On Being Uncommon: Your Art. Your Flow.

Editor’s Note: Hello, it’s Jacob Ferguson here and I’m glad to inform you that we have a treat for you. Former NIU student and one of the previous Marketing and Social Media Interns for the College of Business, Nick Kochetta otherwise known as 2.0, recently agreed to write a guest blog post. In the post that follows he discusses what his journey was like after graduating from NIU and most importantly he talks about finding your passion and what is meaningful to you. For some it may be the traditional path and for others the path less traveled. He had plans to enter the business world but chose the latter so far. This is 2.0 checking in.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hey Jacob!  Where do I start?  Well, my name is Nick Kochetta and I graduated from the NIU College of Business with the class of 2013.  I graduated with a degree in Marketing and I earned certificates in both the Interactive marketing and Professional selling disciplines.  Beyond my credentials, I am a man in a committed relationship with adventure.  I live for the thrill of stripping my life down to the bare essentials, putting those items into the frame of a backpack and going where ever the wind will blow me.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

 What was your path like after graduating from Northern Illinois University?

The day after graduating, I drove cross country to begin a contract in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.  I used my skills in sales to sell a wilderness experience to people from all over the world.  With the tools given to me by the sales program, I was consistently a top producer in our office, fetching top revenue honors in my very first week!  It didn’t hurt that I got three days off a week to explore the national park as well as nearby Yellowstone.  It was basically a dream.

The job was seasonal and at its end I took a road trip to my next opportunity; selling for a ski resort in Lake Tahoe.  A friend in my office had worked in Lake Tahoe and the picture she painted of it was akin to a Bob Ross painting.  I couldn’t wait to get started!  On my road trip to Tahoe, I drove from Wyoming to California, stopping to see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the edenic  paradise in the desert that is Zion National Park.

Within a day of arriving to Lake Tahoe, my bike and other personal items were stolen from my car.  I was on the opposite side of the country with nothing but the contents of my car, and those were just violated.  I felt ill at the thought of being there for so much as another hour, so I threw a hail mary and called the HR department at Zion National Park (the beautiful park I fell in love with just a week prior).  The HR manager said he had a position and the job was mine on a single condition; I had to be to the park by the next morning.  As you could probably guess, I drove 10 hours overnight to claim the spot.  I had now become a resident of one of the world’s most beautiful and unique landscapes, home to hikes like Angel’s Landing and The world famous Narrows.

The season ended in November and I knew that an Appalachian Trail Thru Hike (6 month, 2,185 mile hike from Georgia to Maine) was in my sights for the Spring.  The problem was, I had a 4 month window that needed to be filled.  As luck would have it, I met a lovely girl in Vegas who told me how inexpensive and amazing a of a place Southeast Asia was.  Her stories captured my imagination and I bought a plane ticket to Bangkok that was set to depart in only 2 weeks.  I had no plans beyond a return flight 2 months down the road.  I spent months exploring the beautiful culture of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  I saw everything from grand palaces to giant waterfalls, ate amazing local food, and found time to play with tigers and elephants in between.

Upon  my return, I packed a bag and left to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail.  When Mid October came, I stood atop Mt. Katahdin, the end of the 2,185 mile trail, and have since moved in with my hiking family in Nashville, Tennessee.

What made you decide to take the untraditional route?

Before graduation, my life was on a totally different path.  I was presented with a mountain of opportunities thanks to the college’s sales program but I wanted something more.  After studying abroad with the business program in Europe, my eyes were opened to the fact that the world is a huge, beautiful, and easily accessible place.  So while most students decided to work hard for financial comfort and advancement in a company, I decided to check the big ticket items off my bucket list by maintaining freedom from heavy obligations.  I knew that my wonder, curiosity, bad knees, and ability to sleep in tight quarters probably wouldn’t last much longer than my early 20′s so I applied for a job in the national parks and haven’t looked back since. 

Can you talk about following your dreams and finding your passion?

