#110 Russ Mallen, Head of Sustainability & Science at MUSE Virtual

After majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in economics at MIT, Russ was a materials scientist specializing in microchips and circuit boards. During the stock market bubble, he put his math and economics education to work trading currencies, stocks, and options at the PHLX, CBOE, and AMEX. Russ changed career paths and went into private tutoring because he saw an opportunity to transform math and science education. He has been teaching math and science at all levels for over 10 years. He taught Algebra I at Muse School (now MUSE Virtual) and was instantly attracted to the unique approach of the school. Russ is looking forward to integrating the MUSE Virtual foundations of seed to table and sustainability in the science program. Russ finally left Chicago in 2012 to fulfill a dream of living in LA with his wife Annie. Together, Russ and his wife enjoy dog walks, hiking, and bike riding all over Southern California.

Bigger Than Us Episode 110

This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.

Host Raj Daniels  02:14

If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Russ Mallen  02:22

I would say I used to be an options trader in Philadelphia and New York. And first I’ll talk about Philadelphia, which is interesting. Most people don’t even realize Philadelphia has a stock exchange. I used to trade foreign currencies there on the overnight shift. And then I moved to New York to trade at the American Stock Exchange. And unfortunately, I was working there on September 11th.

Host Raj Daniels  02:49

That must have been a tough time for you.

Russ Mallen  02:51

Yeah, it was a rough month. And it was funny because what’s rather odd about it is with the forest fires in California was the first time where I felt like air quality had gotten to the point where it was bringing back memories of New York in the aftermath of September 11.

Host Raj Daniels  03:10

It’s quite a memory. When did you leave trading?

Russ Mallen  03:14

I left New York in January of 2002. And then I continued in the trading business for another couple years, and then migrated out.

Host Raj Daniels  03:26

When made you leave trading?

Russ Mallen  03:29

I wanted to be what’s called a local and basically work for myself or for a small group. And it got to the point where you had to work for a big group or a big bank to stay in it. And it just was not fun anymore. And the risk profiles weren’t appropriate. And sure enough, the banks collapsed a few years later. Not a coincidence. Not meaning I was keeping things less risky, but the banks, they shoved out a lot of little guys, and with less distribution of risk comes greater risk to the whole system.

Host Raj Daniels  04:05

When I think for anyone that was paying attention, and I’m going to say between, let’s say between 2001 and 2004, anyone who’s really paying attention to the lending environment with the Nina loans and no income no asset essentially saw what happened coming really early. You saw the writing on the wall.

Russ Mallen  04:26

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Banks got greedier more and more reckless and unfortunately, I think they’re lending they’re doing better about lending standards these days. But I still I’ve seen a few tendencies with regards to the markets, especially where I feel people are taking too much risk.

Host Raj Daniels  04:46

I agree with you. So I’m gonna take a right turn here and move on to your current endeavor. Can you share where you’re working right now and what you’re doing?

Russ Mallen  04:57

Yes, I currently work for MUSE Virtual School. We are based out of Calabasas, but we are fully virtual. And our school has a sustainability initiative. It’s one of our five pillars.

Host Raj Daniels  05:13

And can you give a background on MUSE school?

Russ Mallen  05:16

Yeah, so MUSE School was founded by Susie, Susie Cameron, and Rebecca as their sisters. Susie is well known to many people. Her husband James was also part of the founding of the school. And Susie started the initiative of MUSE—Susie and Rebecca, they’re vegan. And we started an OMD program, one meal a day. So all our lunches, our kitchen, everything was vegan. In fact, I think we were classified as a vegan restaurant in I believe, California. And we had one of the highest certifications for the quality of veganism that we adhere to.

Host Raj Daniels  06:04

Now, some might argue that there are already enough schools, why did Rebecca and Susie feel the need to start MUSE?

Russ Mallen  06:14

Their philosophy was going to be around project-based learning and flexibility with the students. And the idea is every student gets their own education plan, right? A lot of public schools, a lot of private schools, they’ll make an IEP individualized education plan for students that request it. And we will do that too. Sometimes they require all sorts of testing to say, oh, you can’t get an IEP unless you have this learning difference or that learning difference. But at MUSE, everybody’s open to an IEP because each student has unique needs. And the size of MUSE we’ve kept MUSE small, and that has a lot of scrape flexibility.

