Charles Adler Gets His Degree

The last time “06880” checked in with Charles Adler, the 1992 Staples High School grad was a co-founder of Kickstarter.

Since 2009, 6.4 million users have used the online platform to pledge over $2 billion, funding more than 75,000 creative projects in areas ranging from film, music and stage to comics, journalism, video games, technology and food.

Adler left Kickstarter in 2013. Five years later — still in his early 40s — he’s the recipient of an honorary degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

That’s impressive.

Even more impressive is that this is his only college degree.

That’s right: Adler is a college dropout.

He left Purdue University — where he was studying mechanical engineering — to co-found Subsystence (an online music, photography, art, poetry and fiction site), and the design and technology studio Source ID.

Then came Kickstarter — and Forbes’ designation of Adler as one of the 12 Most Disruptive Figures in Business.

Since 2013, Adler created and developed Lost Arts, an interdisciplinary laboratory, workshop, atelier, incubator, school and playground occupying 25,000 square feet on Chicago’s Goose Island.

Now comes the honorary degree from IIT — a doctorate, no less — in recognition of Adler’s “outstanding contributions to the field of design.”

Charles Adler, with his honorary degree.

Growing up in Westport more than 25 years ago, Adler recalls, he was interested in architecture — and passionate about electronic music, punk rock, skateboarding and cycling.

College was not right for him. He tried a second time — because he needed an undergrad degree before entering a graduate design program that interested him — but again he dropped out.

So, parents of Westport students who may not be taking a traditional path during or after Staples: Don’t worry.

Your kid too might one day earn an honorary degree, even if he or she lacks a college diploma.

They just might need a kick start.

4 responses to “Charles Adler Gets His Degree

  1. Scott Kuhner

    In 1962 when I was at U Penn, my grades slipped to the point where I was asked to take a year off and if I was productive during that year, they would take me back. When I went home to tell my parents, my dad said, “it looks like our job is done. You are now on your own. Here is a hundred dollars. Move out of the house. You are welcome back on the weekend but you are now on your own. I moved in with a friend’s mother in New York City. She let me take his room as he was away at college. She sent me down to the New York State employment agency. They sent me to Merill-Lynch where I got a job as a clerk in their research department. I loved it. When I got back to Penn, I transferred into the Wharton School and Majored in finance finally graduating with all A s and spent the next thirty years on Wall Street. When one finds out what he really wants to do and works hard at it, success is almost always assured

    • Cool story. But do you know what it would take these days for a college student to get a job, actually even an internship at Merill-Lynch or an equivalent on Wall Street? At a minimum, a high GPA, demonstrated analytical Finance coursework, volunteer/extracurricular experience, top-tier SAT or GMAT scores, and a recommendation from a professor. Then you apply, are screened, and take an online assessment. Then, you might have the opportunity to go through the intense interview process from which only a few will get hired, for an internship. Being hired full-time is its own drawn out and competitive hunger games process. It’s a completely different world today.

  2. John Karrel

    Would be interesting to know what he is up to now. FYI,

  3. Impressive story. Gates and Zuckerberg also famously had more promising tracks to pursue than college. However, we all need to be careful about letting our kids draw too many conclusions from these rare cases. For most of them, the path away from college can become the course of least resistance leading somewhere way south of the Forbes’s List!