I think ultimately, the dream everyone should strive for is happiness and in my studies of happiness, I find a recurring theme of “finding flow.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWcapC-kriY  This guy didn’t come up with it up but he explains the concepts very well.  Check it out!

http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en#t-344931 A little drier but definitely worth the watch.

Your life will be infinitely easier if you find what you are passionate about and work in an environment that your skills and motivations align.  If you deeply believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile, that what you’re selling is important, and you find intrinsic value in it, your output will be of a higher quality and you won’t have to worry about searching for meaning and happiness; you’ve already found it.

Some of you will find your happiness in starting a business or creating an app.  Some of you strive to be at the top of your field in accounting, and some of you yearn to experience culture and inspire others.  Each person has that spark inside of them.  Take some honest time to find what that thing is; you might not find it in your upper level business courses.

Now more than ever, you have an amazing opportunity to explore yourself while you’re young.  Look inward and you may be surprised at what you find.

What are you up to now and what does the future have in store for you?

I literally just walked in the door from a road trip that took me show shoeing through the Rocky Mountains and Hiking in Arches and Canyon lands National Parks.  My roommates are now telling me to pack for a weekend trip to the Smoky Mountains, so I guess that’s a thing!  It’s shaping up to be an amazing week full of awesome places and friends new and old.

Beyond the immediate happenings, I’m saving for a thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016 and may even land a job in Glacier National Park for summer, but that’s yet to be decided.  As you may have guessed, I’m pretty flexible.

If you had one piece of advice for students about to graduate what would it be?

There’s going to be a lot of temptation to grow deep roots in your life via car payments, long term leases, mortgages, significant others or job commitments.  Maintain some freedom from obligations and don’t restrict yourself from unique experiences in your young lives.  You don’t NEED the newest car that comes with a high payment.  You don’t NEED the high end apartment with the big lease.  By living simply and cutting out the fat, you have the ability to pivot quickly and take opportunities that appear when you least expect them.  I can pack all my belongings into the backseat of a car and be on the road at a moment’s notice.  To me, that’s a liberating feeling that allows me to say yes more than no.

Don’t be afraid to take time off.  So much of the industrialized world supports gap years among their students and travel amongst their working class.  I lost count of the Australians and Germans I’ve met who are more cultured, happy, and fulfilled for having done it.

Save money!  Pizza, taco bell, and beer were hard staples in my diet and looking back on it, I could’ve saved thousands had I avoided them.  I could’ve used it on another trip or on a musical instrument.  You could just as easily use it towards your business. Your art. Your flow.

Apply for Scholarships!!!  I don’t think I can add enough exclamation points to this…

Once again, your life will be infinitely easier if you do what you are passionate about.  If you believe in what you are doing, in what you’re selling, etc., it’s easier to get behind it and feel fulfillment and flow.

Finally, read the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.  I read it on a beach in Cambodia and it changed my life.

Thanks for your time Jacob. :) Best of luck to you and the rest of the class of 2015!  Go Huskies!

To any and all that muscled through this blog…DO NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT ME.  I mean that sincerely.  If you have questions, email me at nickkochetta@gmail.com.  Check out some of my pictures on Instagram @gopaddlefaster and read my old blog at gopaddlefaster.wordpress.com.

2.0 out


Zach with NIU Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler









This is a guest post (a student profile really) of a conversation I had with freshly-minted NIU business alumnus Zach Fiegel, pictured with NIU Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler. This story reflects Zach’s NIU experiences as he described them to me just prior to his graduation on May 10, 2014.  It’s important to mention that Zach wanted this article to reflect the accomplishments of a wide range of fellow students-friends who Zach collaborated with during his time at NIU. I hope my writing reflects this. Congratulations, Zach, on the start of your next series of adventures! Thank you for the great conversation as always and for not hesitating to sit down with me when I approached you — even at the 11th hour in the semester!


