative hometown at the time—would be an understatement.

Now as a New Yorker working in publishing and the arts, I was recently interviewed on a local podcast called “Actor Hack” where I mentioned my formative years as an Evergreen college student. Even now, 14 years after graduation, I am truly grateful for the experience. Some of my closest friends also live in New York and graduated from Evergreen. I’m still in touch with my favorite faculty, many of whom are still as supportive of my work now as they were when I was their student. Evergreen is a unique school and in this podcast interview, I tried to give those who don’t know anything about the institution a little background on it.

A fellow Greener told me they appreciated what I said about how the best part of going to Evergreen was that you were actually treated like you were an adult, which also happened to be the worst part since in many ways, I was still a kid. But I wholeheartedly believe that is the magic of Evergreen: the freedom you have there. Maybe I learned more about freedom at Evergreen than I did about anything else, but it took me until now to realize that.

Greeners (past, present and prospective) are always welcome to reach out to me—especially those who want to talk film, writing, feminism, New York and so on. You can find me on Twitter via @SadDiego

Hear Cathy’s complete interview on the Actor Hack Podcast here.

Byron Howard ’90 wins Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film “Zootopia”

Byron Howard '90 (center) accepts Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature with producer Clark Spencer (left) and Co-Director Rich Moore (right)

Byron Howard ’90 (center) accepts the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film with producer Clark Spencer (left) and co-director Rich Moore (right)

Zootopia is a buddy-cop animated feature starring a bunny detective (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) and her fox partner (voiced by Jason Bateman) as they uncover corruption in the metropolitan city of Zootopia. The film addresses prejudice and racism through division among the animal characters, a message that seemed more relevant over the 5 year span of film production. Backstage at the award ceremony co-director and Evergreen graduate Byron Howard commented, 

“The world around us started to explode. Bias and fear mongering were coming into the news daily. Something we hadn’t planned, but made us all the more dedicated to get the message out in the right way.”

Bryon’s 22-year career with Disney includes directing credits for Bolt (2008) and Tangled (2010). You can watch the full acceptance speech on the NBC website.

Winter on campus

A light dusting of snow transformed campus into a dreamy snow globe twice in December. Our talented campus photographer Shauna Bittle captured the frosty scene, including the newly remodeled Purce Lecture Hall.

Take a look and share your snowy campus memories in the comments below!

Longhouse collaboration gains national attention

The National Endowment for the Arts featured Evergreen’s Longhouse Education and Cultural Center partnership with the Squaxin Museum in a new book titled, “How to Do Creative Placemaking: An Action-Oriented Guide to Arts in Community Development.”

The NEA praises the community collaboration, which lead to a series of workshops and art residencies in 2012 to produce hand-made gifts for the annual Tribal Canoe Journey.

“We were amazed to see how many Squaxin Island Tribal members filled the arena with dancers, drummers, and singers during the protocol ceremonies. The tribe expressed their cultural identity in so many beautiful ways—in the regalia they made, the art that was gifted to thousands of participants, and the many community members of all ages that filled the ceremonial protocol stage. People are still talking about how well they represented themselves as hosts of the 2012 Tribal Canoe Journey.”

Tina M. Kuckkahn-Miller

Director of the Longhouse Education & Cultural Center

Read more at The Olympian, or see the case study on page 96.

2016 snow campus daytime-43 (002)

The Longhouse after a light snow on December 15, 2016.

“There’s only this planet, and there’s so much on it” – Nikki McClure ’91

Nikki McClure ’91 is featured on the cover of South Sound Magazine this month. Read more about how this alumna artist uses paper and an X-Acto Knife to create art that captures the beauty of ordinary life.

Made Locally With Love

You may recognize Nikki’s art from the 2016 Return to Evergreen promotions, in addition to her many calendars and children’s books.

Be sure to save the date November 3-5 for a weekend full of activities as we Return to Evergreen once again in 2017!


An interview with the Shers: What to expect in your first year at Evergreen

Editor’s note: We asked Adam Sher ’02, and his father, Gerson Sher, to share the story of Adam’s first quarter at Evergreen. Add your experience in the comments and help new students and parents learn about transitioning to Evergreen’s educational approach. 

Gerson: As a former Greener parent, I think there are a lot of parents out there of incoming Greeners who might want to hear about not only the high points of their children’s experiences, but also the lows, and especially some of the lows that are more typical of Evergreen. Adam, you have said that in your first quarter, especially, you had some tough challenges in adjusting. But before we go into that, let’s go back and set the stage with your reaction to your high school experience.

Adam: OK. I went to McLean High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, in one of the supposedly finest public school systems in the country. It was terrible. I hated high school. I hated the whole approach to education – the rigidity, the mass-production style, the teaching to the test, the useless information, the senseless rules and discipline. I was turned off to education and to all the super-achievers and over-achievers who were college-bound. I was not at all sure that I wanted to go to college at all.

Gerson: Yes. As I recall, you had something like a 2.4 GPA and we got periodic recorded calls from the school system informing us that you had once again not showed up for class.

Adam: That’s right.

Gerson: But you performed spectacularly on the SATs, even though you made a show of not even trying. Did that surprise you?

