"Experiment in your sessions and share what you learn!" | Team Spotlight: Mariah
Recently, we were able to interview Mariah Olson, the Head of Community at schoolhouse.world, who was a major part of building this platform to what it is today. Starting from the initial Coda prototype to the website that we currently have, Mariah has seen many iterations of the designs that have shaped schoolhouse.world. In our time with her, she talks about her journey so far and looks ahead into what the future holds for our community as a whole.
How did you first get involved in SHW?
Before Schoolhouse, I had always wanted to get involved in educational technology but I wasn’t sure how I could contribute or what the path there might look like. I ended up studying computer science and getting my first job in data engineering, hoping that I could eventually transition into the education space after building some technical skills.
Turns out, the universe had a very different idea for how I’d end up in EdTech. One afternoon in March 2020, I got a call from my brother, Jeremy, who works as a product manager at Coda. He told me that Sal Khan had reached out to them about creating a Coda doc to connect students who needed extra support in school to volunteer tutors, and that they were looking for volunteers to help out.
I was elated at the chance to get involved, and ended up on a Zoom call that night with Sal, Shishir Mehrotra, Jeremy, and my dad, who also wanted to help. We wanted to move fast to get support to students as soon as possible during the school closures, and ended up launching our first pilot at Long Beach Unified School District within the next few weeks. It was a whirlwind.
It wasn’t long before we realized we needed someone to go full time to keep up the pace and truly see if this idea had legs, so I left my job at the end of March to start working full time on Schoolhouse.
How has the mission evolved from when schoolhouse.world started and how do you see it still evolving as time goes on?
I think our mission to connect the world through learning has been mostly stable, but we’ve iterated a lot on our idea of what that could practically look like. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to create a safe environment for people all around the world to help each other learn, but there was no clear answer on what the best format for that might be.
We started with single, independent sessions about specific Khan Academy topics, then experimented with a series of sequential sessions last summer. More recently, we’re looking to explore study spaces and instant homework help. It’s been exciting to start to understand what our very aspirational mission can potentially look like in practice, and I think we still have a lot left to learn.
Where do you see the community in five years from now?
Five years from now, a bigger community will mean more members whose interests overlap, resulting in even more potential for great connections to form and for community members to add value to each other’s lives. I can imagine some really neat sub-communities forming across Schoolhouse, connecting small groups of people who share common interests and common learning goals. The details of this are definitely still to be determined, but I think that if we can build the right ways for people to connect as we scale, it’s going to be something really special.
What’s one of your favorite memories of SHW?
So many amazing memories, but the first call I had with our original volunteer team was one I won’t ever forget. Sal’s idea for Schoolhouse was very much based on the assumption that there are good people out there who want to help others, and I think meeting all of these incredible volunteers of all ages and walks of life was an amazing confirmation of that.
As a way to unwind from a long day at schoolhouse, what do you like to do for fun?
I love a good walk! I live next to a greenway, so I take walks to decompress whenever I can. I also really like to write songs and play guitar. Aside from that, I mostly just hang out with friends and family. Every Thursday night my sisters and I get together and we take turns cooking dinner for everyone, so I look forward to that a lot.
What is your one piece of advice you would give old and new tutors alike?
Experiment in your sessions, and share what you learn with the community! Not only can this help you better support learners in your sessions, but you can help other tutors help their learners, causing impact at an even bigger scale. Even beyond that, since Schoolhouse is still a young organization that’s actively experimenting with how to best serve learners, you never know if your experimentation and your ideas could end up having a big effect on the long term direction of what we do. So don’t be afraid to speak up—whether that be in Slack channels, learning circles, idea jams, or otherwise.
We thank Mariah for her time and appreciate all she does to make schoolhouse.world an inclusive, safe, and collaborative environment! If you are interested in listening to Mariah's interview with me, please feel free to do so here.
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