Host Raj Daniels  07:04

Can you give an example of an IEP?

Russ Mallen  07:07

Yeah, just you know, a certain student, you know, your typical high school math is going to be algebra, geometry, algebra two, precalculus. Well, some kids go a little bit faster, some kids go a little bit slower than that. So we’ve had students that we’ve split up algebra to over two years, we’ve had some students that we start them on calculus, as a senior or as a junior, we can move up, I had one student that we offered him a computer science as an elective because he requested it. So every student is different, and we try and accommodate anything students request.

Host Raj Daniels  07:44

And what are some of the results you’re seeing right now from these IPS?

Russ Mallen  07:48

We have seen that one of the unique things about MUSE is the seniors, every graduating senior MUSE has to have a capstone. And that capstone is basically a half-hour presentation in front of your peers, your parents, your relatives. We have one virtual capstone last year had 90 people in attendance for one student, and you only had 12 classmates, but he had 78 friends and relatives outside of the school that join Zoom. The capstone is the summary of your entire high school career. So you go through kind of subject by subject you, you come up with an overarching theme to your educational journey.

And last year, which had been my third year at the school, and I had taught part-time for the year before that. So I had seen this was the first group of graduating seniors. I’d seen them every year at the school. And I’d say we had three or four kids that had significant learning differences. And it was so satisfying to see them graduate. And they acknowledged the struggles that they had early in their high school career and were very specific about how they overcame these struggles. And yeah, part of that was MUSE, giving them an IEP, their own IEP and making sure that we could set them up to succeed. And, you know, we’ve got kids going to NYU, and Chapman, and Pitzer. So we have students go into some of the finest universities in the country that had they gone a traditional, more traditional route, those opportunities may not have been open to them.

Host Raj Daniels  09:42

And do you happen to remember what his project was about?

Russ Mallen  09:47

The projects, well, let’s just I’ll just generally state for senior capstones, right we’ve had kids focus on their achievements in their interests and their passion projects. Every student at MUSE has to do one passion project every semester. So some students lead with a couple of passion projects they love most right? For example, we have one student music. He did almost every semester some sort of a music passion project. So his capstone, of course, had a music theme. We had one student was photography, she was very much into photography and her capstone had a theme that was related to photography, we had another that considers herself an artist, but she was, she did various forms of art of which poetry and prose, she continued to consider part of her art. And her theme was centered around a website that she had set up, called hot tubs and skeletons that was dedicated to helping artists. So every capstone has its unique theme, and it takes you through their journey. And they get very emotional tears are definitely shed at nearly every capstone.

Host Raj Daniels  11:09

Sounds like a wonderful moment. You know, earlier this year, I released an episode, I think, Episode 50, or 52, with a young lady by the name of Louisa. And when she was a senior in high school, she was able to negotiate with the principal, I believe, because she had good standing and good grades, the idea of a personal capstone almost like an IEP, like you mentioned, and she ended up starting her own company, designing wind turbines modeled after cuttlefish. And so I think, you know, allowing students to, essentially, and I don’t say, just pursue their passions, because that can get kind of out of hand sometimes, but pursue what they’re interested in or actually, you know, focus on what they’re interested in, can really change how we view education? I think I heard he recently said that, we need to encourage more students to learn for knowledge and not for careers.

Russ Mallen  12:06

Absolutely. Your passion project, it doesn’t have to be something you are, we’ve been talking about changing the name of it, because we’ve had, we’ve talked to some other schools, we’re, we’ve dealt with many different school systems and other administrators and other schools. So we’ve, we kind of know what’s out there in the progressive realm. And one of the issues that we’ve looked at, maybe we need to change this from a passion project to an interest project, but that doesn’t really ring true.

But the point is exactly what you said Raj, which is, you want to find something that they’re interested in and pursue it. Like we had one student one year, he did it as a joke. He was like, I’m doing it on pickles. He was he struggled every year with coming up with a topic. He’s like, I’m doing pickles. And it was, it was so satisfying to see that he turned this pickle project. It was the first time he really dove deep into whatever his passion project topic was. And he actually went to visit a place where they made pickles, he made his own pickles. He was you know, as humorous and such a great presenter, but we hadn’t seen it before. He’d done two or three passion projects before that. And they were very lackluster. And this was the first one. And then the rest of his passion projects after that were fantastic. He always had a tie to pickles. It wasn’t he actually I think he kind of toyed with it possibly being a career but I think he’s pursuing a career in the veterinary space. But he actually did entertain, doing something with pickle.

