July 21, 2014 3:00PM
Brandon Brill had just accepted a new job at LEGO Education North America, and he wanted to show his family his new digs.
“My family and I came up to take a walk through the office so I could get acclimated to the place,” Brill said. “Almost immediately after we stepped in and looked around, my wife said, ‘This doesn’t feel like Pittsburg.’”
In some ways, that’s true. It’s not as if global brands as large and popular as the LEGO Company are found on every corner in southeast Kansas, and many people here still don’t know that the headquarters for LEGO Education North America is located at Jefferson and Rouse.
A look past the LEGO bricks and robots, however, reveals a familiar symbol of Pittsburg, Kansas, USA: the split face Gorilla logo of Pittsburg State University.
“I’m a southeast Kansas kid,” said Brill, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Pitt State. “My passion for education was solidified at PSU, and it’s exciting to get to work at a place like this with so many fellow alums. There’s a sense of camaraderie in this building.”
LEGO Education develops and provides hands-on educational resources to teachers and students worldwide. Through the use of activity packs, programming tools and educational LEGO sets, LEGO Education “makes learning inspiring” and promotes STEM education around the globe.
And if it’s impossible to walk around the LEGO Education North America headquarters without seeing some type of LEGO product, it’s nearly as difficult to be there without running into a PSU graduate.
“Many of us, if not most of us, on the team here at LEGO Education are PSU graduates,” said Abigail Fern, LEGO Education marketing director and a 1998 PSU grad. “That’s not, however, because it’s convenient. It’s because the people who graduate from PSU are well-educated and well-prepared to work for a global organization such as the LEGO Company.
“LEGO Education places a high value on family and community, and there is no better example of that than in Pittsburg and at Pittsburg State,” she said.
And since there is no such thing as a degree in “LEGO,” many of the alums working there have different skills and knowledge bases to bring to the team.
“We all have different backgrounds, but we have the same core values,” said Lacey Taylor, a LEGO Education project manager who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2004 and master’s degree in engineering technology management in 2012. “PSU wants you to succeed, and the faculty there motivates you to succeed. That experience pays huge dividends when you come to work for a company as big and important as the LEGO Company.”
Tony Allen, a sales manager at LEGO Education, graduated from PSU in 2004 with a degree in psychology.
“We travel a lot and talk to the students in the classrooms that are using our products,” he said. “Our experience as students at PSU was similar because of the relationships we were able to form with the faculty there.”
And when Allen says, “travel a lot,” he’s not just talking about trips to Topeka or Wichita. Many on the LEGO Education team are sent across the country and around the world to trade shows, schools and corporate meetings at LEGO Education’s main headquarters in Billund, Denmark.
“I’ve been to classrooms in Jakarta and Malaysia,” Allen said. “That’s quite a thrill to see how our products are making a difference all around the world. We may be stationed in what people think is a small town, but our impact truly is global.”
Along with discovering the worldwide benefits of LEGO bricks in classrooms, team members have also gotten a sense of just how recognizable their alma mater is around the world.
“We actually laugh sometimes because of how many people recognize the split face logo,” said Michelle Graham, 2007 graduate of PSU who works as senior sales support in LEGO Education’s home-school market. “I was on a work trip in Alaska and I stopped in a gas station. I was wearing a PSU shirt, and the cashier said, “Hey, my niece goes to Pitt State.’ I never would have expected to hear that in Alaska.
“The connection people have to PSU is strong,” Graham said, “and I think that’s part of the reason we have such a great team here. So many of us went to PSU, and we all have the common bond. You see a lot of LEGO bricks here, but you also see a lot of Gorilla stuff.”