Meet The HundrED Team: Danny Gilliland, Head of Growth, HundrED
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Danny and I'm a recent American transplant to Finland. I grew up in Colorado and have always felt at home in nature, which makes Finland feel like home already. I enjoy hiking, camping, snowboarding, and almost any outdoor activity you can imagine, but also love to explore new cities (especially now that I live in Europe!).
After leaving Colorado to attend Stanford for a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I ventured not far up to San Francisco to begin my career in technology (but not in Engineering). I've worked at several startups as well as a couple fast-growing larger companies like Salesforce and Square, specializing in Sales, Strategy, and Operations.
I eventually followed my dream of entrepreneurship by starting my own company that sought to create an alternative to the resumé, but decided to join my wife in Finland when I couldn't secure funding to continue working on it. I'm still holding out hope but not holding my breath that it will have help people that don't look good on paper but have great potential. In the meantime I'm focusing my efforts on having an immediate impact at HundrED!
Why do you want to work at HundrED?
Since I became interested in improving education, I've been keeping an eye on innovation in the space which for me has been within my former industry in Silicon Valley. What's become abundantly clear to me is that their usual disruptive approaches have all failed or come up drastically short. The most good that have come out of this are some free online courses, but they are mostly focused on self-driven learning for young adults.
It has become clear to me that to really have a lasting impact on education and ensure that the change is needed, impactful, and global; a much different approach is needed. When I first heard about the theory of change at HundrED, all the lights went on in my head as I realized that they had already figured out that approach. Identifying impactful and scalable innovations that are already happening, be it from teachers, organizations, companies, or administrations and helping them grow is the only way to affect large scale change to such a complicated global system. I joined to be apart of a movement that is accelerating change, and not just for children today but for generations to come in all parts of the world.
Why should we change our schools?
I went to a small high school in Colorado where I ended up being valedictorian, which says more about the size of the school than it says about me. My favorite classes in high school were from an education innovator at the time called Project Lead the Way. Luckily my mom had the foresight to find that program and convince the leadership of our small high school to adopt it because of her passion for STEM (before that's what it was called).
She also had the foresight to start a US FIRST robotics team at my high school that was my favorite educational activity by far. The competitive structured combined with the hands-on work and professional mentorship was the perfect learning environment for me. This was my first departure from the traditional lecture and homework learning structure apart from the occasional chemistry or physics lab, and it inspired me to become a mechanical engineer in college.
My experience in high school taught me many things, but in retrospect one of the biggest is the significant drawbacks of the existing educational system. Students feeling engaged and excited to learn while discovering the subjects they enjoy and skills they want to develop is a beautiful thing, but unfortunately still incredibly rare. If we can change schools to facilitate developing in those ways, we can give every young person the ability to find and pursue their passions while feeling they have the tools they need to achieve their goals no matter the obstacles in their way.
Just as important, I had a whole lot of help along the way from my family to accomplish anything. That was the most impactful help I received during my educational journey, but so many children around the world don't have that luxury. If we can set up the educational system and give children the tools they need to thrive in spite of their socio-economic background or home situation, we will truly have leveled the playing field.
Why is innovation in education crucial today?
In spite of my academic achievements in high school, it's safe to say I had no idea what was coming when I got to Stanford. Although I chose a difficult major I was passionate about, getting good grades was far beyond the capabilities I'd developed in high school. The only A grades I got were in hands-on classes where we built material things, which was unfortunately for me a very small percent of our curriculum. Over several years of trying different strategies to no avail, I ultimately got discouraged and decided not to pursue a career in engineering.
I also entered the workforce with low confidence but a lot of energy. What I slowly found over the next few years was that very little of what I learned in college had any impact on my career performance. Things that were barely touched on like problem solving, conflict resolution, communicating effectively, and attention to detail were skills that I loved, and they ended up taking me farther than any subject I studied.
However, the one skill that mattered above all others was the ability to teach myself new concepts. This was not only important as I learned a new industry, role, or tool; but as an industry or competitive landscape changes, you are constantly re-learning in order to stay competent. If we don't innovate education in a way that teaches students to successfully adapt to new environments, we are setting them up to fail in an ever-changing business landscape.
Three HundrED innovations you love.
Children on the Edge - this is an incredible example of the value that people place on education, where even refugees in terrible conditions find a way to provide education for their children.
Vroom - along the lines of the help I received along the way, ensuring that every child has parents that are aware of and focused on their child's development from the earliest days is crucial to their ability and desire to learn.
Self-Sustaining Agricultural School - this is the start of many more innovations we will discover that is happening in a rural area while helping students to learn schools while helping the schools themselves.
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