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Donor Q&A: Mark Zurack

August 3, 2022 New Classrooms

Meet Mark Zurack

Mark Zurack is a Senior Lecturer in Finance at Columbia Business School. Previously, he spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs, focused on equity derivatives, retiring as a managing director in 2001. Mark joined the New Classrooms Board of Directors in 2020.

New Classrooms is working to reimagine the classroom and how we teach, focusing on learning solutions built upon student-centered learning. Could you share your thoughts on why personalization makes a difference in a student’s educational experience?

What first drew me to New Classrooms was the logic of the approach. It makes so much sense一especially in math一to assess where a student is in terms of their skill level and to meet them where they are in order to move forward. However, while it is so logical, it is hard to do in practice. New Classrooms is executing on this concept and has seen impressive results.

New Classrooms’ solutions are also premised on giving students agency in their own learning. Do you see student agency as a critical aspect of learning?

Agency is a big part of it一it’s especially important as a driver of student motivation. If students are forced into an environment where the learning process isn’t in line with their own needs and interests, they might lose motivation. I’ve seen that happen in my own experience as a teacher. I think young people these days need to feel they have some control over their own destiny to achieve their fullest potential.

How do you see personalized learning tools helping teachers in the classroom?

My second career is teaching. I have had to adapt my teaching to the classroom structure that currently exists. If I was teaching in a personalized structure, however, I would be able to deliver the content that fits the student, rather than the content that fits the largest number of students. I would be empowered to be a better professor. Personalization is difficult, however, to implement in a classroom一the execution is the hard part. What New Classrooms has done is address that by developing the tools teachers need to teach to the individual student.

What impact has math had in your life? Both in school and beyond.

Math was always my best subject. I went to a specialized high school (Bronx High School of Science) that was exceptional at teaching math. My career in finance was the quantitative side of finance. In terms of career success, the combination of strong math skills and strong communication skills was extremely powerful and I think it made all the difference for me.