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MIT Executive MBA capstone course leads to business partnership

Company’s educational software will be more accessible, thanks to guidance from Perkins School for the Blind

November 18, 2015

2015-Johansen

Paul Johansen, EMBA '15

An educational software company and a Boston-based nonprofit have developed a partnership thanks to a fortuitous meeting during an MIT Executive MBA program course.

Paul Johansen, EMBA ’15, was attending MIT Sloan with a goal of further developing his management practices following his move to the chief technology officer role at Edmentum, a provider of online learning programs. Last May, he participated in EMBA’s Leading with Impact executive module, a capstone course that integrates students’ accomplishments over the 20-month, executive schedule MBA degree program. EMBAs, who typically have significant work experience, remain in their jobs while attending school for 26 weekends and four week-long modules. During the Leading with Impact course, student teams were assigned to work with local nonprofits addressing business issues ranging from technology needs to work process improvements.

It was during this course that Johansen met Cristopher Broyles, the director of digital accessibility at Perkins School for the Blind, one of the nonprofit partner organizations. Perkins was looking to expand its nascent strategic and technical accessibility consulting services. Edmentum, which serves school districts and educational institutions across the United States, needed an accessibility adviser and partner. The company offers personalized learning software for children in kindergarten through high school, and legally, the software must be accessible to all children.

“Literally, this was a challenge in my organization that we had been trying to solve,” Johansen said. “It’s about allowing all students to use our technology.”

Following a brief chat, Johansen and Broyles exchanged cards. Back at his Minnesota office, Johansen proposed Perkins as a potential accessibility consultant. Edmentum was considering other partners and Johansen didn’t want to influence the process, but Perkins impressed the evaluation team and was chosen to provide guidance and testing and help Edmentum certify their solutions.

“Perkins provides a turnkey solution that meets all of our needs. It was important for us to find a partnership that had long-term potential,” Johansen said.

Perkins and Edmentum have recently wrapped up their first phase of engagement, and Broyles said he’s looking forward to continuing the work. “Edmentum is well-known and well-respected in the education space,” Broyles said. “They seem to be very sharply focused on user experience and optimizing the educator’s learning process.”

Overall, the Leading with Impact course was inspiring and enabled the EMBA students to assist 14 nonprofits, said Johanna Hising DiFabio, director of the EMBA program.

“I’m delighted that Edmentum and Perkins School for the Blind have engaged in this partnership resulting from a connection to our program,” she added.

Johansen lauded his experience with Leading with Impact, as well as the EMBA program, which he said gave him a new level of confidence.

“If you can work with those amazing peers in the EMBA program, you can work with anyone. It was humbling and confidence-building all in one,” Johansen said.