Madelin Santana is a Neurocoach, Bridge Builder, and Anthropologist of L&D ecosystems. e-Learning SaaS and L&D Data Science. With over fifteen years of operational management experience, she has managed global initiatives and more than a hundred core projects for corporations globally, including Degreed, Harvard University, Boehringer Ingelheim, amongst others. In 2008, her philanthropic spirit led her to establish two programs that provide school supplies to rural schools in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic to ensure a meaningful educational experience for kids lacking basic essential school supplies.
Madelin Santana was born on the serene island of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. She described the charming haven as “the beautiful island of turquoise waters, incredible sunsets, and delicious tropical fruits.”
However, despite living on the peaceful island, she says growing up wasn’t easy with her family’s constant financial burden. But despite their struggles, her parents were great role models for her as a child; she explains, “My father worked two jobs, and my mom worked part-time and took care of three kids. My dad grew up with gas lamps, and he became an engineer by studying late nights with a dim flame. He had a dream to unite the country with energy and I saw him achieve his dream.” She continued, “My mom changed careers from journalism to educator, showing me that a growth mindset is achievable, and we can all be trailblazers nonetheless.”
Being raised in poverty taught young Santana many essential lessons early on in life; she says, “I learned that we are our own change agents and learning and skill development became an important part of my DNA.” An incident as a child had a profound impact on Santana that pushed her to overcome every barrier she experienced in life. She says, “I recall; as a child, I would sharpen my pencil until the last portion was almost near the edge of my eraser. That key moment was a reminder that my family couldn’t afford the basics (pencils, pens, notebooks) and I would ask myself, ‘How can you expect me to learn? I just can’t.’ But through it all, I learnt to treasure the last portion of my pencil because, deep down, I knew I needed to overcome such barriers to learning.”
Through multiple odds and challenges, Santana graduated early due to her exceptional ability to learn and grasp concepts faster. She then decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madrey Maestra in the Dominican Republic. While there, Santana had the honour to be an educator of the next generation and served as a second-grade teacher. A profession that she would later embark on in life by providing equal opportunities to everyone to succeed through quality education.
After graduation, she started working in pharmaceutical marketing closely with Europe and Mexico. She says, “This was my first exposure to developing the muscles of cultural competence skills and I found a new passion: becoming a bridge-builder.”
Her next adventure took her to Boston, MA, where Santana wanted to pursue graduate-level studies. While there, she worked in Financial Services, Manufacturing, and Defense. She says, “Each industry was entirely different, and my anthropological work took place in these industries. All these roles had transversal skills based on Behavioral Design, Learning & Development, Project Management and Consulting at a global level. I wanted to expose myself and learn from different industries on how best to ‘collect the dots and then connect them.'”
After absorbing all the lessons she could from this role, she returned to her roots and accepted a position at Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Design. While there, she says, “I became a mom and soon enough I discovered that my child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 18 months old. This was the genesis for my interest in neuroscience and advanced behavioural science.” By fusing her life circumstances with her work; she says, “I found a new passion: how can organizations overcome their own disabilities, what to unlearn and how to influence behavior and create organizational mindsets.”
She recalled a transformational moment in her life as well her son’s, “As I sat in on a session at Harvard Business School with a Professor who mentioned an interesting fact on autism. I decided to wait until the end of the session to chat with her and she made a recommendation that completely changed my son’s life. He did what is called a bio-management program and went from non-verbal to talking and achieving many other milestones.” She added, “If there’s any reader who would like to talk more about this, please do connect with me.”
Her journey as a mother with a child with ASD has turned her into an ardent advocate to promote understanding, acceptance, and equal opportunity in school settings for children who are either on the Autism Spectrum or who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in Massachusetts for the Latino community. Santana is also a part of a social change movement devoted to securing the educational rights of school children with disabilities and partnering with parents and educators to bring the child’s needs to the centre of the conversation. Santana explains, “It is a mentorship service with parents to navigate the complex web of disability and to better manage the care map that comes with the intrinsic joy of having a special needs child.”
The next step in Santana’s career, she says, was a ‘calling’ moment. She wanted to choose her next job with a transformational impact. “I made a list of transformational buckets inside organizations and spent a whole year applying and interviewing many organizations. I turned down jobs, they turned me down,” Santana added. After several attempts to land the right job, she found Degreed, where she partners with organizations in Latin America. She says, “They are brilliant minds driving cultural transformations in the region, and I am part of the conversation on creating mindsets of learning agility, growth mindset and curiosity to support their learning and talent strategies.”
Due to her exemplary work in the industry, in honour of Hispanic Heritage Month, Amplify Latinx highlighted 30 Latinx Leaders in Massachusetts and Santana was recognized as a Latinx Amplifier. However, she says, one of her most significant accomplishments was at home where she became an Assistant Teacher and got to spend more time with her to her two sons, she quipped, “and yes, I have more grey hair!”
In conclusion, she says to innovate during the pandemic, “Our organizations need to create ‘spaces’ to brainstorm, switching off our ‘task circuit’ and turning ‘on’ our creativity circuit to innovate the thinking process. Design for healthy behaviours, for mindset setting, for mindful design, for modes of transitions framework like resiliency and change management, for deep work. Follow the science, be bold and courageous, experiment with things you never did before, and then follow the data.”