Each One Teach One: Note to Self from Claudia Bach

The Boston/Cambridge Chapter of Harvard Alumni for Education hosted an Each One Teach One event on 5/16 in Boston. The five speakers shared very moving stories of what they've learned in their journeys. We've asked speakers to share their speeches and some words of wisdom for the HAEd Blog, and will be posting them over the next several weeks.

First, here is Note to Self from Claudia Bach:

Good Evening.  My thanks for this opportunity to Harvard Alumni for Education, OZY EDU, First Generation Harvard Alumni and the HGSE Office of Development and Alumni Relations.  

Perhaps some of you have seen the segment “Note to Self” on CBS’s Morning News Show.  The notes are from older people, at the end of their career, to their younger selves. Mostly notes of encouragement and advice.  So, I’ve written such a note that I want to share with you this evening. My Note to Self. The date is May, 1994:

Dear Claudia,

Today is one of the biggest days of your life.  You are graduating with your Ed.D. from the Urban Superintendents Program (USP) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  Wow. You! One of your childhood friends will soon say to you, “I am so proud of you,” and you are moved, because they are words your parents would have said had they still been living, as you are the first doctor in your extended family.

As a member of USP, a program designed specifically to prepare women and people of color for the highest leadership positions in public education, you are the only Caucasian woman in your cohort. What you don’t know now is that diversity, equity and inclusion will become central to your work throughout your career.

What you do know today, is how hard you have worked to earn your Ed.D.  Courses like micro-economics and advanced statistics were daunting, and the term you took six courses almost undid you, and you weren’t sure you could make it through. Yet, you discovered that not only was your admission into USP not a mistake, the Program did everything possible to ensure your success, and everyone else in your cohort.  

Your 6-month internship with Superintendent Rudy Crew in Sacramento, was at times frightening, but also exhilarating, as he insisted you do the real work of a superintendent, and so directed you to create a public charter school and to negotiate and settle with the unions both the custodial and teachers contracts.  

What you don’t know now is that at every single course you have taken here will give you the knowledge and know-how to deal with the complex issues you will encounter. Every single course. There will be no problems for which you will be unprepared, and there will be few surprises.

But to become a superintendent (having come from a totally different work experience), will be your first huge challenge after graduation.  You will submit dozens and dozens of applications to districts all over the country without success. You will hit bottom, wondering if your fancy degree was worth it after all.  But don’t despair. You will prevail, and after an entire year, you will get your first superintendency, thanks to Rudy Crew who will have vouched for your potential, and for the constant encouragement and support from your cohort.

USP has taught you something even more important – though you may not yet realize it –and that is the necessity to lead with courage and truth-telling.  These two qualities will become your lodestars for the really tough decisions. You will fire a very popular principal whom you discover deliberately targets Latino students to find ways to expel them or push them to drop out of school.  Shortly after, you will be brought to tears when a board member who knows you have put your job on the line says to you, “Tell me about courage.” Years later, you will hear the Kennedy School’s Ronald Heifetz, say that the superintendency of America’s public schools is the most dangerous and complex CEO job in America.  And you will agree.

And finally, you will discover Harvard really is the gift that keeps giving, providing opportunities to teach here, to mentor grad students, to serve on the alumni council, to be a part of the program today.  You gladly will serve when requested, because you will want to pay forward. You will say, over and over, Harvard changed your life profoundly, giving you the unbelievable opportunity to serve our nation’s most important resource – the children of our public schools.  You, Claudia, are off to a wonderful adventure. So get going. But hang on tight!

With love, your older self (May 16, 2019)

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Claudia L. Bach, Ed.D, ‘94

Claudia currently works as a consultant for Empower Success Corps (ESC) and is a Fellow of Encore Fellowships in Greater Boston. She conducts workshops in Adaptive Leadership for ESC and Encore, and serves as a coach for the Encore Prize initiative. In 2015-16 she completed a fellowship at Education Pioneers, and has been a member of the EP’s Alumni Board in Boston since 2016. She has more than 30 years in the education sector, most recently as Superintendent of Schools in Andover Massachusetts, and Director of Educator Excellence at the MA Elementary and Secondary Department of Education.  In 1994 she earned her doctorate at HGSE in the Urban Superintendents Program. For 2 years she was a Lecturer on Education at HGSE, teaching a course entitled Managing Negotiations. She now serves on the HGSE Alumni Council, is a SAMI mentor for graduate students, and an alumni interviewer for Harvard College admissions. For 8 years she has served as a Trustee at Pike School, an independent preK-9 school in Andover, MA. She is a founding member of Andover Tomorrow, a citizen’s initiative to bolster sustainable economic development in Andover.

What will the 21st century Education hold for us?

