Amy Maguire Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange


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Amy Maguire Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange

  1. 1. Site Search Amy Maguire Interview moderated by Paul DiPerna Paul DiPerna: Amy..  We go way back to the good old days (in our teens) at the  Edgewood Club, and both of us were very involved with the summer home swim team.  I witnessed firsthand how good you were with kids back introduction then... from little ones to high schoolers.  It was obvious to me that you  themes not only enjoyed working with children, but you also liked working with interviews index parents to help their children. Amy Maguire: Thank you- very nice of you to say this. subscribe to email updates Paul DiPerna: At what point did you know you wanted to RSS for interviews pursue a career rooted in education? Were there influential events, Maguire's Bio experiences, people? Paul's bio and projects Amy Maguire: Paul's email Although I worked with children through high school and college, I thought I wanted to be an environmentalist.  I went to Penn State and  earned a B.S. in Environmental Resource Management. I didn't realize comments policy I missed working with children until I started my first job after college privacy policy and it didn't involve kids.   I knew I wasn't completely happy and was  looking at a possible career change so I decided to volunteer in the physical therapy department at Children's Hospital in New Orleans.   One of the regular patients was a three year old with multiple disabilities.   I was amazed by the many things she could do, how  happy she was, and how much she benefited from the early intervention she was receiving.   I decided to change directions and  applied to get my M.A. in special education. Paul DiPerna: What were your teaching experiences like after graduating from Penn State? Amy Maguire: My volunteer experience at Children's Hospital of New Orleans   was with children with a variety of physical disabilities and ages. Once I started my program at The University of Georgia I worked with children with a variety of strengths, needs, and diagnoses.   I have a  firm belief in the importance of early intervention and my internships and student teaching were with preschoolers.  I completed part of my  student teaching at a school in Lima , Peru .  Unlike the United States,  children are not entitled to a public education and there is absolutely nothing like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).    Many families rode on buses for two hours or longer each way so  their children could have a half day of school. Paul DiPerna: What were some of the greatest challenges and rewards? Amy Maguire: Learning how to best utilize technology in the classroom especially for very involved children was the toughest challenge.  I relied heavily  on the experiences of the occupational therapists, speech therapists, and experiences of other educators.  Students' progress was always  the greatest reward.
  2. 2. Paul DiPerna: You earned an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University several years ago.  Can you describe your graduate school  experience for us? Amy Maguire: I went to school planning to work for a non-profit after graduation.   While playing tennis with a classmate, we started discussing the need for different educational materials and opportunities for children with autism.  We spent every weekend between our first and second year  of business school writing a business plan.  Our second year, we  traveled to MBA business plan competitions around the country, writing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, and going through due diligence with angle and micro-angle funds.   We  succeeded in raising enough money though competitions and investors to commit to Sandbox Learning by graduation - so no 'real' jobs for us. Although our original business plan is very different from what we currently do, we are still up and running well after we first started our website in October, 2004.  We are working on expanding our materials  through SBIR grants and the company's growth.  Some of my coursework was beneficial for marketing and financial projections, but I find that a good deal of information from class did not prepare me for the world of a small business owner. Desiree and I joke that the four "our version of P's of marketing (product, price, the promotion, and place) are nothing entrepreneurial compared to our version of the four P's: entrepreneurial four P's - patience, patience, persistence, positivity (yes, made- persistence, up word), and poverty (at first... 'positivity', hopefully not forever).   I love the  and ... poverty" idea of still working with children through grants and research while creating products, marketing the products, talking to customers, and learning a about a variety of other things (such as patents). Paul DiPerna: When and How did you start thinking about using technology as a way to help children with special needs? Amy Maguire: When I was in graduate school one of my professors focused on technology in the classroom and how it could be integrated into almost all aspects of a child's day. I became interested in learning more about ways technology could be used and based my thesis on children with disabilities using a computer program to learn receptive language.   As  a teacher, I worked closely with occupational therapists and speech therapists to integrate various technology in the classroom. Paul DiPerna: What have been some of Sandbox Learning's greatest challenges these first few years? Amy Maguire: Moving from a concept to a functioning company was probably the greatest leap.  We had all of these different ideas for where we were  going to go with the company and had to realize what could be done with the time, money, and other resources we had. Paul DiPerna: What do you consider to be Sandbox Learning's greatest accomplishments to date? Amy Maguire: As we keep moving forward we constantly have new