Do AWESOME Stuff … live a BOLD life

“Every experience can be life changing. It really can.  It’s up to each of us to approach things that way,” NIU Business senior Zach Fiegel says, echoing the perspective of a visionary or an entrepreneur.

It’s not a stretch for Fiegel and his friends who are fellow students in social entrepreneurship to have a sense of those waters.  They immerse themselves in an entrepreneurial mindset – in the idea of changing the world, transforming themselves and others for the better – as a matter of course, and they do it as a team.

NIU's Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs changing the world








Case in point:  as members of the student organization NIU CAUSE, with Fiegel its president, the group put everything they had behind a colleague’s idea to provide other students with financial help.  They raised $2,500 this semester and created a $1,000 annual NIU CAUSE student scholarship, while donating the remaining $1,500 to three different NGOs.  Earlier in 2013, Fiegel and another team of students in a social venture class won $10,000 seed money for their business concept and then shortly afterwards invested those funds in a social venture located in Nigeria.

It’s in that spirit of boldness that Fiegel applied blindly for a summer internship with the NBA, an organization whose interns and new hires tend to hail from Ivy League schools.  Fiegel disrupted that pattern by landing a spot in the program.  Then after the internship, he applied for and was accepted into their New York-based associates program, which serves as entrée to an NBA management career.  Fiegel begins the associates program this summer after he graduates in May with an NIU degree in marketing.  He hopes one of his professional rotations includes NBA Cares, the unit that manages the social responsibilities of the league and the league’s efforts in high schools.

Zach with fellow NBA interns









It was on the eve of his next series of bold adventures that Zach and I caught up for a student profile.  In our conversation, I asked Zach to share his reflections on his NIU experiences overall, as well as what he’s learned both in and out of the classroom.

NIU CAUSE students donate to the Northern Food Bank after making and selling 41 pizzas in one day in November 2013

“I’ve met so many awesome people,” Fiegel says, holding direct eye contact when he speaks.  His good nature invites dialogue.  His warm tone inspires confidence.   He values individuals and each person’s uniqueness – he states this explicitly and demonstrates it consistently.   “I’ve developed so many great friendships and relationships…had such great times doing important things.  Things I care deeply about and things others care deeply about.”

NIU CAUSE student created Social Impact Summit in its first year, which realized more than 170 attendees









One of those things includes a team effort to conceptualize a life-changing for-profit venture, then developing a full business plan around the idea and presenting the concept to angel investors in spring 2013.

To get there, Fiegel collaborated with individuals from across the university (business, engineering, community & civic engagement), each of them students in the social venture class in the Department of Management.  The course explores commerce in a different way and serves more as a business incubator than a traditional class.  Answers aren’t found at the end of the book, for example, and in truth, textbooks aren’t the focus.  Instead, the creative ideas of students are.  Students arrive in the course first by way of an interview process and then by invitation only before they dive into workshops and conversations of discovery with their fellow students, professors, and outside experts.  The context for all of this is to positively impact each component of a more complete business metric known as the triple bottom line or 3Ps:  People, Planet, Profit.

At its essence, the social venture class is about “breakthrough ideation” … a perfect environment for the likes of Fiegel and many other NIU students whose hearts and minds align with doing something meaningful.

“It was an incredible experience and not without challenge,” Fiegel laughs quietly before he continues to explain.  “We worked from a blank slate to come up with a for-profit social enterprise.  We brainstormed so many times… we had a lot of false starts, a lot of ideas we couldn’t fully corral.  The most challenging part was coming up with the ideas at all, then picking them apart, defending them, rethinking them, really holding them up and testing them.  The key metric we used – it may sound corny – but it really was this:  does the idea hold the promise to be life changing.  The idea had to literally change lives or we weren’t interested.  What came out of all that effort was a venture we called ‘Vitalert.’  Vitalert uses the cell phone as an instrument for change by alerting users to nearby danger.  It’s basically an app that combines features along the lines of Twitter and Google Maps.  We thought Nigeria would be the best market for its launch because Nigeria has an extremely high usage of cell phones and is also one of the most violent places in the world.  Nigerians typically learn about violence by turning the corner and walking right into it only because they don’t have timely information about existing danger around them or about bad situations that may be developing around them in that very moment.”

