At Schools That Can, we’re passionate about young people building real-world connections and relationships with professionals across industries, helping students gain exposure to different career paths, develop the skills needed to ace a job interview, and imagine themselves in the world of work. Watching volunteers from a variety of fields connect with students is a highlight of our work…and we’re excited to highlight those volunteers with our Volunteer Spotlight Series! We’ll be talking to STC volunteers about their own education to employment journeys, best advice they’ve ever received, and more.

Interested in volunteering? Fill out our interest form here! 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Erik Hein, McGraw Hill Senior Sales Representative

Tell us a little about your education to employment pathway.

It goes back when I was a kid: I wanted to be a rock star when I grew up. I had a demo tape filled out, and headed to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood to study music. My mom and dad sat me down, and they’re like, “Look, go to a four-year school, get a degree, and then after that you can do whatever you want.” So, I went to school and thought about a music major, but I ended up going into elementary education.

As I was going through those courses, I took a couple of literature courses as a minor and really liked that. I ended up with an English teaching degree. I taught for almost 10 years working in the classroom with students and did some really fun things. I worked with the science teacher, and we did a lot of work using forensic science as a theme. This was before all the CSI shows and everything came out. She had this book about solving crime scenes, and I would take care of the writing part. Then we made movies out of the stories, and incorporated a drama unit. We had detectives coming in and working with the students. I published some work out of that.

One day I was on the teacher’s lounge, and one of the teachers said, “Oh, my friend works for McGraw Hill. They love hiring teachers.” She passed on my resume. That was back in 2006, so here I am after all these years.

What’s been a career highlight for you so far?

I published a book on integrating forensic science and Language Arts, and another one that was a fictional story including what actually happens during parts of the investigation and in thelab. For me, it was really just getting into [the] characters and just kind of closing my eyes, being like, all right, let me play this out as a movie, and if I did, what would it look like?

Once I started [at] McGraw Hill, I really enjoyed working with people in the territory of North Jersey because it is so diverse. I have everything from Sussex County that’s more rural, and then I’m out in Hudson County by New York City. I have all kinds of different schools that I work with.

What’s been the best career advice or work tip that someone has given you over the course of your career?

I don’t remember who said it to me, but basically, it was: nothing good or bad lasts forever. Everything in life is temporary. So, when you are in the good moments of your life, enjoy them, relish them, and just be so happy and grateful that you have whatever that is that’s making you happy. When times are tough, realize that it’s not going to be forever. Eventually it’ll be over. Something is going to happen. You might not know what it is, but just know in the back of your mind. Work hard and go out of your comfort zone.  Nothing great has ever happened to anybody without doing something really hard first.

What has been your favorite part about volunteering with students?

My kids are older now, but I was lucky to have the time to coach their sports. I have almost 20 years of coaching experience, and I don’t have any of it now. When this opportunity came up, I was really excited just to talk to kids again and see where they are, what they’re doing and just how excited they are about their future and where they want to go and the plans they have. For me to be able to give them a little bit of a pep talk and be like heysell your brand. This is you; make yourself as awesome as you are, and let everybody know how great you are. I’ve really enjoy doing the interviews. I really look forward to them.

What does it mean to sell your personal brand?

That comes from being in sales. So, when you when you’re in sales, obviously you have a product, but really, it’s the person that sells it to you. When I look at the student resumes, I look at the places where they shine, things that they do well. When we do these interviews, I tell them, Tell me why you would be so great to come work at my company. Why should I hire you? And it’s all the great things that you have on this piece of paper. But it’s also the story that we put together.

I tell them you’re always working on the next iteration of yourself. You are not the same as you were in fifth grade; you’re not going to be the same as you will be when you’re 25. There’s always that next iteration. What are you doing? Are you evaluating what you could do better? That’s how people grow. That’s how people get better and become successful. Those are the kinds of things that I really enjoy telling the kids.

What advice would you give a young person who’s building their future or in the process of finding their path?

What I’ve kind of found is that when I asked these students about places where they struggled, or what is tough for them, a lot of them including adults, just are afraid of being judged. That’s the reason why they don’t take chances, because they don’t want to put themselves out there. But if you know that what you’re doing is right and you’re daring greatly, and you take a chance and you fail, that’s fine. You learn from it. The more you fail, the better you’re going to be at correcting whatever it is that you’re doing, and then eventually, you’re going to succeed. Surround yourself with positive people, because positive things happen to positive people. If you never take a chance, you’re never going to know what’s going to happen by not taking that chance. You have to fail early, fail often, learn from it, and move on.

At the end of the day, just be a nice person and help people out and do good things for people. When your mind goes to that negative place, just think about the things you’re grateful for.