City Connects is well-known for its data-informed practice and use of technology to provide the right service to the right child at the right time. For Brian Ward and Kevin Lopez Mader building City Connects’ technological capacity has been part of a compelling journey.
Ward got his first computer when he was eight years old, and he started building computers when he was 12. It was a personal interest that grew alongside his academic interest in philosophy, which he studied at Whitman College and at Boston College, earning a master’s degree.
It was as a philosophy graduate student that he got a job working for BC’s Technology Consultant Organization, providing software and hardware support to faculty at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.
Ward started working with Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, and as City Connects expanded into new cities, Ward’s responsibilities grew. He joined City Connects’ staff, providing software and hardware support and managing data — and eventually managing our former Student Support Information System (SSIS). That system collected data from whole class reviews and tracked service referrals for students, making it clear what students were doing and how they were doing, and providing information that fuels our research.
Today, Ward is City Connects’ Manager of Software Systems and Development.
How does his training in philosophy help?
“It certainly affects the way I approach problem solving,” he says. “I like to know the ‘why’ of projects and think the whole thing through. Context is crucial.”
Kevin Lopez Mader took a different path to City Connects. He majored in math at the University of Notre Dame.
“After college, I went to Honduras for about three and a half years, and I worked at a children’s home there, primarily teaching middle school math,” he says. Although his mother’s family is of Mexican descent, he did not speak Spanish prior to his arrival. “I was interested in doing post-graduate service and in gaining insight into the culture of Latin America.”
The children’s home, called the Finca del Niño (Farm of the Child), was committed to transforming children’s lives.
“At the Finca del Niño, our mission manifests itself primarily in the lives of our kids,” Lopez Mader wrote of his experience. In addition to teaching, he provided technical support based on the math and computer programming skills he had gained in high school and college.
In 2016, he enrolled in Boston College’s Master of Theological Studies program, carrying with him an interest in continuing to work in education. He found a listing for a graduate student assistantship job at City Connects and applied. Today, he’s our Manager of Software Systems and Development.
Change has been a constant at City Connects, and that includes our technology.
Last year, Ward and Lopez Mader worked with a developer to release a new data management system called MyConnects.
It’s an easier, more flexible system that requires less expertise to use.
“We’re adjusting the system so that when coordinators are randomly thinking about a particular student and want to be able to record something quickly, they can,” Lopez Mader says.
Schools and districts can use MyConnects to add additional data, beyond what City Connects collects, and run their own analyses.
Ward and Lopez Mader are also looking beyond City Connects. Their goal is to make City Connects more powerful — and give educators the tools to develop new projects and make their own discoveries.
“Educational organizations can really struggle because they don’t have the evidence to show that their student success practices are effective,” Lopez Mader says. “But City Connects has this growing body of evidence that shows that we are actually achieving better results for students.”