Even 525,600 moments – or a full year – later, Fiegel still speaks passionately about the concept.  He riffs off interesting stats like how more mobile phones exist in the world than bank accounts and emphasizes the group’s “a-ha” moment when they began to view the phone in a completely different way:  from a device for selfies to a life-changing, potentially life-saving instrument.  From his enthusiasm alone, it’s not difficult to imagine how the entire team won the angel investors over.  And in fact, that’s precisely what happened.  Four teams of four students presented their social venture concepts last May, each challenged to explain and defend the soundness of their ideas, business plans, marketing plans, and revenue models as well as the impact on the three pillars of People, Planet, Profits.    And in the end – after all the “really great presentations” and all the “really cool ideas, really cool stuff” – Vitalert landed the first place prize and a check for $10,000 in angel funding at NIU’s second annual Social Venture Competition.

the Vitalert team and concept winning angel funding








“I’m really competitive … all of us are,” Fiegel says, “but it’s interesting how rapidly every team came to support each other’s ideas.  We all listened to each other’s presentations.  After Vitalert won, our team received tremendous support from the other teams.  Somehow we were all competing but really in the end we were all collaborating.  That seems to be the way it is in the social spaces.  Everyone works really hard on a great idea.  All of us were inspired by the brilliant people involved in the social entrepreneurship sector because their ideas really do reach the breakthrough level.  And yet at the same time everyone is genuinely supportive of each other.”

The Vitalert story would be compelling enough right there, but it’s what his team classmates and Zach decided to do with the $10,000 seed money that draws you in even more.

“After we won the Social Venture Competition, we took a hard look at ourselves.  Two of the members – Mike and Addison – were graduate students with jobs already lined up.  I was still in school.  I had another year to finish and so did Kaitlin.  I just really didn’t know if we could put enough into starting up a venture while completing school.  We all wanted to do justice to the $10,000 seed money.  So we talked about it as a team and voted and decided to invest the $10,000 in a worthy non-profit,” Zach shares.

Imagine it’s the beginning of May.  Classes are finished:  finals taken, grades reported, and barbeques begin to fire up.  But instead of kicking back entirely or travelling to a beach for a couple of weeks, you and your team members decide to develop a Request for Proposals.  Fiegel describes how he, Mike, Addison, and Kaitlin switched perspectives and roles in what seemed like the blink of an eye:  from pitching an idea for angel investor funding to evaluating a multitude of ideas as angel investors themselves.

“We created the RFP after looking at examples online.  None of us knew how to do this.  We listed the criteria we wanted the applicants to document for us.  Things like measures for social impact, sustainability, revenue models.  Then we researched and selected a group of finalists and sent the RFP to them.  So we’re reading through all these proposals – all really good, really excellent – and it made it difficult to identify a short-list of finalists, but eventually we selected 7-8 finalists.  Ultimately, the one that won was the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) in Nigeria.   YTF brings together education and technology to help provide opportunities for young people – basically kids – who find themselves in families at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  YTF appealed to the interests of our team because the venture has a focus in Nigeria, and we couldn’t imagine anything more impactful than helping kids to transform their lives so they can lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.”

Zach pauses briefly as if in thought, then adds, “Plus YTF describes itself as a place of ‘impatient optimists.’  That really resonated.  All my friends and I rally around the idea of being unreasonable enough to move past the status quo.  We feel a kindred spirit with Impatient Optimists.”

Indeed, Zach and his peers describe themselves as Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs who view the world in a vastly new way.  In a different enough way, in fact, that within days they somehow connected with an organization of Impatient Optimists located half-way around the world.  As he describes how this virtual meeting of the minds and hearts came about, Fiegel illustrates perfectly what the connected economy and the connected Millennials know all so well:  how very small, hopeful and very personal a very, very big world has become.

