Read about the first year 


The Explore Academy is an opportunity for students to change the world, beginning with their neighborhood and community.  It engages and activates youth ages 13-18 around the hands-on, feet-on-the-street annual fall class. The class is student-directed and inspired. Participants gain an experiential understanding of how the built environment changes over time, how it impacts our lives, and our role as citizens to shape it.

This program is a spinoff of our annual Advocate Academy and is similarly geared at providing tools and training for engaged citizens to impact change. This course stands out on a college application!


The 2020 pandemic challenges required some changes to our original format of a six-week, in-person class. That said, the curriculum remains focused on all participants getting out and exploring their community. Our structure may have changed, but not the key goals. Namely, have fun, explore the neighborhoods of the Grand Traverse Region with a different lens, and make new friends along the way.

Students are expected to attend all sessions and complete all assignments each week. These assignments should take no longer than 30 additional minutes. Projects will include taking photos or a short video, observing a street corridor, taking a walk, riding their bike, or using the bus. In short, exploring!


Aspire traverse Area Association of Realtors

Explore Academy is made possible by a partnership with the Traverse Area Association of Realtors and a Smart Growth America grant from the National Association of Realtors.  The program was co-created and is co-facilitated with Megan Olds of Parallel Solutions.

If you are interested in donating to the program’s scholarship fund or in becoming a corporate sponsor, please email Gary Howe at


Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and of Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at

Gary Howe brings over 10 years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. You can see some of his photography on Insta at @GLH_Image and follow his writing and advocacy on Twitter @GLHJR.

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