Host Raj Daniels  13:54

It’s amazing how deep you can go on pickle, isn’t it?

Russ Mallen  13:56

Yeah, no, you’re right, because you can get it. Our passion projects, we require you to tie it to all your core, all of your core academics. So you’ve got to have a history portion and English portion of the science portion and math portion. So, you know, we obviously went through the fermentation process and things like things like that for science, and you’ve got to have a tie into sustainability as well. So his tie into sustainability was just in general about food preservation and the importance of food preservation in the future. And that pickling has helped enable food preservation.

Host Raj Daniels  14:35

So I’m glad you brought it back to sustainability. Can you walk us through the five pillars of MUSE?

Russ Mallen  14:40

Our five pillars we have sustainability as one of our five pillars. Which again as the primary reason for our discussion today. Besides sustainability, though, we also have OMD, which I talked about earlier again. Susie Cameron has a book on it. It’s basically saying you want to you don’t have to be fully vegan. But if you just did one meal a day, vegan for the planet, you’re going to save X amount, thousands of gallons of water a year and all these things, so less meat, less cheese, less dairy, etc. So OMD is one of our five pillars.

Our other five pillars is project-based learning. I’ve talked about the passion projects that we do. So everybody has to do a passion project every semester.

Then we’ve got communication. One of the unique things about MUSE is, every student gets educated in what’s called PCM, process communication model. And the process communication model basically divides everybody up into six personalities. And it’s not to pigeonhole you. It’s to help you better understand what way you communicate best, and what way you can communicate best with others. So everybody knew, for example, I’m a thinker. Big surprise, right? Scientists, a science teacher. And so I’m a thinker. So everybody knows the way you communicate with a thinker, is you just ask them questions, and we just start rambling. Right? So as you’re, as you’re finding out today, Raj, but there’s one of the common personality traits is the rebel. And the rebel, we know the rebel needs action they need, they need contact, they need to be out playing. So there are several students, I know it just kills them to sit there. So I can see if I can see that kid getting antsy. So they’re trying to be better with a rebel personality. And then I’m trying to give them time outside to make sure that they’ve they’re getting that release. And especially virtually, that’s even more difficult. How do these poor kids are stuck behind a screen and if they’ve got a more playful side to them, it’s really tough to come through.

The fifth pillar is of MUSE is academics and right so we are a school, we teach math, history, English, science, all these things, in addition to the communication and the sustainability piece. And as part of our sustainability piece, we have an extensive seed to table and cooking program. Our seed to table program has stemmed from, we have fantastic garden beds at our campus, where we are growing a lot of our own food, but we’re also just growing stuff because it’s fun to grow. And for kids to learn.

You know, we had one kid whose passion project he grew was at dragon fruit and jelly melons, I think, is weird, spiky fruits that I’ve never seen before. They’re invasive to California, but he just wanted to see if we could get them to grow. They really grow in more tropical regions. But he was able to set up his own greenhouse. And that was a fantastic project.

Host Raj Daniels

Yeah, dragon fruit quite an interesting looking fruit. So going back to sustainability for a moment. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, and a lot of, I don’t know if conflict is the right word, but a lot of challenges right now regarding teaching sustainability in schools, how have you been able to do it successfully? And what are perhaps some things that, you know, school systems, or ISDs can learn from watching the news?

Russ Mallen

Yeah, the thing that’s unique about MUSE is that we come at sustainability from several different places in our curriculum. So obviously, the first place we come at it is from science. So I have a sustainability unit. Every year of science class, I teach seventh through 12th science. So we have a sustainability unit every year unless you’re taking physics or chemistry. So I haven’t been very good at incorporating sustainability in those two areas. And I definitely should. I will be working on that the next couple of years. But if you’re taking biology, seventh or eighth-grade science, and then the other unique thing about us, I have you come across many people, Raj that are teaching an actual climate change class.

Host Raj Daniels  19:31

To my chagrin, I can tell you none.

