The USC Dornsife Office of Experiential and Applied Learning, EXL LAB, creates experience and maker-based programs and events for students, faculty, and staff in association with campus departments and offices, and secondary schools associated with the university. 


Accepting Applications for Spring 2024!

Paracosm: Surviving the Trials of Reality by Creating Worlds of Fantasy

Classes will be held at the University Religious Center Fishbowl (835 W. 34th St) on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 pm, beginning January 31 and ending March 20.

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“Imagination is the ignition system for anticipation, empathy, and resilience. Despite the central importance of imagination to individual cognition and collective action, we tend to ignore it until it goes missing. Failures of imagination, often catastrophic, remind us that imagination is not just an abstract concept or ideal but a fundamental tool for making change in the world. We practice and cultivate imagination individually and collectively, but that is only possible when we feel permitted to do so.” ~ASU Center for Science and the Imagination

Quest for Sanctuary Part 2: Paracosm

“C.S. Lewis’s Narnia rose from a paracosm called Boxen. The Brontë siblings played together in Glass Town. Tolkien developed Middle-Earth both as a place to test his beloved languages and to escape and process the horrors of war and the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Without these childhood worlds, we would not enjoy the works of these celebrated authors.” ~Tiffany Trent

Paracosms are alternative destinations of refuge and revelation, born out of need, desire, or fear. They are a distanced but intimate place to manifest your desires, fears, aspirations and hope; a world where you can discover who you are by the consequence of choices and trials. The worlds of Paracosm hold a secret: they may be the creation of your mind and imagination, but once brought alive and given form, they will choose their own path through light and darkness and take you where they are going.

In our digital Social Media culture that thrives on attention and approval by others, what fantastic avatars of ourselves are we neglecting in alternative realities of our own creation? How do these imaginative worlds serve us in our communication and relationship with others in the external world?

In this six-week program, we will dive deep into the worlds of Paracosm created by writers, filmmakers, poets, and composers, some of whom will join us on our journey. We will discover the world-building tools they use and the foundations on which their worlds reside. We will experience and share how to use tools and skills within our imagination to construct our own worlds that will serve as destinations of refuge and sanctuary, inspiration and renewal.

Program Duration: 6 Weeks (Jan 31 – Mar 20)
Day & Time: Wednesdays, 5-7 pm
Place: URC Fishbowl
Program Lead: Kiel Shaub, Ph.D. (kshaub@usc.edu)

Apply Here

Kiel Shaub

Kiel Shaub, PhD, is the Academic Curator (AC) for EXL Lab, an experience-based program initiative at the USC Dornsife Office of Experiential and Applied Learning under Associate Dean Tammara Anderson. As AC, Kiel develops, designs, and teaches dynamic experiential and maker-focused programs and events with USC faculty and the Lab’s non-academic partners.

Previously, Kiel taught as a lecturer in the English Department at UCLA, where he earned his PhD. In the English Department, Kiel enjoyed teaching introductory courses on critical thinking, reading, and writing, as well as advanced courses on the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While at UCLA, Kiel also co-taught “The History of Modern Thought,” part of the College’s innovative Freshman Cluster series.

Dr. Shaub would love to hear from you!


Quest for Sanctuary flyer


(Fall 2023)

“Every child needs a faery godmother, someone to turn to in times of peril.” ~ Terri Windling, Author and Editor of The Armless Maiden

“This is what faery tales do. They give us hope that we can somehow be saved, rescued, healed. Transformed in some way for the better. As we travel with the faery tale protagonist through the dark and dangerous forest, as we suffer with them and triumph with them, we follow them back into the brightness of a world renewed. Faery tales are an instruction manual for psychological healing.” ~ Kate Forsyth, Author of The Wild Girl

Wednesdays, 5-7 pm, Sept 27-Nov 8, URC Fishbowl… Dinner provided!

For thousands of years, fantasy and faery stories have captured the secrecy, the intimacy, the hidden knowledge, and hopeful promise of comfort and refuge for children in distress. These stories offer an escape to a safe place where we can process our feelings when life’s dangers and mysteries threaten to overwhelm us. Within the emotional sanctuary of the faery tale, we find the shelter and security that frees our imagination to explore and discover who we really are. The trials that faery tale heroes face illustrate the process of revelation and transformation: from youth to adulthood, from victim to hero, from passivity to action. Within faery tales, we can mend what is broken; here, we can be reborn and love again.

Uniquely for a literary genre, faery tales are historically associated with women’s voices rather than a literate elite. This lends a particular familiarity, accessibility, and variety to the tales, prompting folklorist Marina Warner to call faery tales “a common language of the imagination.”

In this five-part series of workshops and speaker events, we invite USC students, faculty, and staff to sit together around the candlelight and listen to acclaimed contemporary fantasy authors as they tell their favorite faery stories, read from their own work, and speak about their creative process, ultimately guiding us to explore and discover our own. We will experience how these tales engage and entertain while also serving as a valuable tool and model for emotional well-being, healing, and personal growth.

For more information: Kiel Shaub