What are some of the biggest inflection points on your journey in your work?
As a farm kid from rural New Mexico, I was deeply engaged in the National FFA Organization. In 1998 I was elected to serve as the NM State FFA President, which included taking a gap year to travel the state of New Mexico to visit every agricultural education program in the state. I visited schools on native lands, gave workshops to primarily Spanish speaking families along the border, and engaged with over 50 public schools. The following year, I was elected to a National FFA Officer position where I again took a year out of college to travel the United States promoting career and technical education and the FFA. During these two years, I became deeply interested in the variability, equity, diversity, and power of a local school.
My second inflection point was serving as an advisor at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a Big Picture Network school at the time. This experience forever changed who I am as a person and an educator. I was gifted with the opportunity to advise 15 of the most amazing high school students – all of which were nothing like me. They, along with my fellow friends and educators, exposed my privilege, opened my eyes to deep systems of oppression, and taught me to design instruction to achieve post-secondary success for typically underserved students. Watching LaToya Phillips deliver her graduation speech, despite the challenges her life brought, is a constant “true North” for my work.
What’s something—big or small—that you’re really good at?
I have always loved learning. As a child, my grandad would teach me how to read a river before preparing to fish it. That type of learning was so authentic, natural, and easy. As a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) grad, I experienced some of the most authentic learning of my life in the tundra of Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Looking back, that seems to be where my love for experiential learning began. As an educator, professor, administrator, and now consultant, crafting learning experiences in a way that is authentic, meaningful, fun, and impactful is a personal sweet spot.
What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your success to, and why?
I have always been a strong believer in finding work that fits your strengths. Using the Gallup Strengthsfinder, my top five strengths are:
Ideation: I am energized by ideas because they provide new perspectives.
Activator: I can transform innovative ideas into immediate action.
Strategic: I can sort through the clutter and find the best route.
Belief: I work best when I believe strongly in the cause and the people.
Achiever: I have a constant need for achievement – it explains my drive.
I work best when I am on a team that needs me – and that I need in return.
What is the biggest lever of change in creating a genuine sense of belonging within a community?
If I had to choose one lever – it would be trust. The deepest community I have ever had was grounded in deep trust and safety. A few of my teams come to mind that fit this category. When I think about those teams I recall our ability to challenge each other, extend unconditional positive regard, hold each other accountable, commit to restoration when trust is broken, and a sincere respect for one another and our differences. Getting to this point took time, effort, and a shared desire for community.
When you’re not working to support communities, what do you enjoy doing?
Most of my time, in this phase of life, is spent with my wife and two young boys. We love to camp, fish, play youth sports, and cheer on the Florida Gators and Oklahoma State Cowboys in pretty much any sport. Stillwater has become a great spot for gravel racing over the last few years. We are now home to one of the most rad gravel races in the nation – the Midsouth. Preparing to survive this 100 mile race on beautiful gravel roads provides great time to think and decompress.
What’s something you saw recently that made you smile?
I am a total sucker for GIFs. At MAYA, the vast majority of our communication is through Slack. Every now and then, as our team discusses a project, concludes a meeting, or celebrates each other in our work, I will feel compelled to find the perfect GIF to fit the moment. I will laugh out loud, by myself, as I search for the perfect fit. I also think it is funny because I seem to be the only one at MAYA that sends GIFs – which is also funny to me for some odd reason. Dwight and Michael “raising the roof” is my GIF of choice lately to celebrate great work!
What energizes you at work?
As I have mentioned, I am belief driven. There are very few times, in my current role, that my work is not directly supporting educators – and ultimately students. The opportunity to meet educators in a place of need, create a plan, and then take action to address the need is incredibly energizing.
What’s one thing that surprised you about working at MAYA?
I was a little concerned about the lack of direct social interaction, as a “remote” organization. I have been surprised by how personal and connected the work has felt. I have also been surprised by the self-managed culture of MAYA. I am so conditioned to a more traditional operating system, that I am often taken back by the freedom and autonomy. It would be hard to ever go back!