Russ Mallen  19:34

So we made Climate Change class. And actually we even things got so much worse in the year after we started it. We now call it Climate Crisis, because it is a crisis. But we offer that that is a science class that is mandatory for graduation from us. You take it either your junior year senior year, depending on what your interests are, and if you want, you can take it junior and senior year. Senior year is more of a project base climate crisis class, so you do more research projects and reports. They’re almost like mini passion project.

Host Raj Daniels  20:14

So when a parent is looking into MUSE, or they interested in bringing their child to MUSE? What conversations do you have with those parents regarding sustainability or, you know, the OMD program? And how do parents take that?

Russ Mallen  20:28

Well, yeah, the OMD when we started OMD, they started that a few years before I had come to MUSE, they lost a fair amount of parents over that. They’re like, Oh, my God, you’re gonna make my kid eat a vegetable-based meal. It’s like, okay, there’s pasta and a salad. You’re, I mean, that’s, that’s gonna be a huge inconvenience for you. Yeah, we’re sorry. But yes, that’s, you know, if you want to, if you got to walk the walk if you want to talk the talk.

So sustainability is factored in, through the OMD program, and, and the parents now that come on board, they understand it. Now, obviously, virtually, it’s a little bit of a different issue. But one of the other major sustainability issues we had is, you can’t bring a plastic water bottle to school, right? We really are down on plastic consumption. And in my climate crisis class that I teach, plastic is not necessarily a climate change issue. But it is a sustainability issue. So we do mathematical modeling around it. And I hate to say it, but plastic production has been exponential for a long time now. And it shows no sign of letting up. So the plastic consumption is something that we really look at with our MUSE students, and trying to have everybody cut back on their plastic consumption.

So we made Climate Change class. And actually we even things got so much worse in the year after we started it. We now call it Climate Crisis, because it is a crisis.

Host Raj Daniels  21:55

So you mentioned virtual a couple of times, can you paint a picture for us, you know, a day in the life of MUSE prior to COVID? And now post COVID?

Russ Mallen  22:03

Yeah, so MUSE is an outdoor school. We’re not 100% outdoors, but the kids look out there. They look out their windows, and they can see garden beds everywhere. And you have seed to table outside a couple times a week. You have lunch outside. So as a community, it’s a very outdoors community, virtually, they still have seed to table class. And they still and the see to table has merged with the MUSE chef. And it involves a combination of vegan cooking, along with seed to table and seed to table techniques, that the younger kids right now we’re doing a project where they’re all composting at home, so they’re starting to do composting. The compost piles at MUSE are right by where everybody eats lunch so you can see where your compost ends up. But now, people were having people do it at home and start their own composting at home.

Host Raj Daniels  23:09

And are there any plans for expanding the MUSE program with schools?

Russ Mallen  23:15

Yes, there. Needless to say, that was derailed significantly because of COVID. We had several places globally where we were going to start franchises, that’s still in the works. But for now, we just want to want to get through this time for COVID. But MUSE virtual is here to stay regardless. And we’re hoping, hoping soon to win when it’s okay, we’re hoping to have in-person school again, also, side by side, the virtual platform, or possibly even a hybrid. Again, every student is going to be different. And there might be certain students that might have a high profile that are gone significant portions of the year. So they might be in person for part of the year and virtual for part of the year. So we’re open to anything.

One of the great things about MUSE I learned my first day there. I was worried I had joined a cult. I was like this is so phony. Everybody’s so open about stuff. And it’s like no, that’s how everybody is. We the faculty, we all work together. Everybody’s curriculum is flexible and adjustable. And part of our that’s been part of our strength through COVID because we are all flexible and able to work together and cooperate and keep the students on task.

Host Raj Daniels  24:44

You know, it’s interesting you say that regarding the cult and transparency because I wrote an article, I think about a month or two ago about and the article is titled Bring Yourself to Work. And essentially I lead off with you know, we have bring your child to work bring your pet to work. And my argument, if you will, is, you know, if we were able to bring our entire self to work as early in our career as possible, then when we encountered these kinds of transparent environments that we speak of right now, we wouldn’t feel like it was phony. This would be the new norm.