  3. 3. accomplishments.  I guess the three biggest accomplishments in  chronological order would be winning/ receiving money at different business plan competitions; getting the site online and functioning; and receiving an SBIR grant. Paul DiPerna: Do you have a favorite story or experience that might be instructive to new entrepreneurs and recent graduates? Amy Maguire: I am not sure if this counts as a story, but the one thing Desiree and I believed from the beginning was that we would try as many avenues as we possibly could and we wouldn't give up on any ideas. We sought advice from everyone we knew when starting the company. We approached different investment firms. We wrote SBIR grants. We did our own PR.  By trying everything and making other  people say no to us rather than giving up or not trying, we learned a great deal and this probably is what helped us start the company (and keeps us going). Paul DiPerna: In recent years, there are media reports that the U.S. has an autism epidemic.  The Autism Society of America says that about 1.5 million Americans are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including roughly 1 in 150 children. What exactly is ASD? Amy Maguire: Autism is a spectrum disorder which means children with the diagnosis can have a wide range of abilities/weaknesses.  Children  with the diagnosis have deficits in social and communication skills and they often have repetitive or unusual behaviors (repeating phrases/echolalia, rocking, flapping, etc.).   Because of the range, the  diagnosis itself does not tell you a child's functioning level nor does it mean much in terms of a prognosis.  A thorough assessment  including cognitive skills, motor skills, adaptive skills, and communication skills is needed to give a more complete view of a child's abilities and is used to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to meet their needs. Paul DiPerna: Why have more and more children been diagnosed with ASD over the last 10-15 years? Amy Maguire: It is really hard to say why there is an increase in diagnosis. Professionals are better trained to identify the signs of autism which means more children are given this diagnosis, but there is definitely an increase in overall numbers.  There are a number of theories about  why it is increasing but no one has a real answer. Paul DiPerna: Was the national media late in reporting this phenomenon? Amy Maguire: It is hard to say at what point they should have made people more aware of things.  There are a few well known people who have  children and/or grandchildren with the diagnosis and that may have helped increase awareness, but I am not sure when they really started reporting things.   Early intervention is important, and the earlier the diagnosis the sooner children can get speech therapy, occupational therapy, and early education services.   So the recent coverage has  been helpful in helping parents look for signs which helps with early diagnosis and treatment. Paul DiPerna: How does Sandbox try to help
  4. 4. autistic children and their parents? Amy Maguire: Our products are not specifically for this group but we do sell materials that focus on social, communication, and safety skills and a good deal of the professionals and parents who purchase the materials use them for children with ASDs.  Also, we finished a Phase I SBIR grant which  was a beta video game for children with disabilities and the participants for Phase I all had ASD diagnoses.   Hopefully the Phase II  grant will be funded and the game will be helpful for this group. Paul DiPerna: Do Sandbox's services expand to children who have other kinds of special  needs? Amy Maguire: Yes, our products are used for children with a wide range of needs including those that are learning skills but don't have disabilities.   Social workers, guidance counselors, church groups, and other organizations buy the materials to teach a variety of skills. Paul DiPerna: I understand that Sandbox's services allow parents to customize online e-books, called "Success Stories", to address an individual child's specific learning and developmental needs and preferences.  Is  that about right? Amy Maguire: Yes, our materials allow the main physical features of the child, hair color and style, eye color, skin tone, glasses/no glasses, and method of communication (words, signs, a device or pictures) to be customized to look like the child.  The text of the materials also is  customized to address their specific needs. Paul DiPerna: Can you describe in what ways, maybe by one or two examples, how parents and professionals use your products to help children learn? Amy Maguire: Since many children have very specific needs those can be included in the text to address their individual needs.  For example, if a  child becomes easily frustrated by transitions and finds these very upsetting, a book could directly address this frustrating time in their day and indicate what strategies they could use for remaining calm.   