Adam: No. I love learning. I love reading. I have always done it on my own terms. And high school prevented me from doing that.

Gerson: So, what changed your mind?

Adam: Well, I read the 1998 edition of Forty Colleges that Change Lives, and Evergreen was the only one that looked remotely interesting.

Gerson: I remember that distinctly. Why?

Adam: Because it looked like Evergreen was the absence of everything I couldn’t stand about high school: Rules, grades, subjects broken down into meaningless shards of knowledge, discipline. It looked great.

Adam in 2000 with puppy, Opus

2000 – Adam with family dog  Opus

Gerson: We thought so, too, especially for a student like you. And we were relieved that you even decided to go to college. So, what did you find when you got to Evergreen?

Adam: I found out that my initial impression and expectations were completely out of line with what was going on at Evergreen.

Gerson: In what way?

Adam: Well, first of all, the notion that just because of the lack of conventional structure, you could just sail through the place on your own terms was dead wrong. What looked like an absence of requirements or rules turned out to be almost the opposite. You really had to plan your courses carefully, register for them on time so they don’t close out, and think about how you’re going to regulate your own study and life. It wasn’t the free and easy environment that I had envisioned. It was tough and demanding, but the demands were internal, not external. I was fine with rejecting external demands, but not at all ready for making internal ones of myself. This was quite a shock, and I wasn’t ready for it.

Gerson: So what happened?

Adam: I went into a funk. I didn’t do much work. I goofed off. My first quarter course was a disaster. I finished the course but I would add that the faculty’s experience with kids like me was a big help. That would not have happened just anywhere.

Gerson: So what did you do to change your course?

Adam: I realized that I needed to substitute my own self-discipline for the external discipline that I hated so much in high school. I realized that I needed to be responsible to myself. The next quarter and the next year, I had a much different experience and was motivated to mold Evergreen’s learning environment to my own evolving interests. I also met a lot of other students who had similar experiences to mine.

Gerson: Yes, you seemed like you had grown a lot over a short period of time.

Adam: Well, that might be pushing it…

Gerson: And you were able to devote a whole year of your study to your favorite novel, Moby-Dick, under a fabulous professor.

Adam: That was the highlight of my education. It’s a very deep book, and my professor, David Powell, was an extraordinary teacher.

Gerson: Yes, I remember him well. So Adam, aside from your initial struggles with your preconception of Evergreen and the reality, and in addition to Moby-Dick, what do you think was the most important lesson you drew from your Evergreen education?

Adam: It’s really impossible to separate all those strands. They all run together. What Evergreen excels at teaching, at instilling in students, is critical thinking. Critical thinking starts with thinking critically about yourself, and learning critical thinking often demands corrective action when things don’t work out. That’s one of the great lessons of Moby-Dick, too. And the way Evergreen teaches critical thinking is crucial: the interdisciplinary orientation to learning pushes us beyond formal categories of subjects like math, science, and history – uncovering the the endless source of wonder and self-reflection inherent in any phenomenon. Another important thing about Evergreen was also the presence of things i was interested in… intellectualism, creativity, opportunities for self-direction, and a [not so] subtle countercultural aesthetic. It was a great education.

Gerson: So, if you’re a parent of a new Greener – a green Greener, if you will – who is having trouble adapting to Evergreen, who may be thinking of transferring to another school, or something else, what would your advice be to that parent?

Adam: Let your child figure it out for herself. Odds are that if your child is the sort of student who would choose Evergreen for the reasons I did, she will work it out, though it will not be easy. If you’re just looking for an easy B.A., don’t bother. It’s not easy. If you’re not willing to look hard at yourself before you look hard at others, it’s also probably not the right place for you.

Gerson: That all sounds pretty harsh, Adam. Don’t you have some words to reassure all those anxious parents out there?

Adam: Sure. Let me put it this way. Trust your Greener. Trust her instinct to come here in the first place. She will sort it out, one way or another, and be the better for it.

2014 Georgetown, DC - From left; Adam, Gerson, Margery Sher, and Adam's wife Megan Sher.

2014 Georgetown, DC – From left; Adam, Gerson, Margery Sher, and Adam’s wife Megan Sher.

Draw your own roadmap for success

Do you love to plan? Can you scheme cross-country road trips just by staring at a map? Join us at Return to Evergreen 2016 for a dynamic workshop with Patti Dobrowolski ’80. Patti’s celebrated session encourages you to break out the markers and visualize your future. You’ll leave with a roadmap to accomplish your goals without getting lost along the way!

Learn more about visual goal setting and register for Return to Evergreen today.

Take a look at the updated sessions page with even more exciting offerings!

Color outside the lines with Bezango, WA at Return to Evergreen 2016

I could tell you about Bezango, WA, which will be screening at Return to Evergreen on October 15, but I think this comic by Chelsea Baker explains the film perfectly:

Cartoon by Chelsea Baker

Check out the trailer!

After the screening, hear from the filmmakers Ron Austin ’91 and Louise Amandes with alumni artists Megan Kelso ’91 and Dana Simpson ’99 for an engaging panel as they explore connections between the comics, cartoons, and Evergreen.

Have you registered for Return to Evergreen yet? Do it today and stay tuned as we add more sessions and speakers!

Movie Poster