what is



Transformative Design in its most explicit terms is a practice in which an object, system, or relationship is made with open, authentic, and accountable dialog that invokes intention, takes stock of emotional engagement, and the residual consequences of its creation on the finite and animate landscape.

For better or worse we as humans beings have the ability to choose whether our lives are in congruence with their larger contexts, as we have the ability to act against our nature. We can empirically, rationally, and instinctively know the truth and yet through denial or denigration choose to act in conflict with it. For instance, if you put your hand in a flame even though you know it will cause you injury, you can leave it there, just like you can enter into destructive relationships that affect both yourself and others. The choice is informed equally by our perception [the way we view the world] and esteem [the way we view ourselves in relation to it]. Yet there is a crucial aspect of this dynamic missing: reality [the way the world actually is].

Culture as an extension of ourselves, must be understood as bound causally to everything else, in that what we make informs us about who we are and what we value. This means we must be engaged in a mindful vigilance when thinking about what it is we make and what paradigms inform their making. Transformative Design charges you to take inventory of the myriad identities and culture(s) you find yourself "in,"  then collaboratively creates the tools to bring your perception and esteem into congruence with reality.

The bedrock of this process is Whole Person Development [WPD], a model of values working from a lens of systemic integration, to take the vantage of the Eagle soaring above. We believe identity, by its very nature is a social phenomenon, therefore we root our processes in equal parts personal reflection and community/place-based interaction, so that change can actively permeate an entire life. This is done through initiation and then incorporation, or Rites of Passage and Mentored Cultivation as two halves of one whole – both are essential elements in individual maturation and cultivating flourishing whole lives.


A Rite of Passage is the ceremonially recognized passing of an individual from one state to another. Whether transitioning from childhood through puberty to adolescence, from young adulthood to middle age, from late middle age to elderhood, and from elderhood to death or any kind of life change or transition to be marked.  In so doing the individual’s societal role is changed and transformed. This change is often reflected in a shift in their title. They step into a new role with new privileges and responsibilities recognized and celebrated by their community. 

In Western culture we commonly refer to the ability to vote or get a driver’s license as rites of passage.  While these may invoke the spirit of a Rite of Passage they lack the enduring transformational impact of a fully integrated experience. Most commonly (but not necessarily), rites of passage are rooted in the natural world, to firmly ground the initiate in a deep sense of PLACE, and to connect their sense of self to a much larger context.  

Arnold van Gennep first used the term in his book Les Rites de Passage, published in 1909, in which he surveyed cultural passages and recognized that they each consisted of three distinct phases:

Severance/Separation: Being removed from what we know, be that our physical lives or mental/emotional hurdles we are holding onto, shedding what no longer serves us as we move into the unknown, sometimes by choice but often through the force or will of our communities or life circumstances. Severance is also key to understanding death as as normal part of the human life cycle.

Threshold/Liminality: This is the space in which we acknowledge being alone in an unfamiliar place, in which we are tested, having to rely on our own faculties and resources in overcoming adversity, often referred to as ‘trials’ or “ordeals.” This is as much about proving to our community that we are ready as it is about proving to ourselves that we are capable, so that we can develop resilience for future life challenges. That said, an important part of this phase is fear of failure; otherwise what we learn or experience won’t have a life changing effect, helping us face our future fears.

Incorporation/Return: When the transformation is complete, it is time for us to return to our community as someone new. This re-integration can be difficult and is aided by acknowledging how integral others are to the process. When celebrated and recognized for the transition by our family, friends, and elders we begin to ground and integrate the new changes.  We are recognized for the unique gifts we each carry and welcomed to take our place alongside the community of adults.  The understanding that each person achieves – that meaningful life necessitates the giving away of those gifts through acts of service – guarantees the community’s diversity, resilience, and cohesion.

Historically, these passages were culturally and geographically specific.  Ideally, a person’s cultural or ethnic heritage is brought forward and they are made aware of how she/he fits into their continuity. The ultimate effectiveness of any rite of passage depends on the needs of the individual and by extension the needs of their communities. Through this process we learn the values of our communities, and as adults we become exemplars of those values, while our elders discern their merits.  


The second essential element of Whole Person Development is Mentored Cultivation. Initiation or rites of passage are just one of a long list of experiences that shape our overall development. After being confronted by our daemons and presented with our gifts the long process of incorporating those gifts into our communities and cultivating those over time begins.

When we think of mentorship today however, we most often associate it with 'professional development.' Whole Person Development is about creating opportunities for mentorship related to character and values across the entire life spectrum and specifically in areas far outside of job skills. As we take stock of and realign value systems, mentors work in collaboration with their mentees’ educational, work, and family environments. A good mentor pushes us out of our comfort zone, past our perceived boundaries and into the realm of the unknown, building the “scaffolding” that Temple University Professor Laurence Steinberg recognizes as necessary for peoples’ maturation. Engaged mentors or cultivators point out strengths and weaknesses of character to their mentees, helping align their perceptions with reality. They provide the pathway forward that each person needs to fully grow into their great potential as human beings.

Mentors must always keep the mentees’ best interests at heart.  The mentors utilize all of their own life experience to back up their support and direction.  Tradition tells us they can only take someone as far as they themselves have traveled.  They provide bedrock support for their mentee, assuring them that they are there for them, that they are not alone.  It may not take an entire village to raise someone but it absolutely requires a good mentor dedicated to being part of an integrated community.

Together Rites of Passage and Mentored Cultivation provide the framework we require and the ongoing support structures we need to knit the many different parts of our lives together into a cohesive whole. 

Transformative Design consists of the following Core Values:


To Develop Content and Practices that are Individually Driven, while still Rooted in the Exploration of Lineage/Historical Context.


To Create Vulnerable Trust Within Estrangement Including Safe Space and Clear Boundaries for the Nourishing of All Students Ability to Show Up as Their Most Authentic Selves.


To Develop Content and Practices that are Individually Driven, while still Rooted in the Exploration of Lineage/Historical Context.


To Advance Educational Tools that Address All Aspects of Human Interaction from Head, to Hands, to Heart.


To Re-enforce Ideas and Practices that are Locally Applicable While Still Externally Relational.


To Encourage the holding of Sacred Space, Open-Source Ritual, and Wit[h]nessing of Transimmanent Experience.


To Offer Learning and Unilateral Mentorship that Extends Into the Wider Community Including All Stages of Life Development.


To Integrate Initiatory Transitions Into Already Existing Systems When Possible & to Co-Create when Not.


To Practice Language and Interaction Indicative of Equivalent Exchange, Acceptance, Respect, & Right Action.


To Foster Art of All Kinds as a Binding Agent Between Principles & as an Entrance Into Otherwise Unapproachable Areas.


To Place an Emphasis on Non-Violent & Village Centric Problem Solving Techniques.


To Focus on the Incorporation of Initiatory Tools for Long Term Preventative Development as Opposed to Quick or Symptom Based Fixes. To Seek Outside Council When Pertinent.


The Open Acknowledgement and Discussion of One’s Sexuality and Gender Not Just Internally but as an Integral Part of Health Community.