Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 21, 2011

Boyingtons’ Thinking Media extends its reach even farther with ACT

Sheila Boyington is the owner and founder of Thinking Media, the company that developed KeyTrain, which is a method of evaluating work skills to determine if an individual will do well in a workforce setting. Thinking Media recently sold their curriculum to the ACT college curriculum company and is now an ACT regional office as well. - Erica Tuggle
Hiring a new employee always seems to be a bit of a gamble. Will they fit in? Do they have the skills the company needs? Will they even enjoy the work the company does?
Taking away a little bit of this uncertainty is KeyTrain, a nationally used product developed by Chattanooga’s own Thinking Media, founded by Sheila and Dane Boyington.
KeyTrain is training for basic workplace skills, and like how the ACT college test predicts success in a college setting, this test predicts how individuals will do in a workforce setting. It tests skills like reading, math and locating information in the workplace as well as teamwork, writing, listening and observation. There are also some softer skills it evaluates like performance, fit, talents and work ethics that helps determine if someone might be a good employee for hire.
Sheila Boyington says: “In combination, this really helps an employer get a bigger picture of what an individual’s capabilities are. We believe when you place someone in a position because their skills and interests match the position, then you are really standing for a higher success of keeping that person engaged and successful in that position.”
Sheila was born in Florida while her parents were in graduate school at the University of Florida. They had immigrated from India in the 1950s, met in this country and got married here, which makes Boyington probably one of the oldest children of Indian descent to grow up in the United States. She was raised in the mountains of North Carolina in a town that didn’t have a lot of cultural awareness, which was challenging at times, but is part of what made her who she is, she says.
She met her husband, Dane, at the University of Florida, where they were both studying chemical engineering. When they graduated, Sheila attended the University of California Berkley for a master’s degree and Dane for his Ph.D. Their time in California helped them to gain global awareness and culture, which Boyington says she still values.
In 1988, the Boyingtons moved to Chattanooga and Dane got a job with Dupont as director of research for one of the divisions. After the birth of their first and second child, Dane and Sheila brought up the idea they had always talked about of having their own business. Under the encouragement of Sheila’s father, they started Thinking Media in 1997, doing customized computer-based training.
As they began to determine how to grow the business, they decided instead of doing work for hire, they would sell something in a box. With that idea, they had an introduction to the ACT WorkKey system at a local association for training and development meeting, and thought the system had some merit in terms of helping people figure out what basic workplace skills they had. The problem was that there wasn’t a way to improve those skills, only assessment.
In 1998, they began the development of KeyTrain, a training curriculum specifically designed for the WorkKey system. They have continued to work over the last 13 years into developing this system into a robust tool that currently holds 27 statewide contracts, is used by about 7,000 organizations across the country (including Chattanooga State, BlueCross Blue Shield and career centers nationwide) and has made an impact in helping to build skills for America’s workforce.
“It’s been used to help really attract economic development to regions and to improve scores on standardized assessments of all kinds, including the GED and different types of assessments that are used in community colleges,” Sheila says.
At the same time, she says Thinking Media works hard to be an integral part of the Chattanooga community. They were selected as small business of the year by the Chamber of Commerce and have been very active with them on different projects, as well as with Hamilton County schools and on the nonprofit front in working with GPS and Girls Inc. as part of their board. They have also worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs as well as the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute.
A month ago, they sold their curriculum to ACT and subsequently became part of ACT. Now, Thinking Media is a regional office for the ACT assessment company, and is ACT’s first venture into curriculum. They are currently working with ACT on a strategic front to design the readiness system for the entire United States.
“I think the advantage is going to be as ACT becomes and is becoming a thought leader in the workforce arena and career readiness preparation, us being in Chattanooga, we are going to have a very strong say in the strategic direction of this, and we are going to partner with agencies that are in the area to demonstrate some of these things,” Sheila says.
She says she thinks the unique and family oriented culture of Thinking Media is what has allowed the company to have grown to the level it is.
“We still keep a very customer focused atmosphere around our organization, and Dane and I have always worked to treat all of our employees like family members. That’s why I think you have longevity in employees and the success you do,” she says.
Sheila is an avid cook who enjoys cooking exotic and ethic foods from Internet recipes. She and Dane also like to entertain at their new home they built on the river, which is filled with artifacts from their travels to over 40 countries and the work of local artists. They enjoy spending time with their daughters. The oldest, Priya, a senior at Georgia Tech, will be graduating in industrial engineering in May and already has a job lined up. Their second daughter, Nisha, turned 18 last week, will be graduating from GPS and is involved in the community herself as well with a global leadership class she started.
For more information on Thinking Media and KeyTrain visit www.keytrain.com.