This story is a part of our ‘A Day in the Life’ series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. From September 15 through October 15 we’re celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month and featuring members of one of our Business Resource Networks: TuGente.
When Erika Maldonado began her first semester of classes at the University of California, Merced (UCM), she had one goal in mind: a career in media. But upon discovering the school didn’t offer a specialized program, she knew she had to be creative.
“It felt like a startup in a lot of ways,” Erika said when describing her university experience. “I carved out a career trajectory for myself that was unique to my needs.”
But while navigating her way through UCM, Erika realized that it wasn’t just any career in media that she wanted to pursue—it needed to be educational. Erika was inspired by her professors at UCM and was captivated by learning. So much so that she majored in social and cognitive science, completed school early as a part of UCM’s very first graduating class, and reimagined her professional aspirations.
Come graduation, Erika was interested in finding a job in documentary filmmaking or producing content for a network like PBS, but instead opted to dive head first into education. She moved back to Los Angeles and took on a role working with children who had autism.
As a behavior therapist, Erika got to know a lot of families with kids on the spectrum and who had the courage and discipline to educate their children in the best way possible. In addition to working with students and their parents to incorporate learning goals, provide proper communication techniques, and identify and address behavioral issues, Erika also found herself learning about apps made for kids with autism. That’s what inspired her to find out what advanced degrees exist in media, technology, and education—her now three passions.
Erika went on to pursue a Masters in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. And from there, she found her calling at 2U, Inc. in Learning Design & Development, where she has a hand in media, technology, and education.
Read on to learn about Erika’s journey at 2U, her culture, and what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to her.
Why did you join 2U? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?
I was interested in production jobs in education and stumbled upon 2U. At the time, the company had only been around for two years and was going by the name of 2tor. While I couldn’t find any production jobs on the career site, I was able to find snippets of videos that had been created for 2U’s first degree offering, The USC Rossier School of Education Master of Arts in Teaching online degree program, and I was intrigued. I saw an opening in Student Success and decided that starting in a role on the team could open the door to other opportunities, so I applied. I met with two 2Utes for an interview near USC and could see their eyes beaming with excitement when they talked about 2U’s mission. That enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so when I was offered the job, I accepted it. The rest is history!
How would you describe your role as a course development lead?
Today, I oversee a team of six course developers and two senior course developers and work across several verticals. I serve as the product owner for this cross-functional team (which also includes Course Strategy, Project Management, Course Development, Video Production, and Implementation) and enforce alignment of courses produced by the group with curricular requirements delivered by our partners. It’s my job to work with them to ensure that we are launching all of our courses effectively and promptly and that they have the resources that they need to do their job. It's also my job to ensure that we are not only delivering a product efficiently but also one that will produce the best student experience.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
Right now, what is most challenging is not being able to travel. I used to travel quarterly for leadership meetings, and I relished the opportunity we would have to discuss the strategy and goals of our Course Development team and the ability to connect with my peers. It was also very rewarding to be able to coordinate off-site events for my own team. But now, due to COVID, we cannot meet up.
The most rewarding part is knowing that we at 2U are making a difference in education. I’m a firm believer in our Career Curriculum Continuum, and I'm proud to work for a company that is capable of touching a person’s academic trajectory at any point in their life and career through diverse lifelong learning opportunities.
What’s your favorite part about working at 2U?
The people. That’s probably the most common answer you’ll get from anyone at 2U, but it’s just so true. I’m continuously impressed by how brilliant, kind, and motivated people are.
How has culture played a role in your career?
I have been a lead for our international program at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico because I speak spanish fluently. I first worked on their LLM content a few years back and now I’m working with Tec de Monterrey on their business program. It has been really fun to be able to use my Spanish at work, travel to the beautiful university, and learn so much about the Mexican culture.
What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
My mom is from Ecuador (her mom is half Peruvian) and my dad is half Bolivian and half Salvadorian but was born in Guatemala, so I know a lot about my South and Central American culture. But there are still so many other countries in my background, which always left me confused about how to answer questions about my heritage. So for me, celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month means being able to celebrate the beauty in how all of these countries' customs and traditions have touched my life.
How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
I taught a virtual salsa class to 2Utes...twice. I felt a bit out of my comfort zone, as I am usually a receiver of salsa lessons by some remarkable instructors, but I had a blast being on the opposite side. Besides that, playing reggaeton and other types of Latin music all day, every day. It makes my heart so happy to see Latin music continuing to grow in our mainstream culture.
Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what are you proudest of?
This is a challenging question because I am proud of quite a few things. Since I have been here for some time, I have been able to be a part of many new beginnings for 2U. For example, I was a part of launching the first DPT program at 2U with USC! I received my doctorate through USC, too, through the 2U-powered USC EdD in Organizational Change and Leadership program. This was a meaningful accomplishment for me, as I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, the first to get a masters, and the first to get a doctorate.
If I had to choose one thing I’m most proud of, I’d have to say my work with our data team. It has been my dream for years to be able to look at video metrics to see how students are engaging with the content we produce. Now, we can. I can hop into our data server and conduct analyses on how students are engaging with our videos, which in turn helps me understand how to improve how we serve students.
You’ve been at 2U for more than a decade. Why have you stayed? What’s keeping you here?
I have stayed because every time I think 2U can do something better, we end up doing it. As I mentioned above, I’m a strong believer in the Career Curriculum Continuum because education should be as diverse as students, and I am glad that I work for an organization that values this. We are not only offering four-year degrees here—we have credentials, which I think is exciting and an important part of where online education is going to continue to move.
What advice would you give to someone just starting at 2U?
Get to know as many people as you can. The backgrounds of the employees at 2U are diverse and it is great to just listen to their stories and how they got here. I promise you’ll learn a lot!
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Just that I owe so much of my life to my mom and dad, who both immigrated here as small children from Ecuador and El Salvador, respectively. I couldn’t be who I am today without their guidance and support. They were both kids of single mothers (whom I also owe so much to), my mamita and my abuelita, and beat all odds to become successful and raise three strong women.
Are you interested in a job like Erika’s? Check out our Learning Design & Development team page for information on open positions. We’re hiring.
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