Also, some of the materials address potentially new or unfamiliar situations. The story, "When Things Change", could be used to discuss divorce, a new sibling, a new teacher, or other changes to prepare a child for what to expect and how to respond. We base much of what we do on marketing research.  We  frequently survey our customers to see what they want. Our current products are really well liked by our market, and we believe people find them effective. We include ideas from emails or calls we get from customers in our surveys.  We want to make sure we are providing  products people need and parents and professionals realize we value their opinions. I don't want to give anyone the impression that our products are an answer or cure to anything. Within our service capacity, we do our best to address kids' needs. What we are currently working on in the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) grant process is a research-based video game. There are so many products and services in the special education market.  We want to make sure we are spending our time, money,  and effort developing materials that make us stand out and encourage people to look to us for materials and information. We also include
  5. 5. articles in our newsletters with helpful ideas for teaching kids useful skills, working with schools, preparing kids for new situations, and a variety of other things.. Paul DiPerna: Are there any political, business, and/or academic leaders who you think fully understand the need for customized instruction and teaching to the individual child? Amy Maguire: Albert Bandura advanced the idea of changing a character to look like the child in Social Learning Theory (Bandura 1977).  The theory  discusses how individuals learn from watching the behaviors and consequences of those around them.  The theory suggests similar  characteristics such as age, gender, and overall appearance are factors in individuals modeling a behavior. Often teachers make books for children with pictures or drawings to address very specific issues such as sensory needs for children with autism.  People frequently  purchase stories about feelings, health issues, or new situations to help children cope with different things.  These stories are a way for  people to address these topics and customize stories online.  The  other materials we are developing have a customizable aspect to them which is quite different but since we are in development I am not really able to discuss them. Paul DiPerna: What individuals or organizations do we see as leading public advocates? Amy Maguire: The Council for Exceptional Children is a leader professional development and advocacy in overall disabilities. For children with autism, the Autism Society of America (ASA) is a wonderful resource.   Many areas have local branches of the ASA.  They are a fantastic  resource. They often have speakers, know the local resources well, and provide support for families just learning about a diagnosis. Paul DiPerna: It seems to me that what you and Sandbox are trying to accomplish falls squarely in line with the "social entrepreneurship" movement of the past 25 or so years..  A movement that appears to be escalating  due to the connecting powers of the Internet and telecommunications- though, that is just my take :)  Sandbox Learning's goal for contributing  to a social good looks like it is very consistent with the values and organizations promoted by foundations like Schwab, Skoll, Omidyar, and Ashoka. With respect to your passion for entrepreneurship, has there been a role model for you?  Maybe someone you learned about while at  Wake Forest, or possibly who you've met while running Sandbox? Amy Maguire: One of the best things about the MBA program at Wake Forest was listening to the entrepreneurial guest speakers.  No matter what their  company did or how they became successful, their stories were always inspiring.  I always felt like, "If they can do it, then so can I." I also found that most entrepreneurs are very willing to help other entrepreneurs.  They love to tell stories about their experiences, and  they want other people to avoid some of the mistakes they made. While at Wake Forest, I had the opportunity to hear John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, speak.  I also was part of a small group of  students who had lunch with him.  His story about starting the  company, growing it, and his current role in the organization were very interesting.  The company helps the community and does well  financially.  I think this is the ideal for any company, and they have  done an exceptional job of accomplishing this.
  6. 6. Paul DiPerna: Do you have any special plans later this year, professionally and/or personally? Amy Maguire: Personally, I have a few trips with family and friends that should be relaxing and fun.  Kayaking, biking, hiking, and other activities are on  the agenda for the trips. I love enjoying nature so I am looking forward to getting away and being outside. Professionally, we are just working on growing the company and submitting a few SBIR grants.  We also are looking at some other  product lines and that is exciting. July 11, 2007 home | interviews index | Join the email list | RSS for interviews | Paul's email Blau Exchange, est. 2006 | Blau Exchange, All Rights Reserved 2006-2008 site design by gralmy