StoriesRyan Hanlon ’16

Alumnus Ryan Hanlon Forges New Career Path

Formerly an architect and urban planner, Hanlon now revels in teaching middle school.

Hanlon begins new career as a Middle School STEAM teacher, integrating former career experience in architecture and urban planning

Ryan Hanlon has had a varied career. Growing up, he says, he was more of the "art student," and in college he trained as an architect. Fresh out of architecture school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he worked for years as an urban planner for Harvard University. He then got a Master of Architecture at the University of Texas, and moved to Chicago to work on international buildings, designing iconic, sustainable skyscrapers in Boston, Chicago, Dubai, and China. Then, he says, things moved in a completely different direction.

"My decision to become a teacher was like a constant knock at the door," says Hanlon. "I love sharing ideas and discoveries, and I love listening to what others discover. I am a constant learner." In architecture, he says he learned various new technologies to stay current and evolve, and found joy in tackling problems.

Also, during his time in Chicago, while obtaining his architecture license, he became a one-on-one math tutor. He tutored for 5 years, mostly with one math-shy student, with whom he remains in touch. It was this experience, he says, wherein the teacher became the student, learning what his next step should be. Hanlon is emphatic that, in his decision to become a teacher, he is not a "career changer," but has, he says, simply "evolved to utilize my skills and experience in a middle school setting."

Enrolling in Lesley's M.Ed. in Middle School Mathematics program seemed like a natural fit: through working in architecture alongside some of the best living architects, such as James Goettsch, Lucien Lagrange, Smith & Gill, and Alejandro Stochetti, he says, "I was able to see STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics] through a disciplinary lens."

Shortly before graduating, Hanlon had the honor of receiving an award from the Massachusetts Educational Recruiting Consortium (MERC), which "acknowledges the professional aspirations of an outstanding educator, counselor, and/or administrator as well as provides assistance to the new professional." 

True to his plan, he got a teaching job. He started in 2016 at Swampscott Middle School, in a school system he describes as "a wonderfully progressive school district by the sea." He is a math enrichment teacher and STEAM specialist, teaching 7th and 8th grade students who need more time to develop their core math competencies.

He teaches robotics, and recently developed a class based on developing students' spatial and digital skills simultaneously. "The class, 3D Modeling and Prototypes, will engage students in measuring, 3D Modeling, 3D Printing, and then comparing, analyzing, and assessing reasons for similarities and differences. I plan to use the great honor of being a MERC award and scholarship recipient to expand technology and 21st Century skill building in my classroom. I have many goals and ideas on how to use technology to improve both enrichment and STEAM curricula."

Off to a Flying Start

Reached after his first week of school, he was excited about the beginning of the school year. "All my classes are PBL (Project Based Learning) classes," he said. "In Robotics, just the first week, the students are building robots and innovating new ways to make them move. In 3D Modeling, I have integrated my architecture experience and the students are using a program called SketchUp Pro in order to develop spatial reasoning and real-world measurement skills. In my enrichment classes, we work on our math skills, and differentiating learning to each student's need. I also emphasize that I was not a math student, but had terrible issues with middle-school math due to a learning disability."

He points to one of his math teachers, Ms. Sapienza, who helped him connect math to the real world and helped him be a better student. "Now that I look back, it is probably why I became a teacher. I ask my students to share their interests so we can find in-roads to success in math. Everyone is capable in math—just let me work with them."

"All my students know that mistakes are OK; gosh, I make them, too. I do not emphasize the end-goal or perfection but the journey. I let them know I am there with them making mistakes; mistakes are knowledge waiting to happen. I believe we are having a wonderful start to the year at Swampscott Middle School. I have a long commute from my home to Swampscott each day. But I would drive twice as far. I am really excited for every day.

"I am so happy to be a part of the Swampscott school district, and the educational base that only Lesley could provide," he says. "The skills I learned to become the teacher for this job I gathered from Lesley's practicum program. I also have a great amount of support within my school, with parents, from my previous teaching experiences, at Lesley, and within the architectural community.

He said of his new job: "It's the beginning of a whole new year. The kids are here. I'm excited. And now, I continue to evolve and have the honor to bring my life's experiences into the middle school classroom, where kids are deciding if they can/can't or do/don't like math. Maybe some of my life lessons, tidbits, successes, and failures—and even bad jokes—will change at least some of their minds."