Nicole Lopez, Trust & Safety Lead at Outschool, on her legal career, learning pods and more

Outschool Team Oct 27, 2020
Nicole Lopez, Outschool Trust & Safety Lead, with her son Jack.

For this month’s employee profile, we spoke to Nicole Lopez, Trust and Safety Lead here at Outschool. Nicole talked about her path to Outschool, her legal career, and her family’s learning adventures during the pandemic.

Hi Nicole! Can you tell us a little about your background and your current role at Outschool?

I knew from the tender age of 7--when I watched my dad in trial interrogating witnesses--that I wanted to be a trial lawyer when I grew up. But after joining a big corporate firm, I realized I would not help people or advocate on their behalf the way I envisioned.

That experience led me to become a prosecutor, where I spent 8 years prosecuting everything from child abuse to wiretap gang cases. During that time, the work that left the biggest imprint on me was helping and protecting child and domestic violence victims.

While I loved my work so much (every prosecutor will tell you there's no better job!), the opportunity to run Trust & Safety and Legal opened up at a cutting-edge transportation company for children. Making the move to a company whose mission resonated with me was an easy transition. It also felt invigorating to take on another role in which I could continue to protect children, albeit in a different realm.

I then found my way to Outschool through a series of connections: a Facebook group for lawyer moms raving about Outschool led me to enroll my young boys in classes; and a former colleague introduced me to my now coworker Jing (design lead), who confirmed that Outschool was the real deal when it came to what matters most to me: helping children. As of four months ago, I lead Trust and Safety at Outschool.

How does your work and experience as a lawyer impact your work as Head of Trust and Safety?

Our Trust & Safety team lays the groundwork to help form a secure community of diverse learners, parents, and teachers, who are often virtually meeting for the first time.

Our team makes sure that the physical and emotional well being of learners, parents, and teachers, as well as their privacy, will never be compromised. We also listen to our users so that we can better understand their experiences and improve our policies and product. Finally, we focus on preserving our marketplace integrity, which ranges from protecting third party intellectual rights to making sure that our reviews are authentic.

Our team makes sure that the physical and emotional well being of learners, parents, and teachers, as well as their privacy, will never be compromised.

Many of the skills I honed during my decade plus of practicing law are relevant to my daily work: actively listening, asking a lot of (hopefully thoughtful!) questions, thoroughly investigating incidents, driving the correct policy changes, and mediating when necessary.

What's the most challenging part of your job? What's your favorite part?

The most challenging part for me is delivering bad news! I like to please people, but when a teacher, parent, or learner acts inappropriately, we have to take action to correct it. That requires having honest conversations and making tough decisions.

My favorite part is tackling a thorny issue and resolving it in a way where I see palpable, data-driven, and long-lasting impacts. One recent example: we had a number of teachers entering into heated debates on our Facebook pages for teachers. That discourse is predictable right now, but some of the commentary offended our community members. We seized the opportunity to update our terms of service and clarify our social media policy so as to minimize these incidents and promote healthier conversations. The outcome--fewer incidents--proved that this change was an effective one.

We heard your family is doing a learning pod. Can you talk about why you decided to form a pod, how it works, and how it's going?

Outschool saved the beginning of my 1st grader's school year. We had no clue what we would get in the first month of distance learning--it could be a half hour a day of Zoom class, it could not.

We knew for certain, however, that my son Jackson's group of friends would not be in the same class. So he now would not only get zero social in-person interactions, but the beginning of the school year would consist of erratic "moments" with kids he did not know. To boot, he is somewhat shy. I wanted to provide some kind of consistency and inject the first month or two of school with a comforting environment.

To that end, we formed a couple of Outschool pods for Jack and his friends:

  • A "book club" with 3 besties (twice a week, with a teacher he knew already and loved)
  • A Minecraft class with 5 other former kindergarten classmates (once a week)
  • A math tutorial with another bestie (once a week).

While the first two pods only lasted the first 4 weeks of school, before Jackson had a more consistent and demanding routine, he's kept up the weekly math tutorial with his friend (he's obsessed with math).

How has Outschool influenced your family's learning?

I believe in our mission because I see its impact on my son. It's a game changer.

While I adore Jackson's 1st grade teacher, I see a marked difference in his level of engagement in school as compared to his Outschool classes. The intimate class size at Outschool, combined with increased individual attention, make for a more challenging and fun experience.

I hear my son squealing with laughter in class; he emerges from his creative writing drop-in class with questions about Greek mythology and a beautiful ode to the pomegranate tree in our yard.

Yes, he sometimes guffaws about doing his Singapore math homework, but I hear him squealing with laughter in class; he emerges from his creative writing drop-in class with questions about Greek mythology and a beautiful ode to the pomegranate tree in our yard; he asks if he can take more classes with Teacher Kaylani and to play math Kahoot! after class ends.

Those glimmers of excitement--always happy music to my ears--mean so much more to me during the pandemic, when the anxiety and worries are real. It also makes me want to be even better at my job and helps renew my purpose.

What do you like to do when you're not working at Outschool?

I like to get outdoors and walk around our neighborhood with the family and our puppy, Lucius. I also like to support our local restaurants, so many of which are shuttering, and eat out on the weekends. While I have not been playing as much as I'd like, I'm an avid tennis player and now enjoy watching my parents hit with Jackson and his little brother, 4 year old Max, both of whom whack the balls with abandon.

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