Russ Mallen  25:18

Yes, definitely. I can’t agree more. Raj. Yeah. The more sincere you can be at work, the more you can be yourself at work. It’s better for everybody. And I know I’ve you know, I’ve had those jobs in the past where you were, you were one person at work, and then you are one person at home. But muse, everybody is who they are. And, and, and again, this gets back to our communication model, the fact that you know, you kind of know, what everybody’s personality is, you know, what their interests are. You’ve seen passion projects from the students, you’ve seen teachers asking questions in those passion projects, indicating their interest in students’ passion projects. So that sincerity and that passion for personalized education really comes through and everybody— has to start with openness. If people aren’t open to new ideas, they aren’t open to changing ways of thinking, they’re not open to a different education model. None of it’s possible.

Host Raj Daniels  26:28

And one last question regarding MUSE, you know, this pandemic period, I know a lot of parents in where I live, who have decided to withdraw their children from school and decide to attempt homeschooling or some other kind of schooling model does MUSE offer a curriculum that you know, an individual can go and look at and perhaps emulate?

Russ Mallen  26:52

We will be more than happy to give you a copy of our blueprint. And you will see all the standards that we cover. We have a regular elementary, middle school, high school curriculum, but then interspersed in it is you get seed to table, you get PCM, the communication model, you get theater, you’ve got art. And depending on what grade you’re in, those are actual pieces of the curriculum. And of course, as you get further on in school, those become electives. Because, right, you’re getting ready to go to college, you want to make sure you have certain things on your transcript. So maybe you’re missing a foreign language, you need an extra year of a foreign language. So maybe you’re doubling up on foreign language one year, you don’t have time for any electives. But typically, we’re offering everything out there for students for college prep.

If people aren’t open to new ideas, they aren’t open to changing ways of thinking, they’re not open to a different education model. None of it’s possible.

Host Raj Daniels  27:52

So I will put a link to the site in the show notes. And I’m going to get to the crux of our conversation. So you’re an electrical engineer, MIT, educated, material scientist. I’m reading here specializing in microchip and circuit boards. Worked in stock exchange. And here you are teaching science and sustained and leading sustainability at MUSE. Yes. What’s your Why? What drives you? Why do you decide to choose this path?

Russ Mallen  28:22

Well, originally, I came to MUSE because I knew I wanted to go into teaching, and I had been doing tutoring, I had a small private tutoring business. And I knew I wanted to teach but I, the thought of having 25 students in a class 30 students in a class, I’m like, I don’t think I can handle that. Right? I would be great at say, an AP level with like 10 or 15 students, but most schools were not going to let me just jump in and be AP Calculus teacher, AP Physics, or AP Chem teacher. And one of my tutoring students had started at MUSE. And I was like, Oh, this thing, This place seems interesting. You know, there’s like 10 or 15 kids per class, etc. I was like, I can handle that. It sounds like they’re really open and really flexible. And I had a few more communications with my student, and then they had an opening for a science teacher.

So I applied. And they needed somebody that was going to be able to teach all the sciences. So my strength is definitely in chemistry. But I also have a solid background in physics and in biology. So it was just a great fit for I could get into teaching and I wasn’t going to be thrust into any kind of a public schools situation where I was going to be held to many different standards, and I had to make sure that I was covering all the right standards for all the kids. There was going to be a flexible curriculum, and I could take the curriculum in directions that I found beneficial for the students.

Host Raj Daniels  30:06

So what were your thoughts about sustainability prior to joining us?

Russ Mallen  30:10

Yeah. You know, that has to be my biggest eye-opener since I’ve been at MUSE, Raj is that the, again, I talked about plastic before that’s, I’m much better. My plastic consumption has gone down drastically, although it’s still it’s so much packaging is still in plastic. But me personally, I rarely will have a plastic water bottle anymore. I try and carry around my water bottle. Everybody’s got their own metallic water bottles these days. But I knew we needed to burn less fossil fuels, right, my wife and I, we have a Prius, and we have an electric Fiat. So we’re almost ready to be off the grid with our automobiles. But I didn’t realize the OMD tie in. I didn’t realize that veganism is probably the future of humanity.