By Dr. Crystal Roe

In December 2018 HAEd in Boston hosted a compelling event together with TechiiHarvard Graduate Business Club at the Harvard Science Center to examine cutting edge inventions and innovations that are shaping the future of education entitled 21st Century in Education. This was a panel discussion style moderated by Dr. Crystal Rose and Emily Pope, Co-Leaders of HAEd Boston and featured three cutting edge guests sharing their educational technologies and a neuroscientist from MIT Media Lab. Very often we may wonder about what the future of education in the EdTech space will entail. It is also fascinating to have a sneak peak at cutting edge technologies as well as the research which will have the ability to transform learning as well as the educational experience in the 21st century. We had access to all of these at this event. Not only did we learn directly from founders and developers of these technologies, we also listened to a world renowned scientist who shared about how we learn and ways to improve upon the learning process. 

The first speaker was a doctoral candidate and well respected neuroscientist, Alexandra Rieger of MIT Media Lab who walked us through newly published research underlying the multi sensory learning process and how educators and students alike may improve upon the teaching and learning experience. Next we got to hear from Dr. Dee Kanejiya, CEO of Cognii. Cognii has won multiple awards including National Science Foundation Award as this technology leverages AI technology to the benefit the education and training industries. Cognii is billed as the leading provider of individualized as well as adaptive AI instruction as it is able to decipher open ended questions and lead the user on a path to mastery of any given subject. It was exciting to learn about this technology which makes learning and education more accessible and hopefully more affordable in the long run. Next on the panel was the Co-Founder and developer Brandon Zararoff of an EdTech company by the name of eBlocks Learning. This program is focused on toddlers to prepare them for Kindergarten and uses wearable technologies as well as sensors in a variety of play-based learning applications such as blocks, puzzles and toys so that parents can see their child’s progress which is interpreted by leading researchers in early childhood development. Imagine looking at the dashboard which displays how your child is playing and acquiring skills in a variety of learning situations! This is something that may seem far fetched now but guaranteed in the future, preschools will be sure to offer this as one of their services to keep parents informed as to their child’s development when they are away from them. 

You may find pictures of the event on the Techii Facebook page here. And thanks to Emily Pope also did a twitter takeover on the HAEd twitter page, feel free to retweet and comment. We really appreciate it. Also, if you have any questions about this event or others, feel free to email us at haedboston@gmail.com.

HAEd-LA Picnic with the First Generation SIG

On Saturday, May 4th, the LA Chapter of Harvard Alumni for Education co-hosted a picnic with First-Generation Harvard Alumni LA and the Harvard Club of Southern California at Elysian Park in Los Angeles. 47 people RSVPed, with 20 humans and two dogs in attendance. :)

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The hosts provided beverages and guests brought their own food and picnic blankets. Folks formed a large circle of blankets as they arrived, with a trove of snacks available for sharing in the middle. One person brought treats from a French bakery, another brought pastries from Chinatown, and one even brought hand-cut watermelon for all to enjoy. 

Guests mingled with each other, with conversations about traveling, pets, work, and family. In the late afternoon, some guests went home while others explored the hiking trails of Elysian Park, eventually finding the famous "Secret Swing" with panoramic views of the city! A good time was had by all.

Diversity and Divinity

Education takes place in many forms. Today we can Google or YouTube just about anything we are interested in learning more about. I have done several religious studies taking me to Europe and Asia, but I’ve never quite been able to apply the practices I observed to my life. I went in search of some ways that sacred texts are looked at through diverse lenses and what I found would be beyond anything I could imagine. Some Harvard Alumni had gotten together to look at the Harry Potter series as a sacred text and created a podcast that looked at different sections of the books through diverse religious practices. I wanted to take a moment and spotlight what the folks from Harry Potter and the Sacred Text are doing as an example of the diverse work Harvard Alumni are doing.

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Vanessa Zoltan, a Co-Host, wrote to us about the project.

“Since I graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 2015 I have been working on treating the Harry Potter series as a sacred text. First, my co-host, Casper ter Kuile and I gathered people on Wednesday nights for a class. It ran like a bible study. Only we weren't using the bible; we were using a book almost as popular; Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone. After going through all seven books, using Judeo-Christian spiritual practices, blessing characters and inviting people in our class to give sermons about a boy-wizard, we launched a podcast. Harry Potter & the Sacred Text launched in May of 2016. We now have about a million downloads a month and 27 groups meet all over the world to treat the Harry Potter books as if they were sacred.  

This whole project is based on the idea that the most important part of treating a text as sacred is the community. You need people who show up and say, 'yes, I also think that this is sacred." You need a gym buddy, who you go to class for because you don't want to disappoint them. You need someone who will hold your hand when you start crying, because Harry's mom coming back from the dead makes you realize how much you miss your mom. 

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 These groups have nearly nothing to do with us. Some meet weekly, others monthly. They are started by fans of the Harry Potter series who feel as though they have been given a vocabulary to do something that they were already doing with midnight release parties, traditions of rereading certain books on certain anniversaries and tattooing, "lumos", onto their bodies. 

