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  • Writer's pictureJane Powel

How OmniLearn Began

OmniLearn was founded in 1996, but the true origins of the company started many years prior. Let’s go back, way back, all the way back to 1962.

I remember very clearly writing in a little composition notebook in fourth grade about what you want to be when you grow up, and I said, teacher or flight attendant, because I loved learning and reading but I also wanted to travel.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t interested in science until much later in life, long after I did actually become a teacher. I had a chemistry kit as a child, but school science- chemistry and biology- were not for me. I didn’t enjoy science classes in school because my early experiences with it weren’t exciting or relatable.

I started teaching second grade in 1974 in Garden City Park Long Island. I loved teaching, but I felt that the entire system was counterintuitive. After the birth of my twins in 1977, I decided to be a consultant on my own doing gifted education. I had gotten my Masters in Special Education, which took me from being an elementary-certified teacher to being certified for K-12, and gave me all kinds of options. I've never looked back.

I started consulting with the Roslyn school district in 1982, teaching gifted and talented students. In 1991, I took on a part-time position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories (CSHL). I was inspired by the cutting edge scientific techniques of working scientists, but it was intimidating because initially I did not know molecular biology and genetics like the back of my hand. I did know that DNA was going to be big and I wanted it for my students. It was symbiotic in the sense that Roslyn administrators wanted access to CSHL for their students, and CSHL wanted access to the students in all these Long Island school districts.

During the course of my time at CSHL and the DNA Learning Center, I saw how many students we were able to draw. For example, we had a 15,000 increase in students in one year, and we were awarded a major three million dollar grant from Charles Dolan to double the size of the program. I realized I had a tiger by the tail. There was this immense power of CSHL and all these brilliant people but nobody was paying any attention to middle schoolers. Nobody. And that's who we brought in. And once I saw that, I thought, “Why couldn't I do that myself with my station wagon?”

Somewhere around 1994 or 1995, I started thinking, I have to go and do this myself. Of course, it was frightening. I was a single mother of four children that needed me and needed me to provide for them.

In 1996, I officially incorporated OmniLearn Corp. Bit by bit, I started building up clientele in Long Island. I also worked in Northern California for 10 years backed by Dr. Tom White, Chief Scientific Officer at Celera, who would ship my whole family and all our equipment out there. This was back when you were allowed to take liquids on the plane!

In 2003, the school district superintendent in Roslyn was arrested for embezzling $11 million and my consulting gig was no more. As a result, I moved OmniLearn into NYC but stayed on Long Island at the East Woods School (and we are still there!). I had to cut my company way down to just me and my son Michael. Then we built up from there. In 2006, we applied for and received a Multiple Task Award Contract (MTAC) from the NYC Department of Education, and then we got another, and now another as well as certification as a WBE (Women-Owned Business Enterprise) which is very important.

Our growth has been fairly organic. I hadn't set out to grow in any particular direction, but as personal or professional needs changed and as opportunities arose, I am not one to turn them down. Even if we've never done it before, we can do it.

For the first time, we are taking on the position of lead Community Based Organization (CBO) in not one, but four schools for the next four years!

I know from my life's experience that if you use STEM as the main hub for education, all the other subjects can fall into place and be learned in context. If you teach science from this point of view, you will edify every child in a way that will empower them for their whole lives. Not because they know more science, it's important to know the facts, but because they're going to have self-awareness, they're going to have confidence, they're going to know how to do math in context. They're going to take risks.

I love to learn so that’s what we do. We keep learning and we keep growing. Twenty seven years into running my company, I decided to invest in a branding overhaul and this gorgeous brand new website (thanks Josh!). It's so interesting to look back over the years. In my mind, all I see is a roller coaster. You’re up, you're down. You have this many schools, you have one school. You have jobs for decades and then poof, you lose that job.

Whatever challenges I faced — schools dropped off, embezzlements, divorces, natural disasters, worldwide pandemics — I’m still here. Still learning. Still growing. OmniLearn is still learning and still growing. We have had numerous wonderful employees throughout the years and all of their hard work has given OmniLearn its ability to pivot and grow and actually fulfill our mission, which was and is to revolutionize American education.

Jane Powel

Founder + CEO of OmniLearn

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