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From There to Here:
Mindy Bingham’s Professional Journey

Innovative educational approaches have always been a mission for Mindy Bingham. Over the years as a part-time college professor, seminar leader for educators, author, publisher, nonprofit executive director and community activist, Mindy has dedicated herself to improving education. A sought-after speaker and thinker on educational reform issues in the area of adolescent motivation, dropout prevention and gender equity, Mindy has made a major contribution to education over the last 25 years, the most recent being her dedication to institute a course in middle school or high school that provides the structure to help all students develop successful life plans. Her grassroots approach has earned her several honors, including the South Coast Business Network’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998.

Helping Girls

Mindy’s journey as an educational activist and publisher began in Santa Barbara, Calif. where she worked as the executive director for the Girls Club of Santa Barbara (now Girls Incorporated) from 1973 to 1989. Though running one of the largest Girls Clubs in the United States was both personally and professionally fulfilling for Mindy, she knew there had to be a way to reach more students with her programs. She saw an opportunity to put her programs into book form and disseminate them throughout the country, and so began the nonprofit publishing company, Advocacy Press (1983 to 1990).

With her entrepreneurial instincts in overdrive, Mindy launched Advocacy Press’ first book, Choices: A Teen Woman’s Journal for Self-awareness and Personal Planning in 1983. The book sold 500,000 copies and is credited as one of the seminal works impacting the lives and goals of hundreds of thousands of girls. Choices, and the male version, Challenges, led the gender equity movement in the 1980’s by providing a classroom curriculum for students that focused on the issues that held young women back from succeeding. Though a nationally acclaimed curriculum, its one major flaw was that most schools could not see where it fit in their course work and relegated it to special classes and populations. This was frustrating for educators who knew that these issues were important for all students, so Mindy endeavored to alleviate this frustration and make the curriculum more relevant to schools around the country.

In 1987 Mindy and her team of dedicated staff and volunteers at Advocacy Press hosted a small meeting where the national leaders of girls’ organizations, women’s service organizations and state educational equity coordinators met to brainstorm the direction the gender equity movement must take. At this conference the incoming national president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Sarah Harder, committed to making girls’ issues her organization’s focus during the 1990’s. Also at this conference many state equity coordinators voiced a need for a vehicle for gender equity that could be infused into the core curriculum so all students, males and females alike, would have this valuable insight and information.

The AAUW went on to launch its widely successful campaign to promote educational equity for girls. The gender equity movement gained traction and soon the media, educators and parents were focusing on how to help girls become economically self sufficient. Since then girls and young women have gotten the message and great societal strides have been made. For instance, when the first edition of Choices was published in 1983, 21.7% of doctors and 21.5% of lawyers were women. Today, only twenty years later, 47.9% of students in medical school are women, and 49% of students in law school are women.

Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives

Expanding her efforts to males and females alike, Mindy retired after 16 years with the Girls Club and set off on her own to found Academic Innovations, in 1990. With just a 10 x 10 home office and her Santa Barbara garage, Mindy launched her most ambitious endeavor to date: a series of standards-based, interdisciplinary curriculum of which the anchor for an innovative approach to education is CAREER CHOICES: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults Who Am I? What Do I Want? How Do I Get It? (Academic Innovations 1990). The launch of this book allowed Mindy to pursue a life-long dream to create a curriculum that high schools could use that would motivate young people to stay in school and prepare themselves for a career and a satisfying life.

Career Choices, recently adopted by the state of Texas, is being used in more than 3,800 secondary schools and 100 job readiness programs and has sold more than 400,000 copies. Nationally acclaimed over the years by a variety of educational entities, in July 2000, the United States Department of Education awarded the Career Choices series its coveted “promising” citation as a curriculum that works along with a Best Practices citation from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Few individuals have successfully navigated the complexities of the textbook publishing field. It takes at least two years for a start-up to even consider breaking even, plus a tremendous marketing effort and considerable capital to break into this market. Yet Mindy’s passion and drive saw her through those perilous first years when her life savings, a small inheritance and many life-long investments dwindled to nearly zero. By April of 1992, Academic Innovations turned the corner into the black and today is a successful company with a solid bottom line that provides quality employment to a team of dedicated staff and consultants. “I’m blessed to be able to work in a field I love and make a difference in people’s lives at the same time,” Bingham says. “I’m living the dream that I write about in my books.”


Self-Publishing Savvy

A true self-publisher with a diversity of books on her resume, Mindy has authored or co-authored 17 titles. These award-winning books have sold well over 200 million copies in the States and abroad. Four of these are children’s picture books that enabled her to publish full-color, hard-cover titles and learn the ins and outs of the foreign rights market. Mindy also co-authored a step-by-step guide to writing a book (Is There a Book Inside You?) and co-founded (with Para Publshing’s Dan Poynter) a two-day self-publishing workshop in 1984 that still educates would-be publishers today.

Mindy’s solid and steady endorsement of self-publishing comes from years of success doing it and a taste of what can happen when authors give outside publishers their books. In 1995, traditional publishing giant Penguin Group USA showed interest in Mindy’s self-esteem and self-reliance building book Things Will Be Different for My Daughter. Always ambitious to try new things, Mindy placed her book in Penguin’s care and though it was met with rave reviews, it failed to generate the sales numbers like those of her self-published titles. With the experience leaving much to be desired, Mindy returned to her own writing and marketing efforts, resolving to publish her own books from then on.

Current Projects

Mindy’s last few years have been spent developing and writing web-based curriculum and computer software to enhance her curriculums, upgrading the Career Choices curriculum and writing/editing the adult version, Career Choices and Changes. She also has another children’s picture book, Mama Knows Best, near completion.

Her passion continues to be helping young people become economically self-sufficient. Working with the educational system on its reform efforts for secondary schools, she continues to write and speak about the issues that impact young people’s opportunities to live the American dream. Her expertise in organizational development along with her keen business sense and bottom line thinking, allows her to provide valuable and innovative support to some of the fledgling efforts to improve education in our country.

Mindy lives in Montecito, California with her husband, Jim Comiskey. Her daughter, Wendy, a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Business is the Vice President in charge of Marketing and Technology for Academic Innovations. Wendy and Tanja Easson, Vice President of Operations and Technical Support, are now responsible for the day-to-day running of Academic Innovations, leaving Mindy more time to focus her energy and expertise as a volunteer “educational activist” in the area of high school reform

 


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