The Harry Potter books are both uniquely qualified to speak to the searching parts of us and are in no way necessary for the work that we are doing. Our new project will be about treating Romance novels as if they are sacred. But also, "Hufflepuff" is a beautiful sort of Shibboleth in this time of separation. “

If you are interested in finding out more about about this Harvard Divinity School Alumna's work check out their website at http://harrypottersacredtext.com/ or if you are interested in joining them on an adventure, they have some pilgrimages through the lens of different texts (Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice) which you can read about at https://www.readingandwalkingwith.com/

HA Ed India Retreat: KFI Study Center

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“Freedom from the desire for an answer is essential to the understanding of a problem,” wrote J.Krishnamurthi, the well-known Indian education philosopher, who lived from 1895 to 1986 and founded a number of progressive schools in India.

On September 22nd and 23rd, Harvard alumni in education gathered together at The Valley School, one of the schools founded by J.Krishnamurthi. On the outskirts of Bangalore, nestled amidst a verdant forest, The Valley School and its attached study center is a perfect place for a retreat. Walking into the beautiful campus, with its lush greenery and its range of colorful birds, I could feel myself relaxing and recovering from the hectic noise and traffic of Bangalore.

We began the retreat on Saturday evening with a moderated session on “What we see as the central problem in education.” Although we initially located the problem outside of ourselves – our exam-oriented school systems, the mindsets of teachers and parents, the lack of engagement and deep learning in classrooms across the country – the conversation eventually turned inwards. Perhaps we had to start by questioning our own conditioning, by thinking about ourselves as educators. True to the Krishnamurthi philosophy, we explored the questions instead of the answers. Sunday began with meditation and a nature walk, followed by moderated sessions about what makes a meaningful education.

While the moderated sessions were very interesting and thought provoking, for me the most exciting part of the retreat were the informal conversations with other HA Ed members. On Saturday night, after our session, we ate dinner together and stayed up late talking about the inequities in our education system, the responsibilities that come with our own privileges, and the contradictions and paradoxes we all live with every day.  It was a wonderful way to get to know other HA Ed members -- not through superficial social talk but through rich and layered conversations about issues that we all wrestle with.

The HA Ed India chapter’s mission is to help alumni form deep and meaningful relationships with each other around our shared commitment to education – this certainly seemed to happen at our retreat!

Building a World of Understanding and Equity through Education and Intercultural Communications

Liz Grossman, Ed.M. ’13

Liz Grossman, Ed.M. ’13

We are happy to spotlight HAEd member, Liz Grossman Ed.M. ’13. Liz Grossman is a social entrepreneur passionate about promoting equitable collaboration between the United States and Africa. She helps leaders, nonprofits, companies and academic institutions build inclusive programs, share stories and scale their impact through strategic communications, branding, facilitation and training.

With my eleventh grade students who organized United Nations Day at school, October 2011.

With my eleventh grade students who organized United Nations Day at school, October 2011.

I started my career as a high school teacher in Dakar, Senegal in 2009. The bilingual school, owned by a Swiss couple, hired at least four American teachers every year fresh out of college to teach alongside a majority Senegalese faculty, staff and student body. I experienced the need for educators to understand the cultural contexts of one’s colleagues, students, bosses and parents in order to succeed. I learned the importance of delivering your messages based on the receiver, not on the preconceived notions of the sender.

This job encouraged me to do my masters in International Education Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 2012-2013, putting my micro level classroom experience into a macro framework that intersects education, communications and social entrepreneurship. One of my biggest takeaways in the program was those who make policy drive society, and if they do not understand and respect cultural nuances, programs and policies will fail. Policymakers must be inclusive to local stakeholders, from the national to grassroots levels.

During my time at Harvard, I was the Chair for the Harvard African Development Conference,  and brought President of Senegal Macky Sall to speak at the JFK Forum at the Institute of Politics.  While the foot of snow was not the ideal welcome, it did permit me to give a personal tour of Harvard Yard and the Harvard Business School to the Ministers of Education, Higher Education, and Good Governance. I was lucky to hear directly from those who make Senegalese education policy.  They corroborated that my capstone project from Professor Fernando Reimers’ social entrepreneurship course, Cybraries, would support their government’s objectives, and so I decided to pursue it.

Welcoming His Excellency President Macky Sall at the Harvard Africa Development Conference, March 2013.

Welcoming His Excellency President Macky Sall at the Harvard Africa Development Conference, March 2013.

Momar Dieng (SpecialAdvisor to the Minister of Education), Liz Grossman, Serigne Mbaye Thiam (Minister of Education) Abdou Latif Coulibaly (Minister of Good Governance) and Mary Teuw Niane (Minister of Higher Education) at the Harvard Business School after our trek across campus in the snow.

Momar Dieng (SpecialAdvisor to the Minister of Education), Liz Grossman, Serigne Mbaye Thiam (Minister of Education) Abdou Latif Coulibaly (Minister of Good Governance) and Mary Teuw Niane (Minister of Higher Education) at the Harvard Business School after our trek across campus in the snow.

