How Teaching 50,000 Students Changed Mary Kate McDevitt's Life

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Today, Mary Kate is one of the top teachers on Skillshare, enrolling nearly 50,000 students in her hand-lettering classes. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, she didn’t think she could teach.

“My first thought was who am I to teach?” Mary Kate McDevitt tells us. It took Mary Kate six months to finally abandon that initial concern and decide to teach a Skillshare class in the fall of 2013. At the time, she was a freelance designer based out of Brooklyn, and though she was by no means famous (yet), her unique hand-lettering style had caught the attention of some very loyal fans, including the Skillshare team. Today, Mary Kate is one of the top teachers on Skillshare and an icon within the graphic design community. With almost 50,000 students in her classes, a substantial income from Skillshare's Partner Program, and plans to teach a class at her own alma mater next spring, it’s safe to say she answered her own question.

Despite having never formally taught before creating her first Skillshare class, Mary Kate was always a teacher at heart. “I had previously done a bunch of workshops in Portland,” she explains, “and I always had such a great time engaging and sharing with people. Eventually I realized I could do the same thing every day, with a lot more people, by teaching on Skillshare.” Overcoming her original nerves around teaching was challenging at first --”It took a while for me to even be able to watch my own class”, she recalls -- but she made it work; Mary Kate’s first class, The First Steps of Hand-Lettering: Concept to Sketch, enrolled 28,000 students, making it the top Skillshare class of 2014.

Mary Kate’s success didn’t stop there. As her first class became more popular, she decided to create three more classes to continue engaging her students and growing her following. The success she's found through teaching on Skillshare has changed Mary Kate’s life in more ways than one. Her huge student base on Skillshare has led to new speaking and freelance opportunities and more visibility for her brand. Teaching 50,000 students has also meant an additional source of revenue to complement her design career. But to Mary Kate, the biggest, most important change has come from the actual experience of teaching and having an impact on the lives of her students: “Feeling comfortable with teaching, realizing people are connecting with my process, and then seeing how they take it and start their own careers - that’s the best part,” she tells us.

Today, it’s no secret that Mary Kate is a great teacher; in fact, her own alma mater, the Tyler School of Art, recently asked her to come teach as a guest professor, and she’ll be joining the faculty next spring. On Skillshare, the level of engagement from her students speaks for itself. Altogether, those students have created over 1,300 projects in her classes.

Four awesome student projects from Mary Kate McDevitt's classes over the years. L-R: Season Filled with Sweetness by Anais Lee, To Plant a Garden by Lesley Zellers, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Patrice Horvath, Happiness Should Be Approached Sideways, Like a Crab by Caitlin Hansen. 

The truly special part, however, is what comes after those projects. We tracked down one of Mary Kate’s biggest fans, graphic designer and long-time student Lesley Zellers, who was excited to describe her experience with Mary Kate’s classes. A project that Lesley completed for Mary Kate’s first class ended up launching her career as a hand-letterer; that particular design has sold thousands of prints in her Etsy shop and was even picked up by her local West Elm store. So naturally when Lesley learned that Mary Kate was visiting her own hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma to give a talk, she made sure to attend. When she introduced herself to Mary Kate afterwards and told her about her project’s amazing success, she was delighted to learn that Mary Kate already knew all about it. “She had actually seen my print in a store, and recognized it as my project. That was one of those magical moments that seems too good to be true,” Lesley tells us. Lesley credits Mary Kate with arming her with the confidence she needed to move forward in her career - more so than the years she spent in graphic design school.

When asked about her success as a Skillshare teacher, Mary Kate responds modestly, “I don’t know how this happened.” However with thousands of students just like Lesley Zellers, whose lives and careers have changed as a result of her teaching, it’s not hard to understand exactly how.

At Skillshare, we believe anyone can teach. Yes, that includes you! Follow in Mary Kate's footsteps and sign up to teach a class of your own today.