Behind the Cube #8: Avatars and Eclipses
Meet the Teachers, Learners, and Innovators of McGraw-Hill Education
Today’s Highlight: Mike Shirey, 9–12 Math Product Manager
We often say we’re #RedCubeProud. That’s because we’re an ever-adapting, forward-thinking group of learners, teachers, and creators with roots in a square logo that is evolving into a “cube”, in reflection of our dimensional, learning science-based approached to EdTech.
Perhaps what makes our team so passionate about our work is that we genuinely care about teachers, students, and fostering productive learning communities. Many of us have been teachers ourselves, and ALL of us are life-long learners.
To give you some insight into our team, we’re taking you Behind the Cube, one #RedCubeProud team member at a time. Today’s highlight:
Mike Shirey, 9–12 Math Product Manager
What do you love most about your role at McGraw-Hill Education?
In my current role I get to combine my interests in education and technology, which is what first brought me here 21+ years ago. The ever changing landscape in the digital world always keeps things interesting, so I am never given a chance to get bored. Tech is always changing in our industry and the field of education is constantly learning more about how students learn. We provide the tools that help to shape many futures, and that’s pretty cool.
How did you come to be in this role?
My transition into this role has been entirely organic. To provide some background, I started working for this company in Software Support on April Fool’s Day (no joke) in 1996. My first job was to test and resolve functionality of our software products with Windows95. From there I moved into the “Web Group” as a low level coder and stats analyzer, then a Digital Project Manager, and then a PMO Project Manager. Sark, who was the head of our PMO, suggested this new role of “Product Sponsor” (later Product Manager) to me. He felt that I had an ability to collaborate with others and a natural tendency to take ownership of my projects and to become invested in our products. Combined with my background in tech this offered an opportunity to provide a different skillset and viewpoint to this role, which can be both a blessing and a curse. The only part of my jobs that have had pre-training is my education background and teaching experience. The rest has been hands-on learning and on the job training. That has been one of the great experiences of my career.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
One of best teaching experiences I had was when I was still in college. I was hired by a local group of parents to teach their 4th-6th grade children “enrichment math” of my choosing on Saturdays at the local library in Athens, OH. Their position was that they were not working towards any standards or requirements. They were not forcing their children to do “extra math”. So long as their children were interested, they wanted to provide them with something that they otherwise would not experience. We worked with math puzzles, math games, math riddles, and advanced math concepts for their ages. Their interest and attention was at an all-time high and it was exhilarating. Trying to figure out ways to help students of any age get somewhere close to that level of engagement is always my goal.
If you could pick ONE favorite memory of your time at McGraw-Hill Education so far, what would it be?
A long time ago, we were a rag-tag group in Media Tech of Web Producers (essentially digital Project Managers) with coders, engineers, and digital graphics designers. Through some circumstances that I will not bother to go into we lost our managers and the VP of the department. In what seemed like just a couple of weeks we had suddenly become a co-op with no official direct management. The Graphics team and Engineers all had to prioritize the sites that were in development, along with new projects that were continually coming in. And we Web Producers had to continue to meet with stakeholders and figure out how to prioritize the requests and deadlines. At a time when you would expect a complete breakdown in communication and cooperation, we managed the exact opposite. Talk about having to pivot! It demonstrated to me the resolve and creativity that our team had.
What do you hope to achieve at McGraw-Hill Education, to work towards empowering students?
I am a firm believer that consistently providing children with options and control over their own destinies is how we achieve independent thinkers and success. Sometimes the control is seemingly trivial — such as being able to customize an avatar. Sometimes the control is perceived — such as choosing Path A vs Path B when you’ll be taking both paths eventually. And sometimes the control is very real — such as choosing an AP class over a non-college readiness course. Giving people, regardless of age, the opportunity to take ownership in their decision making is the embodiment of empowerment. These are the kinds of personalization and ownership that I want to see us focus on more and more as we continue to build. I am fully convinced that the more we offer these opportunities to our customers who are students, the more successful they will be on their tests, in their studies, and in their lives. I am continually researching these opportunities.