Cybraries sought to build technology centers to leverage IT training to develop 21st century skills for youth in Dakar Senegal to improve academic and professional achievement. I launched a crowdfunding campaign which raised enough money to buy my ticket, three month visa and accommodations in Dakar. I moved back to Senegal to knock on Ministers’ doors and see what we could start. I was able to make some progress, including being hired to work on the launch of Senegal’s first online public university, and developing a workshop for Google’s Gdays to teach university students how to use Google for academic research.

Presenting Cybraries and teaching internet skills at the GDays Summit organize by Google Senegal. December 2013.

Presenting Cybraries and teaching internet skills at the GDays Summit organize by Google Senegal. December 2013.

Despite the progress, I knew I had a lot to learn about running an organization, so I accepted an opportunity to work at Tostan, an NGO headquartered in Dakar. The organization had offices in 7 countries with over 800 staff and was renowned for their work in rural communities delivering nonformal human rights education programs across West Africa. After three years working in an international team, I saw how critical intercultural team building and professional development is.  This can be particularly challenging when staff is differentiated by their local and expat status, unless they are given proper training and facilitation meant to understand and address one another’s realities.

Hosting an event with Haingo Rakotomala and Birima Fall at the Tostan Training Center in Thies, Senegal. June 2016.

Hosting an event with Haingo Rakotomala and Birima Fall at the Tostan Training Center in Thies, Senegal. June 2016.

In 2016, even though I loved my life in Senegal, I decided it was time to face reality at home. Back in the United States, people not only had gross misconceptions about the continent of Africa, but about ourselves as well. And especially in the current political climate dominated by a nationalist narrative, we must push to develop the next generation of global citizens.  In the US, there are significant gaps when it comes to access to true diversity, and fake news allows the stereotypes that Africa needs our saving to be perpetuated.

On the other side, the mentality on the ground in many African contexts which has been perpetuated by the NGO/charity system is that foreigners bring money to fix problem. It is my belief that Americans should be investing in business on the continent, which will not only create jobs and boost the economy, but also promote social impact.  And Africa is ripe for investment, with a large, entrepreneurial youth population, with 22% of the youth workforce starting businesses, and 20% of African entrepreneurs offering new products or services.  The time is now to invest, and to make good deals, you must consider local cultural norms.

The Baobab Consulting team, Emma Giloth, Michael Ibonye, Pumla Maswanganyi and Thomas Gallemore. Social Capital Markets Conference, San Francisco, October 2018.

The Baobab Consulting team, Emma Giloth, Michael Ibonye, Pumla Maswanganyi and Thomas Gallemore. Social Capital Markets Conference, San Francisco, October 2018.

In September 2016 I decided to dive in full time at Baobab Consulting, the company I co-founded with a mission to promote mutual understanding and equitable collaboration, and amplify the voices of those doing impactful work on the continent. We have nine team members spanning North America, Europe and Africa.  Our goal to change the narratives and practices which hinder successes on both sides. We offer world class branding and PR services, build communications strategies, facilitate and advise on building inclusive projects, and deliver customized cultural exchange programs across Africa.  

Former President of Malawi Dr Joyce Banda delivering the keynote address at the Maternal Health Symposium at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. September 2018.

Former President of Malawi Dr Joyce Banda delivering the keynote address at the Maternal Health Symposium at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. September 2018.

I believe that through Baobab Consulting, I can contribute my skills and experiences to build positive relationships to change the way Americans and Africans work together.  We recently led an exchange program in Senegal called “Developing Entrepreneurship for Intercultural Collaboration,” where 13 high school students from Rochester, New York worked with their Senegalese peers to build social business ideas. We provide the tools for our clients, who are students, teachers, business owners, international organizations and  world leaders, to increase their cultural knowledge of their counterparts across the world so they can build a positive image, build effective teams and achieve their financial and social goals.

I have been privileged to learn from the world’s best. During my time at Harvard, I walked the same paths as Presidents, CEOs, Nobel Prize winners. I have been welcomed into the homes and workplaces of community leaders, entrepreneurs and public figures across Africa. I have worked for Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, the Former President of Malawi, and have heard her plead her case for education and smart international partnerships, and even brought her to speak at Harvard this past September. This privilege comes with the responsibility to share this knowledge to create global citizens and further opportunities for young people to collaborate, in the US, Africa and across the world.

The Harvard Alumni for Education SIG is proud to announce the launch of their online global community

HAEd provides a forum for alumni from all schools, disciplines, and professions to share field expertise, research, and ideas. HAEd encourages engagement, cross-sector partnerships, professional exchanges, and mentorship opportunities for members of the Harvard alumni community. HAEd empowers Harvard alumni who are parents, professors, policy makers, and so much more, to make a difference by bringing them together in both conversation and action.