“I learned about YTF because one night I was particularly distracted by my twitter feed and came across a tweet from the various individuals and organizations I follow in the social space.  I clicked on a link in a tweet and read this article about a Microsoft executive who gave up a highly successful position to work with the Youth for Technology Foundation in Nigeria.  I was so fascinated by the article and the foundation that I researched the name of the former executive and sent her an email with our team’s RFP.  We stayed in contact ever since that first email.  Then when YTF’s proposal won, she was ecstatic; really thrilled that YTF had won the $10,000 funding.”

Sounds easy enough, right?  Like so many of his colleagues, Fiegel’s manner remains outwardly relaxed, yet conveys laser focus and a collaborative spirit that’s spiced with a massive dash of “why not?” Embracing transformation is simply who they naturally are even if there’s nothing simple about it.  Still, this young man from Chicago’s northwest suburbs lives, breathes, and walks the talk of “why not?”  He and his friends willingly roll up their sleeves to do the unbelievably challenging work of breaking through the status quo, and they do it for the sole purpose of manifesting something powerfully uplifting and powerfully important.

CAUSE students making life-changing pizza as part of the group's fundraising efforts










Why not? … to be sure.  And equally to be sure, an open and willing heart-mind connection provides a great deal of help, truth be told, is an outright prerequisite for anyone intent upon making a positive impact.

Only don’t ask Fiegel or his friends if this is the case for them.  Zach will tell you they’re all just regular people.  The thing is…Zach really is very down to earth.  His twitter bio includes this intention:  “My goal is to increase genuine smiles globally.”  He’s truly an unassuming guy who also happens to be caring enough, passionate enough, wise enough, and aware enough to know how life speaks to his heart and to be committed enough to blaze that trail in fellowship with friends the world over.  Plus, he and his friends have paid very close attention to those they count as the many trailblazers leading the way.  They range from his immediate family to a wide circle of close friends, professors and those individuals from a variety of countries and cultures who unapologetically and bravely live into their dreams no matter how large or many the obstacles.

In fact, Zach had visited with several of them just weeks ago.

Microfinance class gathers in Barsema Hall en route to Mexico


Over spring break, Fiegel – along with his social venture classmates and professor Christine Mooney – travelled to Mexico, where they met several social entrepreneurs located in the more poverty-stricken area of that country.  To paint the picture of the impact this had on him, Zach uses broad brushstrokes.  He describes at length how eye-opening the experience was in terms of really understanding how big and very different the world is from what he originally thought.  When he shares why his perspective so dramatically shifted, you almost sense his memories of the trip revealing themselves right there in living color as if streaming in the air from YouTube.   He speaks about realizing how incomplete it is to think that life moves only in a straight line.  The idea of only two options – straight ahead or falling backward – pales in comparison now for him, now that he has seen a vastly more complex, vastly more dimensional world – almost, as Fiegel muses, “a “Rubik’s-cube” of incredible people of all kinds and incredible life experiences of all varieties.

Microfinance students with social entrepreneurs in Mexico

“I’ve changed alot and I’m aware of it,” Fiegel admits as the conversation pivots slightly when he answers a question specific to his own personal transformation. “I may not know all of how I’m going to change – that’s what life is about, right?  But, I do know the world’s a big place with a lot of different people and situations, and I do know I don’t know everything and never will.  I’m lucky to also know I’m building from a strong foundation.  My family provided me with a solid base.  My mom and my dad are my heroes.  They were young when I was born, and they sacrificed so much so that I could have opportunities.  Dennis Barsema is a great role model, another amazing person who I aspire to be like and someone who is also very important to me…someone I now also consider to be a great friend.  My high school football coach, my high school basketball coach, my high school English teacher – all so important to me.  Really, there are so very many people I’ve learned from, who took the time and interest in me to help me grow.  The number one thing I take away from all of what they taught me is how important it is to help others.  One of my goals is to be a good role model to my brothers and sister.  My parents did everything they could so I could have more opportunities.  I’m so grateful to them and to everyone.  I think it’s important that I pay that forward to my younger brothers and sister.  That I pay it forward in everything I do.”

