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Expanded learning is a family affair in West Michigan, thanks to the legacy of the Malone's. Cultivating educational opportunities at Sylvan Learning centers across the west side of the state since 1985, the company works to help more students every year by employing top-notch teachers and trending tools.

Sylvan Learning of West Michigan Executive Director Hillary Malone Tilton was one of the first students at Sylvan Learning, when she was five years old. After her parents broke ground on the first center, she "literally grew up with the business." The family now owns seven centers in West Michigan including those in Grand Rapids, along the lakeshore, in Battle Creek, and in Traverse City. And most recently, Hillary and her husband took over centers in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Hillary studied education at Aquinas College in preparation for her teaching career. She also took several business classes at the encouragement of her father. "He saw something in me that I didn't see quite yet," Hillary said. But it didn't take long for Hillary to join the family business, and she has been working for West Michigan Sylvan Learning centers for seven years. 

Sylvan Learning centers such as those in West Michigan provide students with tutoring sessions in the evenings and on weekends. And whether the children are of elementary school age or preparing for the SATs, the universal language seems to be technology. “I think to us, it’s innovative. But to kids, they do everything on technological devices. That’s just the world we live in,” Hillary said. Technology, “is what kids expect.” SylvanSync uses digital lessons administered via iPads to support decades-old learning practices. Lessons are customizable based on individual skill levels and have the capability of providing progress tracking for parents. “From a business perspective, it’s important for educators to stay relevant,” Hillary said. “I think we’ll see more as time goes on and more schools bring technology into the classroom.”  

While students are preparing for their futures and achieving academic goals, Hillary also works to ensure the success of her staff. Managing more than one hundred Michigan and out-of-state employees has taught Hillary to be patient with herself and with her team. "I know for myself, I move fast, so I often want things to turn around quickly. But sometimes it takes more time than you'd like to make things happen, and I just need to be patient with the process."

Hillary is in her early thirties, and because numerous employees at Sylvan remain with the company for years, many of the employees she manages are older than she. This has also been a learning curve in her managerial style. Hillary's advice to other up-and-coming professionals is to remember success is not about age, but about a mutual level of respect and communication so that everyone can reach mutual goals.

Hillary also said decisiveness is a key trait those in leadership roles must maintain. "Make decisions and stick with them," she said. "I often have to react quickly when managing employees and students. When you make a decision, stand behind it."

Sylvan continues to grow offerings and operations under Hillary's guidance. Click here to learn more about the company and its education role in West Michigan. 

Written by: Erika Rose is West Michigan Woman magazine's staff writer. Photo: Hillary Malone Tilton and her husband Sean Tilton.


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