We are excited to be able to provide HAEd members with an online platform to help us to continue to meet these goals. HAEd received its charter in November 2015 and since then, it has opened ten chapters and serves over 2,000 alumni from across Harvard University. The introduction of the online global community will better serve our members where HAEd does not yet have a local chapter. The platform is currently available to global members outside of the contiguous United States, but open to members within the United States of America working in an international context upon request and review by e-mailing leadership@harvardaed.org. To join the conversation individuals must register as members through their website at www.harvardaed.org

Join the conversation today


Matthew Williams

HAEd Director of Membership

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Introducing Nicole Marie Erb, Detroit Chapter Co-Chair

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Full name: Nicole Marie Erb

Degree/Graduating Year: Ed.M. Learning and Teaching, 2015

Location: Allen Park, Michigan

Position on HAEd: Co-Chair of Detroit Chapter

Current role or job: Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, Detroit Public Schools Community District

3 Fun Facts: I was a competitive ballroom dancer in college. I student taught on the Isles of Scilly in England. I have an adorable tuxedo cat named Asimov.

Why did you join HAED? 

I love meeting and working with people who are passionate about education, and when I moved to the Detroit area, I was disappointed that Detroit didn't have an HAED chapter. I met Mary when we both volunteered for a HGSE Admissions event, and I was excited to hear that she was starting a local chapter.

What do you hope to achieve through HAED? 

I hope to learn more about the impressive work being done to support education and literacy throughout Detroit, within both formal and informal learning spaces.

How did you get involved in education? 

I knew that I wanted to be an educator since I was in high school. A love for literature and a desire to work with students led me to start my career as an English teacher.

What is something that inspires you? 

I'm inspired by the authors who are speaking truth to power through their young adult novels that explore current issues facing our teens, and I hope that educators will make space for these incredible stories in their classrooms.

What is the most memorable experience you remember from your time at Harvard? 

During S308: Models of Excellence, I interviewed students from King Middle School in Portland, Maine, about Small Acts of Courage, an incredible project that honored unsung civil rights heroes in their community. This course introduced me to Expeditionary Learning, which helped to inspire and shape my philosophy of education and my belief that students can and should be doing exceptional work that impacts their communities. Check out this video of Small Acts of Courage, and visit modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org to explore inspiring examples of student work.

What advice do you have for other Harvard alumni? 

Be open to new opportunities. When I was at HGSE, I expected to teach for several more years, but I'm grateful for the path that led me to my current position. Every day, I learn something new about leadership, instruction, and districtwide urban education reform, and I'm excited for the future of education in Detroit.

Introducing Mary Grech, Detroit Chapter Co-Chair

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Full name: Mary Grech

Degree/Graduating Year: HGSE Ed.M. '17

Location: Detroit, MI

Position on HAEd: HAEd Detroit Co-Chair

Current role or job: Data and Policy Analyst at The Education Trust-Midwest

3 Fun Facts:

  • I love traveling to visit friends and explore new places.
  • Hiking and yoga are my favorite ways to stay active.
  • The Guardian Building is my favorite Detroit skyscraper. 

Why did you join HAED?

I want to connect with other alumni who are working to improve education, especially in my home state of Michigan! HAEd provides a great way to meet and work together for change. 

What do you hope to achieve through HAED?

A community of local alumni who are continuously learning and contributing to the work ahead in Detroit - and across the state of Michigan.  

How did you get involved in education?

I began as a classroom teacher and now work in education research, policy and advocacy in Michigan. My focus is on improving equity in education and better connecting educator expertise to the policy design process. 

What is something that inspires you?

I am inspired to be back home in Detroit! Our region's long history of leading in innovation - in mobility, music, manufacturing, and social movements - makes me confident that together we can address the historical challenges and inequities of our education system. Detroit can lead innovation in education as well - and show that equity and excellence can both be done at scale.

What is the most memorable experience you remember from your time at Harvard?

Attending different talks around campus! It was great to hear from speakers with such diverse life experiences and perspectives on education and politics.

What advice do you have for other Harvard alumni?

The most important part of being a Harvard student is what you do once you are no longer on campus. How can you use the knowledge and skills you learned at Harvard to serve your community and improve learning opportunities for others? 

Introducing Christine Gentry, Los Angeles Chapter Co-Chair

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Full name: Christine Gentry

Degree/Graduating Year: M.Ed., 2005

Location: Corona, CA

Position in HAEd: Los Angeles Co-Chair

Current role or job: Visiting Assistant Professor & Corona-Norco Residency Director for the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency Program

3 Fun Facts: (1) I used to work in the education department at a zoo; I was the person who went around to all the elementary schools dressed in all khaki, with animals hanging off me. (2) I once went on a date with Jeff Goldblum (pictorial evidence provided upon request). (3) I'm a living kidney donor--ask me about it sometime!

Why did you join HAEd? 

I have devoted my entire professional life to improving outcomes for students in Title I public schools. Co-leading the Los Angeles chapter of this SIG is an important part of continuing my work to ensure every child has access to high-quality public education by allowing me to connect with local colleagues doing important work in the field of education.

