Portrait of Travis Sheridan
Travis Sheridan

ALUMNI: Where Are They Now?

ALUMNI | Where are They Now?

Byline headshot of Travis Sheridan

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

By Travis Sheridan, Senior Vice President, Chief Community Officer, Wexford Science + Technology
Let’s get one thing clear up front — I was not a very good student. I’ve been called a “knucklehead” and was once told by a church elder that I was “rotten to the core.” I wouldn’t say that people gave up on me; they just had very low expectations. As both a competitive and pragmatic person, I didn’t let those characterizations define me. I chose to prove the world wrong. I chose to create a path that would lead to growth, success, and a spirit of giving. My journey since graduating from Madera High School in 1992 did not follow a traditional path. However, I can look back and see how each step along the way — the ups, the down, the failures, and the wins — was necessary in creating who I am today, and who I hope to be as I get older. Life is a collection of Yesterdays, Todays, and, if we are fortunate, Tomorrows. 


Graduation seems like so long ago. It’s been thirty years, and I am amazed at how the world has changed — mostly for the good. I was directionless and knew that improving my life had to include changing my environment — specifically getting out of my hometown of Madera. I held no contempt for Madera, but I knew that my perspective wouldn’t change unless I saw and experienced new things.  I joined the USAF and served as a firefighter. If I was going to kick the knuckleheadedness, I needed to be part of something bigger than myself. The military provided that. I wish I could say my military career was a huge success, but it was, at most, a moment to find direction. I realized that conflicts don’t always require military intervention and chose to devote my life to practicing conflict resolution and peacemaking. If we can keep our heads level and exhibit even the smallest amount of empathy, we could find diplomatic solutions that honored humanity and were rooted in restoration instead of retribution. The best part about healthy conflict resolution is that you can find humor in most situations, or use humor to disarm hostility. So this became a driving force in my life – embracing conflict as a tool toward healing and treating laughter as the best medicine.  Academically, I decided to pursue organizational psychology and leadership in graduate school. People spend so much of their time working, and I wanted to create spaces and environments for people to thrive. Hey, what’s better than a leader who wants their people to succeed, enjoy work, and prosper? I was often called upon to help fix broken and toxic organizations and companies. Unfortunately, the people who hired me — often bad bosses and hostile CEOs — were the cause of the problems they wished to solve. I quickly learned that knuckleheads, who are somewhat rotten to the core, can rise up the ranks and become leaders. They weren’t effective leaders, but they were in leadership positions. This made the entire organization toxic, unmotivated, and gross.  I met with a mentor to share my frustrations and he proposed a novel idea — instead of helping fix toxic and broken large companies, what if I had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs and help them build a company that wouldn’t become toxic. Honestly, I didn’t know a job like that existed, but it sounded like a dream job. That was my foray into working with startups and early stage companies. Someone saw the various parts of my skill set and helped me create a new path that leveraged my strengths. Together we found a way to create a thriving community for startups that sought to build companies and create innovative solutions that addressed existing problems. 


Life is a collection of experiences — it’s a collection of Yesterdays. And we bring each Yesterday into each new Today. While I wasn’t a good high school student, I excelled in building communities for people to thrive. I realized that people, if given the right support, encouragement and resources, would exceed their own expectations and the expectations of others. But, we have to really focus on creating the right environment. I often say that I cannot make something successful. All I can do is increase the odds of success. There will be failures, but each failure is an opportunity to learn and improve.  I love to use creativity to improve places and spaces. In 2018, I designed my own house made out of shipping containers. It was the first of its kind in St Louis, MO, where I currently live. It wasn’t an easy process and many banks told me it couldn’t be done. But I proved them wrong and now get to live in a creative space, filled with art, and that serves as an inspiration for my neighbors and community. Art has become a bigger part of my life and a way to expand my perspective. I am a better and more complete person when I create and consume art. It also allows me to activate both sides of my brain. In 2020, I had my first solo art show in St. Louis, MO called Imperfect Pixels. I was able to exhibit the work in two different venues in Denver, CO. Through that show I highlighted the Black lives we’ve lost in recent history.  Today, I create innovation communities all over the world — from Sacramento, California to Sydney, Australia and from Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Warsaw, Poland. I am a community designer. The world is facing many challenges — social, political, economic, environmental. We aren’t going to solve the problems of today or tomorrow with the solutions of yesterday. One person doesn’t hold the answer; we need several people working on solutions all the time and everywhere. Innovation is a process to improve the human condition.  As the chief community officer for Wexford Science + Technology, I work with universities, startups, community groups, and industry to create spaces and programs for people interested in innovation. I get to put the right people in the right spaces for the right things to occur — or more than likely occur. It’s an odd job, because this type of job didn’t exist when I was in high school. It was difficult for people to see my potential when they couldn’t envision what my potential could be used for. But there was one person who really believed in me — my school counselor, Matilda Torres. 


Fun photo of Travis SheridanThis year, with support from leadership at Madera Unified School District, I worked with the counselors at Matilda Torres High School to create a scholarship/doership program for a graduating senior identified as one of the Most Improved Students. Mrs. Torres believed in me when very few people did. My senior year, I was named Most Improved Student. I realized that students earning that recognition probably had some setbacks and made some mistakes, but they righted the ship. For some, that course correction was too little too late and they couldn’t qualify for traditional scholarships.  Each year for the next thirty years — the same amount of time I’ve been out of high school — my family will award $5,000 to the most improved graduating senior at Matilda Torres High School. I am calling this a scholarship/doership because I want the person to be able to pursue whatever they want as a way to further shift their perspective and continue the momentum they found late in their high school career. Knuckleheads, it’s not too late. I believe in you, because Mrs. Torres believed in me.
Photo of Travis' container home — the first of its kind in St. Louis.
Travis' container home — the first of its kind in St. Louis.

Image Credits: RJ Hatbeck.


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