Sept. 1, 2023

The serious business of education

Werklund student Maya Saggar connects her academic and entrepreneurial ambitions with an assist from Mitacs Accelerate award
Maya Saggar
Doctor of Education student Maya Saggar balances her studies with leading an educational resource company Courtesy Maya Saggar

Education and entrepreneurship have played a tandem role throughout Maya Saggar’s post-secondary journey. Back when she was a communications undergraduate in Ontario, she had a side venture offering dance lessons in K-12 schools. Today, she balances leading Impact Learning, an educational resources company, and working toward her doctorate at the Werklund School of Education.

In fact, it was at that first venture — teaching fancy footwork — where Saggar had the epiphany that continues to inform both her business and research practices.

“I realized that I enjoyed creating content, running the business, and developing the curriculum just as much,” she explains. “I love teaching, but I also get so much excitement from creating and planning.”

Following her BA, Saggar pursued a Master of Education at the University of Toronto, where, upon nearing completion of her program, she further fleshed out her ambitions with a little bit of guidance.

“I realized that I wasn't done school. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I wasn't done with learning,” she recalls. “My master’s supervisor asked, ‘What do you see your career looking like?' ”

Responding that she “wanted to teach teachers,” her supervisor suggested that Saggar consider applying for a doctoral program. After doing some legwork, she decided that the Werklund School of Education was really the only choice as her research revealed it to be the only school in Canada with a curriculum EdD program.

“I realized that I wasn't done school. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I wasn't done with learning.”
- Maya Saggar

Meanwhile, just as she was just embarking on this new phase of her studies, the pandemic happened and inadvertently opened the door for her next business. Finding herself fielding queries from colleagues trying to adapt their teaching to the online world, Saggar found herself taking on a de facto consulting role. Then she had her lightbulb moment and Impact Learning was born.

“I call it a learning services agency,” she says. “We help businesses create educational content. We design programs, create courses, create workbooks — anything to do with the designing or implementing a learning experience.”

'Perfect timing'

This year, Saggar has been able to intertwine her educational and entrepreneurial ambitions even tighter thanks to a grant from the Mitacs Accelerate program, which is designed to fund research at the core of student and postdoctoral startups.

“This special program that Mitacs had just launched was meant for people like me who are both a student and a business owner," says Saggar. “It was kind of perfect timing.”

Saggar’s project looks to answer the question of what kinds of resources subject matter experts need to turn their knowledge into research-backed learning experiences. Acknowledging that while there is substantive literature on curriculum development for traditional classroom learning, Saggar contends that there is a resource gap for small instructional businesses, meaning everything from professional development services to private coaching to, yes, even dance lessons.

“There are a lot of resources out there to help people start businesses, and obviously there's a lot of traditional education resources, too," says Saggar. “But there is this kind of in-between... Many of the people that my company serves are educator entrepreneurs, I call them edu-preneurs, and they kind of live in this limbo where they can take information from both, but nothing hits the nail on the head.

“What the research project aims to do is basically understand what these people are commonly needing. How can we fill that gap? What's missing? Then, the goal would be to design those elements and give them back to the audience that requested it.”

Those elements translate to a broad range of possible materials, from planning templates to content modules to ready-to-go course frameworks and so on. Which is exactly the kind of work Saggar relishes most.

“It works in parallel with my student research in terms of creating content for other people's use,” she says.  That's something I'm very passionate about. For me, the best part of being an entrepreneur is getting to create things and getting to do that every day.”

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