What do you hope to achieve through HAED?

Meeting and collaborating with awesome human beings.

How did you get involved in education?

I had a life-changing English teacher in 8th grade; I vowed to grow up to be just like him.

What is something that inspires you?

Seeing my former students' amazing lives on Facebook.

What is the most memorable experience you remember from your time at Harvard?

I had the worst fall of my life on the cobblestones of Garden Street. I may have been running...in the rain...in heels.

What advice do you have for other Harvard alumni?

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Neha Dalal: Inspiring and Empowering Others to Be Bold


Name: Neha Dalal

Current position: Operations and Program Coordinator, The Institute for College Access & Success; Vice Chair, US National Commission to UNESCO Youth Working Group

Degree/year: AB in applied math with a focus in education ‘16 / SM in applied math with a focus in economics ‘16

Tell us a little bit about your journey and experience working in education.

I moved around a lot growing up, spending time in New York, Texas, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts. I attended public and private schools, including Montessori and talented and gifted programs. And I had close family attending school in another country, India. So from a very young age, I directly experienced how much varying educational resources and quality impacted a kid like me.

At 16, I was admitted to Harvard. My first year, I took a public economics course with Raj Chetty and Marty Feldstein, two amazing teachers and mentors. Education, they convinced me, is the path to universal opportunity. Moreover, it may finally be on the precipice of reaching this ideal, as it draws on advancements in a wide array of fascinating fields: public policy, psychology and neuroscience, economics, and data science. After four years, I left Harvard with a bachelors and masters in a combination of math, economics, and education.

During and since, I have expanded my education expertise and impact through many different roles: federal policy development in the Obama and Trump White Houses, senior and founding roles in multiple education-related nonprofits, volunteer teaching and mentoring in seven countries, education-related economics research at Harvard, and organizing and representing youth in a variety of capacities. Today, I work on education policy and advocacy at a Washington, DC nonprofit. As the vice chair of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO Youth Working Group, I also create opportunities for young people to impact the world around them. And I run a mentoring program that connects rising Harvard freshman with alumni.

I have been fortunate enough to have been recognized nationally and internationally for my work. I have advised city officials in the US and China on youth civic engagement, written op-eds, and been invited to speak in various capacities. Among other honors, I was named an Outstanding Women of the Year by India New England News and a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum.

What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

There are myriad, and I am still learning something new every day. But the lesson that stands out the most is to be bold. Had I never dared to believe that Harvard could admit me, I would never had applied and gotten in at 16. And today, if we do not dare to believe that we can achieve universal quality education, we never will.

More generally, it is not about how many times you succeed: it is about how many times you were bold enough to try, fail, and do it again. What is missing from what I have accomplished are the hours spent on ideas that went nowhere; dozens of applications that were rejected; myriad times I reached and failed; and people who never wrote back. A lot in this world is out of our hands, but we can still spin our own luck: by giving ourselves chance after chance after chance to play.

Tying this back to education, it deeply concerns me that a lot of our education system seems to be teaching kids the entirely opposite lesson. Most schools still harshly penalize students for failing, assigning them fixed, poor grades which translate to poor GPAs which are then penalized in future application processes. Unsurprisingly, many students balk from taking challenging, fascinating courses and learn to interpret failure as a definitive end point instead of an indication to try again. Instead, we need to inspire and empower them to be bold.

You were a staff economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers. What was that like?

Incredible. I had the opportunity to cover education and other topics related to economic opportunity. It is hard to describe the thrill of spending your days in a supercharged, fast-paced environment; surrounded by people you deeply admire and like; influencing decisions with incredibly large-scale impact; and driving towards a dream you deeply believe. We made far less money than we could have elsewhere; worked far more than we were paid for; and learnt to check our phone every few minutes, even in the evenings and on weekends.

But there are few other places where a 21-year old could choose and write a daily economic briefing for the most powerful man in the world, brief top officials, meaningfully engage in policy deliberations, write public-facing White-House-branded white papers, serve as a bridge between academia and policy, and witness a historic presidential transition up close. Although I am still waiting for someone to correct me someday, to the best of my knowledge, I was the youngest full-time Obama White House staffer. Similarly, there are few places where you want to spend more time with people you have just worked a ridiculously long week together with. But my cohort got dinners most Fridays and remain among my closest friends.

What advice do you have for those interested in getting into education policy and/or advocacy?

1. Do it. Education is an odd field in that virtually everyone is intimately submerged in it five days a week for the majority of their most formative years, inevitably develops strong opinions on the efficacy of various strategies, then witnesses how it impacts them for the rest of their lives. Yet, a surprisingly small share of the population elects to enter the field. Without more talent, our progress is sharply constrained.

