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Mila Thomas Fuller brings unique perspective to ISTE Board

by ISTE | Sep 28, 2015

EdTekPhotoISTE Board member Mila Thomas Fuller has fond memories of her first connection to the ISTE community. She joined ISTE in 1999 excited tomeet others who had an interest in using technology in schools and who understood how to authentically connect it to learning. She recalls how easy it was to connect at her first conference in Atlanta in 2000.

She reveled in the fact she could discuss her real-life classroom challenges and people offered solid advice. To her greater delight, they followed up, too. That included a U.S. Department of Education representative who wanted to attend a presentation Fuller was giving months later.

“It wasn’t just shaking hands at a conference. It was the start of ongoing relationships. I met some of my best friends there,” she says.

Fuller, the deputy executive director at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), began her professional career as a middle school classroom teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and then transitioned to a customer service supervisor for Southwest Airlines as a short-term chance to travel before settling in to a focused career track. During her seven years with the Baltimore City Public School System, she held titles ranging from language arts/social studies teacher to technology instructor and coordinator of technology leadership.

People skills are her forte

Fuller worked for ISTE long before she was elected to the board. She was the director of strategic initiatives in the Washington, D.C., office from 2003 to 2008, working on developing partnerships with corporations, associations and universities. One of her responsibilities involved overseeing the corporate membership program, initially called ISTE 100.

In that role, she typically worked with educators who had connections to the companies, so it was a good opportunity to discuss innovations in education with front-line adopters. After all, Fuller says, corporations develop systems, software and hardware and associations provide thought leadership, including creative and innovative recommendations, on the tools that eventually land in students’ and teachers’ hands.

The corporate contacts also became resources on international educational trends, thanks to their worldwide market reach, which made them partners in education rather than merely vendors.

So it’s a given that Fuller took away valuable lessons in how to build coalitions among different groups in the community.

It’s the perfect background for her current — and unique — role on the ISTE Board. She hold the position of treasurer and is also chair of the Audit Committee.

“I have a really good understanding of how decisions impact [ISTE] internally. And having participated in strategic planning from a staff member’s perspective, I have a better understanding of the process behind reports to the board,” she says.

She enjoys being involved

Fuller was also active with ISTE affiliate the Maryland Society for Technology in Education from 1999 until 2008, and is now a lifetime member. She served as president and also took on roles chairing committees on workshops, nominations and credentials, and policy and procedures.

During ISTE 2015, she was emcee for Pitch Fest, where she demonstrated her humorous side.

She also brought her presentation skills to the 2015 American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) where she presented a session titled “Building and Implementing Diversity Programs in Associations” as part of the ASAE Edutour series.

She’s served as a national panelist at the digitalNow, the premier summit for association leaders, discussed how to use digital graphic organizers to impact student writing as a strategy at Texas A&M, and appeared at the South by Southwest Education Conference, where she spoke on paying it forward — leveraging today’s female voice.

And in her spare time, she works as an adjunct assistant professor for the University of Maryland at University College and is a faculty associate for Johns Hopkins University’s Doctor of Education program.

Fuller’s education background is as varied as her professional experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Illinois, a master’s in leadership atNotre Dame Maryland University and a doctorate of education in instructional technology from Towson University. Her dissertation topic was “The Impact of Digital and Paper-Based Graphic Organizers on the Persuasive Writing Process of 4th and 5 th Grade Students.”

She is the founder and program host of the Champaign-Urbana African American Read-In hosted at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, an event she backed after realizing it could be an excellent way to raise awareness of works written by African-American authors while creating a dialogue around both the importance of literacy and diversity.  In fact, the National African American Read-In was founded in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English.

She says the bookstore location provides a community atmosphere where area superintendents can connect by reading an excerpt from a book or poem by an African-American author and students can also join in with presentations and readings. It’s no surprise then that’s she’s expanded her community involvement to include chair of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation Board of Directors.

Oh, and the tech task force chair for the Champaign Urbana Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority? Yep, that’s Mila Fuller, too.

Making sure her son is a savvy tech user

What drives her to build such a busy schedule around her career? Her 4-year-old son, Christopher, who will attend kindergarten next year. He’s already comfortable with technology, navigating an iPhone and iPad to search, open and use apps. He has his own iPhone (with no service) and asks her to send him photos she takes.

“I want him to have a solid understanding of digital literacy and to be proficient with it,” Fuller says. And as he gets older, her focus will be on making sure he understands how to properly evaluate the tools he’s using while demonstrating critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

“While working on my dissertation, I noticed differences between the students who were comfortable with technology and those who weren’t,” she explains. “I don’t want proficiency to be a barrier to his learning. I want to remove all possible barriers.”

Fuller and her husband of 10 years, Christopher, who served on the board from 2009-13, are currently making school visits and looking at the options for their son’s education. She’s searching for one with a strong academic program where teachers not only love what they do but care about each and every student. That they integrate tech into their curriculum in appropriate ways to cultivate his critical-thinking skills goes without saying.

In the family’s leisure time, Mila likes to bowl, experience new restaurants and vacation in Honolulu.

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