As he stands in the Rubik’s cube of life’s pathways and peers into the immediate future, the past, the highs, the lows, and the many unknowns to come,  Zach’s one recommendation – if he had only one to make – to a new student or really to anyone boils down to this:

NIU CAUSE students in a selfie with NIU President Baker at the 2014 Social Impact Summit, which realized more than 225 attendees

“Here’s what my friends and I always say:  do AWESOME stuff … with capital letters in the word ‘AWESOME.’  Don’t sit around.  Be proactive.  Take that first step.  Explore.  Whatever you put your interest or time into, put your best into it.  Sometimes the hardest thing is showing up.”

Fiegel pauses briefly, then smiles as if in appreciation to a whole lot of people and for a whole lot of experiences; as if with tangible excitement for the positively unreasonably bold things to come. Then, with an energy likened to quiet confidence and with all his friends right there with him in his mind’s eye to speak in one voice, he urges:

“Make yourself show up.”



  • Budding Social Entrepreneurs & Angel Investors who, along with his student teammates, envisioned a for-profit, social venture called Vitalert.  Their business idea took first place in NIU’s 2013 Social Venture Competition along with seeding of $10,000 to bring their idea into reality.  The team then created an RFP, evaluated proposals, and invested the $10,000 in a social venture in Nigeria.
  • Co-founder, President (see next item) and co-member of NIU CAUSE, a university-wide student organization focused in the social entrepreneurship space that grew organically from 7 to 35 members in one year’s time.
  • President of NIU CAUSE for two years and humbly taking on the formal title even though Zach prefers to describe himself as “collaborator and friend.”  Zach explains:  “I worry about titles taking over the culture, spirit, and focus.  I had to be convinced titles were necessary.  Eventually, I came to recognize how they can help with structure.  But I don’t place my focus on them.  Trust, respect, and open-mindedness are what matter to me.”
  • Budding Sales Professionals and Pizza Pros, who brought life to a student idea that a really good pizza can change lives.  After a series of cold calls, the efforts of the CAUSE students resulted in a long-standing relationship with Arty, the owner of Pizza Pros restaurant in DeKalb, who opened early every week so Zach and his CAUSE colleagues could use the facilities to bake 20 homemade pizzas and deliver and sell them to their NIU customer base (selling them completely out each time, in fact).  “Arty has been truly amazing.  We’re so grateful to him for helping what must have looked to him like crazy kids,” Zach shares.
  • Budding Angel Investors who with all his CAUSE colleagues invested CAUSE pizza sale profits in 2013 in a social entrepreneur located in Mexico.  In 2014, they invested additional CAUSE profits in three other NGOs.
  • Budding Named Scholarship Investors who together with the CAUSE gang raised enough funds in 2014 to establish an annual $1,000 CAUSE scholarship for NIU students, thereby bringing to life an idea championed by one of Zach’s fellow CAUSE colleagues.
  • Activists all, these CAUSE friends, sold, baked, and delivered more than 41 pizzas in one day (and in between their classes) during NIU’s food drive and then donated the proceeds to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, raising enough funds to provide more than 3,000 meals to those in need.
  • Visionary CAUSE Tribe that co-founded and co-led from start to finish the university’s first-ever day-long Social Impact Summit (including lining up the keynotes, all nationally regarded in the field of social entrepreneurship, and marketing the event).  More than 170 individuals attended the first Social Impact Summit in 2013, and more than 225 attended the second annual summit in 2014.
  • Highly Engaged Students, Advisory Board members, co-ed Business Fraternity members, Club Sports members, Huskies Superfans…
  • All around regular people…