Kale Mabin is the Program Operations Manager for Process Operations on the Program Operations team, and they joined EA in 2017. Kale is from Chicago, IL and attended the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

How would you describe your role on the Program Operations team?

Program Operations builds and supports both project management and organizational strategy tools and processes to support our program teams’ efficiency and quality of project delivery. As a Program Operations Manager, I focus on creating tools, processes, and best practices guidance. My work often involves developing and piloting tools and processes that could be used across projects, supporting usability testing and implementation, consulting with our internal operations teams on the work they support that interacts with program teams, and gathering ideas from program teams for innovation and improvements.

What interested you in working at EA?  

Before working at EA, I worked as an urban planner hoping to positively impact communities. While working in the urban planning field, I realized that a company or organization that was mission-driven is likely to make more of a positive impact on communities, and that my degree and skillset did not need to limit me to the planning field. I began exploring different non-profit organizations, at first out of curiosity, and I was quickly drawn to EA’s mission of improving student outcomes throughout the United States. I took a chance, and I was excited to see how collaborative, open to new ideas, and driven people were at EA, and the rest is history.

We know that every day is different, but what would a typical day at EA look like for you?

A lot of the work I do involves cross-team collaboration and checking in on the various initiatives I am involved in. For example, in one day I might join a meeting with the budget cycle workgroup to discuss updates to our project budget process, then jump to Slack to coordinate with the Partner Strategy team on rolling out a new project brief initiative, and then dive into a collaborative diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiative where we are creating opportunities for EA staff to discuss DEI topics and incorporate them into our initiatives and processes.

What skills do you possess that you find helpful in your role?

Most of the work I am involved in requires many moving pieces to be tracked and managed, so it is essential for me to be highly organized, interested in problem-solving, and motivated to support others. Having strong facilitation skills is also important to ensure meetings and conversations with colleagues and stakeholders are productive and that we can leave with next steps identified.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?

It’s most rewarding when the tools and processes we create have a positive impact on their stakeholders. For example, one of the processes we helped lead and implement was an internal 50-minute meeting initiative, which established a best practice for all internal meetings to start 10 minutes after the hour. This was a small change to our meeting structure and culture but has generated a lot of positive feedback from staff and allowed colleagues to plan for break time, especially if they have back-to-back meetings.

Another example is our internal project debrief process, a step at the end of our project life cycle where we pause and debrief on the work. In response to this process, staff have commented on the value of having a dedicated meeting process to discuss lessons learned, successes, and brainstorm solutions for projects. As we pilot and implement these types of initiatives, positive and constructive feedback from colleagues helps us understand our impact and refine our approach as needed.

What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on at EA?

I really enjoyed working with my team to create the project debrief process, which allows project teams to debrief on the lessons learned, successes, and brainstorm future solutions to obstacles they faced during previous projects. This process has evolved over the years based on stakeholder feedback to ensure project teams who use this process find it valuable.

I have also really enjoyed our PrOps Connect initiative where representatives from Program Operations (PrOps) connect with representatives from various program teams routinely throughout the year. These meetings allow us to get to know what other colleagues are working on, better understand their teams’ workflows, and provide us space to share ideas and brainstorm on improvements. A big shout-out to Alyssa Lucas who created and leads this initiative; I see a lot of value in these connections!

What changes do you anticipate in your field in the next year?

A current hot topic is artificial intelligence (AI) and I anticipate a lot more research and potential regulations stemming from AI becoming more ingrained in our society. I would love to see more of a focus in the education research field on improving student outcomes though shining a light on not only topics such as social emotional learning, but also learning conditions and school resources.

What is something you enjoy in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy walking along the lakefront, browsing antique shops, going to rock/metal shows, planning trips, and reading scary books. I always enjoy getting lost in a good Stephen King or Junji Ito story!

Kale’s view during an L.S. Dunes concert.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a farmer, park ranger, or climate change scientist. I’ve always loved animals, plants, and learning about ecosystems, and I wanted to do whatever I could to keep them safe. As I grew up, I started learning more about the built environment and our education system. I realized that I could care about and help protect our native ecosystems in more ways than working directly in them and that I also wanted to make a positive impact on people. This is what ultimately led me to urban planning and now to education tech and research.

What is something that you would tell your younger self about your career?

I would tell my younger self to not feel like your degree will silo you into a single field and that it’s important to explore, ask questions, and take risks. You can build onto the skills you’ve learned and apply them as needed. I’d also tell my younger self that you’re not going to be a park ranger or agroecologist, but you can still enjoy visiting parks and growing plants – in fact, you will enjoy them more if you don’t make them integral to your career!

Interested in working for EA?

Check out our Careers page for current opportunities to join our team!