The Balance for Success —

MAEKAN Session : School Smarts, Street Smarts


Kevin Oh’s to-do list on his last day as a high school physics teacher.

MAEKAN Sessions are thematic online panel discussions hosted by MAEKAN featuring guests in various creative fields. Sessions allow us to have longer, in-depth conversations on single topics where we bring together interesting people from around the globe, in a format that is open for anyone to listen in and ask questions.


In this MAEKAN Session we spoke with Shanaz Chowdhery, Irwin Chen and Kevin Oh on the role formal education plays in preparing students for life after school and the value of self-learning.


Shanaz Chowdhery is the Regional Director in Washington DC for General Assembly where she oversees the DC campus’ strategy and operations. Prior to joining General Assembly in 2014, Shanaz was a Teach For America corps member teaching math to 5th and 7th graders.


Irwin Chen is an assistant professor at Parsons The New School for Design, and is the design lead for the Journalism + Design Program. He’s also the Director of Visualization Design at the Mintz Group, a global investigative firm.


Kevin Oh previously worked as a high school physics teacher and is now a professional photographer and videographer whose clients include Nike, Coca-cola and Havas. He is the co-founder of the non-profit, Pangea Educational Development, which helps bring sustainable education to schools in Uganda.


Our three panelists fielded questions on what schools are doing well in preparing students for the real world and what they could be doing better. We discussed how education tends to overlook individual students’ needs, background and interests. In light of that, the conversation turned to the importance of self-learning. This Session ended with Irwin, Shanaz and Kevin describing their visions of ideal education models and what they’re currently teaching themselves.


Get in touch with our panelists:

Shanaz Chowdhery on Twitter @shanazfc
Irwin Chen on Twitter @irwin
Kevin Oh on Instagram @kevinoh

The New School building in downtown Manhattan where Irwin teaches. Photo by James Ewing.

“When you go to high school and college, in terms of the arts, critique is where you learn about how to be creative. It’s where you have this fear of failing in front of everyone and you use that to motivate yourself to do more work. To work your ass off.”

— Irwin Chen

Photograph by Kevin Oh.

“As creatives, I think the most frustrating ask is, “just do whatever you want, just make something.” A lot of high schools don’t set good expectations, and I think setting boundaries allows us to be creative within a space.”

— Kevin Oh

“Our school system does teach the bare bones of, “this is how you function in society.” Some of the teachers I’ve had and some of the teachers I’ve worked with placed emphasis on, “when you graduate, I want to make sure you’re a good human.””

— Shanaz Chowdhery

General Assembly campus in Washington D.C. where Shanaz Chowdhery works as Regional Director.