Notes from a Newbie

I’m part of a Facebook group titled “I worked for MTV when it was cool to work for MTV.” It’s fun to reminisce about riding the elevators with Kurt Loder (shorter than you might expect) and Cindy Crawford (taller than you even guessed). I’ll never forget playing pool with Hootie and several Blowfish or the time I sat next to Stevie Wonder at a supper club, and as he swayed to the music, his braids swayed in my face. Good times.

Fast forward, and now I find myself in the marketing department—I am the marketing department—at a non-profit devoted to transforming education.

As with my stint at MTV, when music videos were just being introduced, timing is everything. Now, a critical issue is how we educate the next generation. ISKME is devoted to finding innovative answers to that question. That’s why what we do matters. Here are a few other things I’ve learned in my first few weeks at ISKME that might surprise you:


My first day at ISKME blew my mind. The office is in Half Moon Bay, one of the most beautiful seaside towns in California. A big, boisterous meeting introduced me to ISKME’s Dream Team.  Fourteen brilliant ISKME-ites tossed ideas into the air, collaborated, laughed, and walked out with real plans of action. Just yesterday, a brief conversation about DNA resulted in a fully articulated genetics learning challenge for our upcoming Big Ideas Fest.


Design thinking seems to be everywhere these days, and it was great to learn that ISKME is a pioneer. Over the years, as more people discovered design thinking, the smart team at ISKME has taken this useful tool to the next level. Our Action Collabs are a unique blend of design thinking, improv, and real-world application.

Then there’s OER Commons, a mind-bogglingly extensive digital learning platform of freely available educational tools and resources. Educators can now access OER Commons Arabic and Hilary Clinton is a fan! The microsite reflects ISKME’s advanced thinking about education, as well as global politics.

ISKME-ites also tend to be trend spotters. Big Ideas Fest doesn’t showcase speakers saying predictable things. They have featured speakers like the maker of Caine's Arcade and Khan Academy before they went on to win awards and worldwide attention. At last year’s fest, Malala Yousafzai, who just won the Nobel Peace prize, was represented by keynote speaker Shiza Shahid, founder and CEO of the Malala Fund. Shiza was the recipient of the Big Ideas Fest 2013 Innovation in Action Award.


I have noticed aspects of ISKME’s innovative Action Collab process and creativity work their magic at our office. I expected to see colorful sticky notes on the walls, but not a whiteboard in the bathroom featuring questions of the week such as “What’s the thing you love most about working at ISKME?” I don’t hear a lot of “No, but” at the office. I do hear a lot of “Yes, and.”

And a few days ago, I overheard a colleague on the phone with our partners at local public radio station KQED. I was struck by how quickly they found ways to collaborate with KQED’s Teach Do Now initiative, which helps students engage and respond to current global issues (e.g., Ebola, climate change) using social media tools.


Conducting innovative research, managing massive OER initiatives, leading trainings around the world, and planning engaging events keeps our nimble staff busy. Fortunately, ISKME-ites understand the benefits of taking a break. At the end of my second week, colleagues Megan Simmons and Kendra Cunningham invited me for a hike. What a joy, learning more about this great organization while trekking along gorgeous cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Some at ISKME kayak or surf, and one not-to-be-named ISKME-ite can even be found skinny-dipping in a secluded cove on sunny days.

I couldn’t be more excited to help spread the word about ISKME’s meaningful work and collaborate with such bright and wonderful co-workers.

It was cool interacting with famous rock stars on a regular basis at MTV, but I do believe I’m livin’ the dream with these education rock stars in Half Moon Bay.



October 16, 2014