2. Surround yourself with good people. There are three reasons this is important. First, research tells us we reflect the people we spend time with, from our mood to our beliefs to our actions. Second, collaboration improves everything from ideation to impact. Build a community of friends and mentors who you can give ideas to and take ideas from. Third, policy and many other areas unfortunately still work largely through connections. This is compounded by unpaid internships and relatively low paying careers, making policy a daunting field for those with large financial obligations. So it is often your networks which will best lead you to a role.

3. Even if you cannot pursue a career in education policy and/or advocacy, there is still a lot you can do. For instance, I led my team at the US National Commission to UNESCO Youth Working Group to launch YouthCan, a platform of resources of those under 30 looking to become more civically engaged.

Feel free to reach out if there is anything I can help you with anything.

What are some of the issues you’d like to see addressed in education?

Ha. How many can I pick? For several years now, I have compiled such ideas in a google document, which is currently 47 pages, including links to several other equally long documents. Let’s say I had three wishes however.

First, invest more in early care and education. Research tells us early years are the most critical to development, yet they are grossly under-supported. Parents have the least earnings, savings, and credit when their kids are the youngest, and the public invests 76 percent more per teenager than infant or toddler. The devastating result? By kindergarten—the relatively arbitrary bound we often set for universal education—academic and social gaps are well-established and fail to close in later years. Instead, we need to extend our concept of a universal right to quality care, development, and education back to birth. I have written about this in more depth here.

Second, make teaching a prestigious job by paying teachers more, at the same level as doctors, lawyers, and programmers. We know the impact of education. We have identified teaching as the most important level that we can actually pull. Yet, we treat teachers as low-skill labor and then act surprised when kids perform poorly. Dramatically increasing teacher salaries will attract top talent and adequately compensate a high-skill, high-stress, high-impact profession. Like many of you, I have had teachers that changed my life, and it is ridiculous we do not value them accordingly.

Third, make more evidence-driven decisions. Like any field economics concerns itself with, education is a game of scarce resources. It would easy if we could invest in everything. But given limited funds, do you invest in K-12 education or higher education? Do you distribute additional funds to all students or just the most needy? Do you improve technology or counseling? Better data and robust research can help us understand the education production function, answer these questions, and identify the most effective interventions. For instance, recent research has highlighted the success of an array texting and mentoring programs at the early through higher education levels.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Leading the design and implementation of large-scale solutions towards universal opportunity, particularly related to education.

There are many possible ways to do this. For example, it would be a privilege to run an organization that uses evidence-driven techniques to take such solutions end-to-end, including ideation, evaluation, replication, and national or global scaling. For instance, a potential idea that could be implemented and evaluated is regularly awarding a large number of top-performing teachers an award or tax credit of $25,000 each. A promising idea that is being evaluated and replicated is providing students mentoring and wrap-around services, such as via Project ASAP,  which doubled graduation rates at the City University of New York and is now being replicated in Ohio. And a proven idea that is being scaled is state-funded preschool systems, which now cover 1.3 million 4-year olds in 43 states. But the advancement of such solutions is currently adhoc and irregular: a larger-scale, more systematic vehicle is needed. This can be best done through policy or through organizations such as the Gates Foundation or Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

What are some things we wouldn’t learn about you from your resume?

I am a ninja-in-training and learn a combination of krav maga, grappling, and boxing. Also, for the past year, I have been on a mission to do something new (and exciting) every week. I have skydived and trapezed, ran 10 miles and modeled, quit my job and joined a startup. Suggestions and escapade partners welcome!


This interview was conducted by Merisenda Alatorre, HAEd's Communications and Marketing Director.

Want to be featured as our next Alumni Spotlight or know someone who should be featured? Click here to nominate yourself or another alum!

Introducing Ghazal Gulati, Los Angeles Chapter Co-Chair

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Full name: Ghazal Gulati

Degree/Graduating Year: Ed.M/ 2015 

Location: Los Angeles

Position on HAEd: Co-Chair, LA Chapter

Current role or job: Manager, Data Strategy, Alliance College Ready Public Schools

3 Fun Facts: 

(1) I once had a visa application rejected because I was smiling too much in the picture 

(2) My family holds the record of eating the largest pizza in Singapore 

(3) In six months, I've been on every line of the LA metro, something that even many long time Angelenos haven't done! 

Why did you join HAED?

To collaborate and learn from an amazing set of peers.

What do you hope to achieve through HAED?

A local community that keeps its members motivated to do the work we do.

How did you get involved in education?

Initially to escape the world of consulting, I found my calling in the classroom and have continued to explore different roles. 

What is something that inspires you?

The stories of my former students.

What is the most memorable experience you remember from your time at Harvard?

I worked the Saturday morning shift at Widener Library and heard some amazing stories from Harvard Alumni who'd visit (espionage, meeting state heads - the works!)

What advice do you have for other Harvard alum?

Always assume positive intent. 

Mentorship Comes From Unexpected Places, Are You Open To It?