One of my projects in climate crisis class, and in biology class, I assigned them to tell me what is the carrying capacity of the earth? And why? Is the carrying capacity 10 billion, like many people believe, oh, well, we’re at a billion now it’s going to be 10 billion. And I’ve really looked hard at that. It’s a question I didn’t spend any time on five or 10 years ago. Now I’m becoming obsessed with it. Because I’ve read a lot and what I know about our consumption and what I know about people’s refusal to accept the climate crisis, I think, unfortunately, it may be 2 billion might be a realistic carrying capacity, because I feel like nobody is going to go vegan, not nobody, but very few people are going to be able to go vegan, very few people are going to cut back on their fossil fuel consumption, the excess consumerism in America, these are all issues that I didn’t give much mind to. But it us it’s central to the curriculum.

Host Raj Daniels  32:16

So that leads nicely into my next question, which is, and you mentioned an item already regarding OMD. But what are some of the most valuable lessons you’d say you’ve learned in your journey?

Russ Mallen  32:30

I think individualized education. That we’ve got to be more flexible with our students. Whenever we force students into one style of learning, they’re lost. At MUSE, we don’t like to use the word test. We prefer to use the word assessment. And our assessments, one of the things as teachers we’ve been obsessed with, we’ve I can’t tell you how many meetings we’ve had as groups at the middle-high level, what are the different types of assessments we can give kids? Right? You know, when I got to MUSE, it was all about Okay, here you go, here’s the problems, do the calculation, do it. You know, and maybe I’d have a few questions about it explained. But what I’ve realized is you’ve got to give kids alternative ways of being assessed. So I like to give a lot of take-home tests now, where go ahead and work on it at your own speed. There’s no time limit.

The one thing I’ve never been big on was time limits. Unless you’re an emergency room doctor, I’ve never really understood the whole time limit thing to test, it seemed to me completely unnecessary. So the lesson I’ve learned is we need to assess students alternatively, and we knew need to assess them personally. Right, the conventional view of education and the conventional education model probably works fairly well with about 50% of the kids, but then what do you do with the other 50%? So we need to, we need to find more accommodations. And, and again, project-based learning is one of those ways, as long as you give, I found the kids that, you know, that have that outlet, and are doing a project that they’re genuinely interested in. It tends to improve the rest of their academics.

Host Raj Daniels  34:25

You know, I couldn’t agree with you more, especially regarding the assessment and individualized education. I was reading an article, I think, a year or two ago, and they were speaking about health care. And, you know, right now we go into a pharmacy and they give us or they’ve been giving us what we call broad-spectrum antibiotics, no matter what your gene makeup is or DNA, everyone takes the same thing. And they’re saying that you know, our children will have the opportunity to have individualized medicine. So there’ll be medications provided specifically for their DNA and for their particular gene makeup, and I feel very very strongly as you do regarding education, hopefully having those opportunities too soon.

Because to your point. So first of all, you and I can have a whole different conversation regarding time, I have a whole different mindset about time. I don’t know if it because it’s culturally based what it might be. But to your point, you know, if you’re given an assignment at work, and you have, like you said, a hard and fast deadline, okay, fine, fair enough. But otherwise, you’re given the opportunity to go home and to work on it or get it to when it’s complete, not to rush it. And I feel with these standardized testing specifically, which, you know, time and time again, have been proven to be perhaps culturally biased or racially biased, or whatever they might be, I think using this, this, you know, this broad-spectrum approach, if you will, with testing has definitely disadvantaged whole segments of the population.

Russ Mallen  35:51

Yeah, it’s much easier to do with the younger kids, right? Obviously, K through six. But even I feel like seven, eight, nine, and ten. It’s like, okay you’re an artist draw me a picture of what’s going on. If you want to have an oral examination, so it’s just you and me talking one on one, we can do that. I know you know how to do this stuff. Yeah, it’s, again, it’s this openness, we’ve got to be more open to other ways of assessing students’ abilities and skills. Math, obviously, is a big limiting factor with a lot of science, right? I warn the kids in chemistry class. Unfortunately, chemistry and physics, it’s a lot of math, it’s very their, their quantitative, quantifiable sciences, they require a lot of quantitative-based calculations. So we can’t get around that. But all these other types, there’s a lot more alternative assessments that we could be giving kids rather than just tell me what photosynthesis is, you know, I do have that question. That will be for my biology students. If they’re listening, that question will still be on there. But I’d like if you want to give me the more ethereal view of photosynthesis, which is, hey, it’s how plants get food. You know what, that’s pretty good. I don’t need to know, six h2o plus six co2 gives me glucose and 602. You know, that those days hopefully are behind us.

