For Google, Taking the Lead in Education Applications
When Jennifer (Miller) Holland ’07 first received a recruiting pitch from Google, Inc., she thought it was a scam. Though she was a senior at Fairfield at the time, and her academic excellence as a marketing major in the Dolan School of Business was well documented, she — as any graduating senior would be — was gobsmacked by the possibility of working for one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting companies.
“Half the letters in the recruiting message were in different colors and I thought, ‘What is this?’” Holland recalled, with a laugh. “But that playfulness is just part of the culture at Google, I have since learned.”
In her nine years with Google, Inc., (now called Alphabet) Holland has worked as a team leader in Finance Operations and as a global sales strategist before jumping to the Product Division, where she has flourished. She is now senior program manager of Google Apps for Education, reaching over 50 million teachers and students in 190 countries.
Google Apps for Education is a package of online applications designed to help students and teachers communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Google, Inc. began providing this package free of charge to schools and qualifying non-profit organizations in 2006, and because it’s all done online, the interaction between students and teachers is paperless.
Working out of Google, Inc.’s New York headquarters, Holland works with her team to adapt the applications to the individual needs of teachers and students globally.
“In a lot of ways, we have a moral obligation to help,” she said. “That’s who we are at Google and it was part of the company from its founding. Education is an important component of that.”
Since that time, Google Apps for Education has been a work in progress, its design driven through collaboration with teachers and school officials.
“While the digital world is great, some of the physical world workflows of handing in assignments don’t always translate easily,” said Holland. “So, beginning three years ago, we doubled down our efforts and built Google Classroom, a new product in our education offering.”
Google Classroom, released in August 2014, is an innovative way for teachers to create, store and grade assignments and to communicate with students digitally.
“We included Fairfield University in the early pilot version of Google Classroom,” said Holland. “Fairfield students were constantly asking their professors to use Google Apps for
Education and we thought there was a lot we could learn from the students and professors.
We designed Classroom hand-in-hand with schools to ensure the solution we built would
work for everyone.”
Working to perfect Google Apps for Education is apparently not enough for Holland, who possesses a genuine and tireless altruistic streak.
“I’ve always volunteered,” she said. “It is part of who I am, and the Jesuit ethic at Fairfield simply reinforced that. We have an obligation to help the next generation. Thus, I make a lot of student visits and tours around the country.” When Holland speaks to high school students about their futures, she uses herself as Exhibit A.
“My job creating a virtual reality product (called Google Expeditions, that allows students to take virtual college tours on their smartphones) didn’t even exist a year ago,” said Holland. “And a large percentage of jobs that these students will compete for have not been created yet either. They need to start developing the skills to be ready for them when they get out of school.”
Holland’s volunteer work as a mentor has encouraged other Google staffers. She started Google’s first corporate volunteer program, Google Reach, which sends employees on a month-long service trip. She also is the founder and director of the Community Leaders Program — a digital literacy outreach effort that is offered in nine U.S. cities and aims to close the digital divide in low-income communities. Though raised in California, Holland wanted to attend an East Coast university after high school.
“I also wanted it to be a smaller school, and Fairfield University had a formal business program, so that sold me,” said Holland, who visited the University for all of 20 minutes before making her decision.
While at Fairfield, she was encouraged in her studies by Dr. Dawn W. Massey, professor of accounting.
“She’s the best,” said Holland. “We have continued to stay in touch since I left.” After graduating from Fairfield, Holland considered getting her MBA at either Georgetown University or the University of San Francisco (USF). However, when she got the recruiting call from Google, Inc., she headed back out west to USF.
“I ended up working half time at Google and taking classes at night,” she said. “I was very well prepared for my MBA and my Google job by Fairfield.” ●