Transforming the Way this World Perceives Education

Meet Mary Wenstrom- Education & Chief Impact Officer at Pilina Education Alliance, a high school learning program in Hawaii

Growing up on a small farm in Minnesota, Mary’s childhood was spent playing sports and helping her family out on the farm. Little did she know that she will be spending most of her later life in the field of education. 

After attaining a Masters degree in School Leadership and School Development from Harvard University, she took the charge of building Germany’s first public charter school and ran it successfully till she found her new venture, Pilina Education Alliance.

The idea for a new venture came to her in 2012, when she was listening to Malala’s Yousufzai’s Nobel acceptance speech where she said, “Now is not the time to tell our world leaders that education is important. They already know it’s important because their kids are in great schools. Now is the time to tell our world leaders to bring education to all students.” Her speech ignited a spark in Mary that changed her trajectory to becoming an Entrepreneur. She decided to spend the rest of her career on closing the wide opportunity gap in education by bringing high-quality learning experiences to all kinds of students.

The word ‘Pilina’ in Pilina Education Alliance means ‘to bring together’ in Hawaiian. She says:

We have partnered with an innovative company here in Hawaii, called Oceanit. Together, we have designed ‘Oceanit High’ which is an innovative high school learning program that is available through partnerships with participating public schools. Here, students engage in a robust work-based learning program and are supported by a personalized curriculum tailored to meet their course credit requirements during the regular school day. Students are still attached to their geographic school so they can participate in high school extracurricular activities. Our program blends both virtual and face-to-face opportunities for students and utilizes career-based learning to provide meaning to academic coursework. We provide students with the opportunity to work with real clients on real projects where they can build the skills they need to thrive in future jobs in their home community.

Mary’s initial challenges included aspects like having no money to do the things she wanted to do. While she has been able to overcome this challenge, her present challenges involve finding the right people who believe in her vision to grow her venture.

To date, she has lived and worked in 5 different countries and conducted projects in over 30 countries. She has experience and success in building several organisations, programs as well as schools from the ground up. She also has the ability to work with existing organizations to approach challenges from new angles, creating growth and achieving positive results. Her peers recognize her as a dedicated and inspirational leader who works with leadership teams, faculty and staff to provide all students excel in education, developing the cognitive skills and dispositions necessary to thrive in the world.

The response of her clients at Pilina Education has been very positive- at present, her focus is to keep revising and building the business model from the feedback she receives.

She believes as we all are emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, now is the time to start new things- “Follow the passions and interests that you have always wanted to pursue. Instead of focusing on, ‘If I build it/provide it, will people want it?’, put all your attention on, ‘If I build it/provide it, will it matter?’ If you start something that matters that helps communities around the world, you are going to be successful and thrive, no matter what.

With every new venture, Mary has been willing to put in lots of extra hours and efforts to get things off the ground- a lot of times, this meant juggling between two jobs. With her new venture, she feels really cognizant of her time and does not like to waste it on people who pull the energy away from her. To ensure this, she spends time with people and friends who make her inspired and energized in life.

Her mantra is, “If it’s to be, it’s up to ME.