Host Raj Daniels  37:23

Well, we’re not looking for regurgitation. Right?

Russ Mallen  37:25

Yeah, yeah, definitely not.

Host Raj Daniels  37:28

So painted a beautiful picture of MUSE shared some lessons you’ve learned along the way, magic wand, and I know that you don’t control everything around MUSE. But let’s say for a moment you do 2025? Where would you like to see MUSE being including like you said, some of the franchise opportunities of global opportunities?

Russ Mallen  37:46

Yeah, well, one thing that I really hope for MUSE and I forgot to mention earlier was we have developed a sustainable certification at MUSE. And the way we’ve set it up is if you just complete MUSE, as a high school student, the natural curriculum of MUSE, you will have taken seed to table for four years, you will have done seven passion projects, with seven sustainability tie ends. All of our passion projects require a sustainability tie-in. So I would like to see our sustainability standards, somehow grown out becoming more of a state standard, more of a national standard. So I don’t know how we can do that. But that in 2025, I’d like people to be looking at MUSE and say, these are the people that helped develop the sustainability standards that everybody is looking at now.

….we’ve got to be more open to other ways of assessing students’ abilities and skills. 

Host Raj Daniels  38:48

Well, I feel like the winds are shifting in your favor. And it wouldn’t surprise me if more school districts will start adopting some kind of even, let’s say sustainability curriculum. I think I think there’s going to be a greater demand for that going forward.

Russ Mallen  39:07

Yeah, I would hope so. Raj, I’m still obviously I’m incredibly disappointed that the United States is one of the greatest contributors to climate change. Yet we’re the ones that are most resistant to coming up with solutions and ways to mitigate climate change. It’s so mystifying to me how we continue to rationalize our addiction to fossil fuel, and it’s not so much our addiction to it, it’s that we’re not willing to do anything about it. The state of California did some great incentives. We have more electric cars on the road here than anywhere else, and we have more solar installs on our roof than anywhere else, but there’s so many pockets of the country. Despite being ravaged by severe hurricanes that don’t see sustainability as a priority in their lives. Very disappointing.

Host Raj Daniels  40:07

Well, I can see your disappointment. But on the other side of that coin, I can also see the opportunity. So for those out there, I think you can see plenty of opportunities with participate.

Russ Mallen  40:15

Yeah. And again, seed to table I feel like I’ve been hearing more about seed to table programs at more and more schools, even several public schools. I know there’s a school up in Berkeley, high school there that they do, they have a significant seed to table program, they have school lunch, where they’re a lot of it is homegrown. And I’m hoping that this trend will take off because composting is one of those things before I got the MUSE. I know a few people composted, you know, and I teach biology and it’s like, oh, yeah, that’s why we compost, duh. It’s about moving those cycles along, keeping the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle moving along. Composting is a very important part. That should be a part of life. And it’s that next generation, if that’s part of a sustainability curriculum, we’re going to have that next generation is going to be composting.

Host Raj Daniels  41:16

I agree. So, Russ. Last question. If you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be?

Russ Mallen  41:26

Again, I’ve said it too many times. Openness is so important. Right? And the only way I’ve gotten through COVID is to be open about things. You’ve got to be open to wearing a mask, but you got to be open to the needs of others, be open to their opinions. Yeah, every once in a while they get a little off the rails, but be open to opportunities for yourself. Don’t say, Hey, I’m sure at some point in my life, oh my god, I’d never be a teacher. And here I am. I love teaching. And I’m teaching at this unique school where we’re trying to kind of trying to turn the earth a different direction, that’s been going on for hundreds of years. So it’s been if I hadn’t been open to this opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am now.


Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

If you like our show, please give us a rating and review on iTunes. And you can show your support by sharing our show with a friend or reach out to us on social media where you can find us at our Nexus PMG handle.

If there’s a subject or topic you’d like to hear about, send Raj Daniels an email at BTU@NexusPMG.com or contact me via our website, NexusPMG.com. While you’re there, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter where we share what we’re reading and thinking about in the cleantech green tech sectors.

Raj Daniels

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