10 Questions With... Tom Gattis | Eastman Innovation Lab

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10 Questions With...

10 Questions With... Tom Gattis

26 August 2016

At the Eastman Innovation Lab we look to our fellow design and materials experts for inspiration, community, and expertise. In order to get to know them and their projects better, we created a column called Ten Questions With...

Tom Gattis, COO at Aether and Professor and Dean of the School of Design at CCAD has spent the past 20 years in higher education as a faculty member and senior administrator. He pioneered Transformative Project Based Learning and spent his career developing unique learning opportunities for his students. He is also a wooden boat builder and a master woodturner.

What is your company known for? 

Aether is a think tank for transformational learning and leadership positioned to be a thought leader for disruptive education. Through Aether’s three platforms of SHiFT, META and PRSM – Aether will lead the discourse around disruptive education by providing thought leadership, business and education consulting, executive education, design and innovation camps and post graduation co-curricular experiences. 

What is the next project or product that you would be most excited to explore? 

Right now we are focused on finding new ways to interact with students at all levels through Aether. Every spare moment is spent concentrated on making educational experiences that I wish I would have been exposed to. 

What are themes that you find yourself addressing over and over again? 

Education across the spectrum from k-12 through Higher Ed is fraught with significant challenges. An education model based upon an outdated industrial approach, delivery models that are ineffective,declining enrollments, rising cost and declining aid just to name a few. These challenges need new solutions that meet the needs of students and better prepare them to be leaders in their industry. 

How do #materialsmatter to you? 

Materials can make or break the experience. The touch, feel, smell, even the taste can make an interaction with a product or environment delightful. The world could use more delightful experiences. 

Who is doing work that you find inspiring? 

My students inspire me through their unique approach and unbridled enthusiasm for design. 

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago? 

Don’t be afraid to ask! 

What technology gets you excited? 

I am old school; I still enjoy my woodshop. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you deal with it? 

Being part of a new business, starting a cancer research foundation with my family and working full time running a design school, all while trying to balance my personal life. I have never been more challenged. But I have always lived by the motto of “go big or go home”. Passion, and the trust of incredible partners and family keep me going and dedicated. 

What’s something you want to get better at? 

I love giving presentations and I’m always trying to improve my delivery. 

What’s your go-to reference book?

 “The Ice Palace That Melted Away: Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life,” by my favorite designer Bill Stumpf. His anecdotal style makes for a delightful read, and he teaches us that through design we can truly impact people’s lives. 


Coffee or tea? 

Coffee with lots of cream 

Droid or OS? 


Kindle or book? 


Sketch or build? 

Build, test, and rebuild 

What are you reading right now? 

Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters, by Jon Acuff