An Interview with Adam Mangana Showcasing the Ethics and Diversity at OptimaEd
By Abby Wagner
Adam Mangana, M.Ed. is the Cofounder and Chief Innovation Officer at OptimaEd. He was born in DC and raised in NewportNews, Virginia. He received a Classics major and Computer Science minor from Brown University and went on to earn a Master’s in Independent School Leadership from Vanderbilt University.
For the past ten years, Mangana has been developing a virtual reality system that would support a school. In 2020, he connected with Erika Donalds, the CEO of the Optima Foundation, and OptimaEd along with Optima Academy Online was born. Optima Academy Online is the world’s first public charter virtual reality school, and it is just finishing its inaugural year. Throughout his career, Mangana has been passionate about making world class education accessible to every student, and he showcases this through his communication and distribution efforts in Optima Academy Online.
To begin, Adam Mangana believes that communication professionals play a key role in promoting ethics and diversity. Today he says there’s a “strong push to day-trade the attention of students on the internet and media.” Mangana cites the “wild west” of content seen on Instagram and Tik Tok as an example. Overall, he hopes that future communications professionals will think about the impact they are having, especially when it comes to children and their privacy.
When asked how he defines ethics in the context of his work, Adam Mangana explains his life motto of “esse quam videri”. This Latin phrase meaning to be rather than to seem reminds Mangana that the most ethical people work in the field and within the lives of those they affect. Rather than wanting to appear to make a difference, ethical people want to actively make said difference.
When asked about diversity, Mangana explains how diversity is built on the foundations of respect and acceptance. He shares a phrase his undergraduate mentor said to him saying, “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” He goes on to say that “diversity is about . . . bringing more voices to the table.”
Elaborating on the concept of diversity, he says that it stretches beyond melanin levels. A group of people, all different races, can still be remarkably similar in thought processes, outlooks and lived experiences. Adam Mangana values diversity in the workplace because without it he could not achieve his goal of making a world class education accessible to everyone regardless of race, income levels, demographics or geographics.
One of the largest and most frequent ethical dilemmas Adam Mangana and his team faces at OptimaEd concerns privacy and security of K – 12 students in the metaverse. He says that “creating a closed metaverse system where none of the students’ data would be available to the public . . . was really important to us.” However, they still needed a way to track student data and success to tailor the education experience to individual learners.
While reflecting on these early internal struggles, Adam Mangana says there was some debate, but overall, the answer was always “fairly clear.” He says often people get a “visceral reaction” to the wrong moral choice, but when you are combining bottom line and efficiency, it brings complexity to the decision. In his opinion, the best practice is to keep in mind your mission statement and goal.
When asked how he ensures his team and organization is and remains diverse and inclusive, Adam Mangana says it starts with the kind of employees you attract and hire. He goes on to say that “A players really like A players” and if you start building an inclusive environment from the ground up, that mentality will become a part of the company culture.
Adam Mangana also uses modeling techniques to demonstrate the kind of ethical approach he wants his employees to adopt. In an online work environment, he says modeling can be tough as he does not get daily interaction with all the employees. However, he counters this by ensuring he makes a connection with all employees, by always keeping his virtual office door open and by placing employees in positions where they feel empowered rather than micromanaged.
Overall, Adam Mangana and OptimaEd are in the business of providing equal opportunity. However, equal opportunity does not ensure equal outcome – and that’s okay! Rather than creating uniform students, we strive to make wholistic individuals who lean on their natural inclinations to succeed.