By: Emily Pope, HAEd Boston Chapter Co-Leader

Like most recent graduates, I had many questions about how to find a mentor and what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Should my mentor be someone in my field that I want to emulate? How do I get exposure to that ideal mentor as an entry level employee? I had unrealistic assumptions that a mentor figure would check in regularly about my career challenges and goals, with near therapist-level active listening skills. The more I thought and read about mentorship, none of this seemed right, but I wasn’t sure what was.

Mentorship went from the back of my mind to the forefront as I began planning the HAEd Boston Chapter’s second annual commencement event. I worked with Crystal Rose, my HAEd Boston Co-Leader and Anissa Conner from the HGSE Alumni office, to envision a way to celebrate 2018 graduates and to connect them with alumni in a meaningful way. Mentorship became the theme that tied the groups together. Crystal invited Carlos Watson, the CEO of OZY Media, to share his insights on mentorship with the attendees. In this video, Carlos shares his experience with mentorship and encourages everyone to be open to mentorship from unlikely places. He describes his experience with “angels,” people in the periphery of his life who were willing to help him make connections, even when he didn’t understand why. This insight enabled me to breathe a sigh of relief. I did not need to focus on finding one ideal mentor, instead I needed to shift my mindset and remain open to help, insight, and advice from unexpected places.

After launching the event with this message, Crystal and I gathered a group of volunteer mentors. These mentors were our colleagues from the Harvard First Generation SIG and a diverse group of Boston-based alumni across fields, schools, and graduation years. After having each of our mentors introduce themselves, we set up a speed dating session and had the attendees rotate in small groups to speak with each mentor. The room quickly buzzed with conversations and laughter. During that time, I met students and recent graduates from across many Harvard schools - all passionate about having an impact on the world and connecting with others. It was an incredible place to be. The buzz of conversation lasted far beyond the closing of Gutman Library. I enjoyed connecting with others from HGSE, OZY Media, HAEd, and FirstGen SIG to provide a platform for connections to be made and for mentoring relationships to spark.

No Matter Where You Are, Harvard is Never Far: HAEd in Mexico City

By: Bettina Dembek, Co-Chair HAEd Washington, DC Chapter and Eleanor (Nell) O'Donnell Weber, HAEd Vice President

Harvard alumni near and far gathered in Mexico City for a social and networking event on the second night of the weeklong annual conference of the Comparative and International Education Society’s (CIES) annual conference. Co-sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin America Studies (DRCLAS), the Harvard Club of Mexico, and Harvard Alumni for Education (HAEd) Shared Interest Group, the event, held at Mercado Independencia, brought together over seventy alums for food, fellowship, and good conversation.

HAEd is one of the youngest shared interest groups at Harvard but it has already made a lasting impression and was recognized by the Harvard Alumni Association for its work in 2017. Its goal is to broaden the discussions about education by bringing together alums from all the schools, the College and current faculty, students, and thus getting more diverse view points than if the focus were only on alums from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Active outreach and event hosting across the U.S. is only one approach the SIG takes to bring its diverse members together. For three consecutive years, the SIG has stepped up to provide the Harvard community the opportunity to get together at the CIES conference. In Vancouver in 2016, Atlanta in 2017, and now Mexico City, HAEd organized the only formal opportunity for Harvard alumni to connect. Mixing alums with current students and faculty results in quite a draw and it was not surprising to see dozens of eventgoers stay a lot longer than the originally announced 90 minutes. When conversations, the ambiance, and the company are good, time just flies!

The organizers credit the success of this event to their ability to leverage an existing event (the CIES conference) as well as the multiple partnerships (with the Harvard Club of Mexico and DRCLAS) to bring together Harvard alumni living in Mexico City and those visiting from near and far. Anne Hand (HGSE ’11) an American said, “Since I´ve worked as a consultant in Mexico City, I've grown to know and love the city as a wonderful place with so much to offer. It was great to see Harvard students and alums getting out to explore, and diving in to the great weather, the culture, and especially the food.”

In addition, Mercado Independencia, the venue, provided an ideal space for alumni to mingle and sample local fare. The rooftop “market” boasted casual seating on picnic tables surrounded by food truck-esque booths with food and drink ranging from mescal margaritas and flautas to sushi and smoothies (all with a Mexican flair).

If you’d like to organize an event for Harvard alumni in conjunction with a conference, festival, or other gathering, please contact the HAEd leadership (leadership@harvardaed.org). In addition, if you’d like to stay abreast of what HAEd is up to, please sign up for the SIG and let us know in which region of the world you are at home. With now 7 chapters across the U.S. and abroad, we are confident we have something to offer to you!


Emily Chesbrough: From the Classroom to Edtech

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Name: Emily Chesbrough

Current position: Product Designer at IXL Learning

Degree/year: HGSE Master’s in Technology, Innovation and Education, 2015

Tell us a little bit about your journey and experience working in education.

My experience in education started in the classroom: I taught second grade, all subjects, for two years in San Jose Unified School District. I used a lot of edtech products as a teacher - IXL Learning, DreamboxImagine Learning, Lexia, Lego WeDo, the list goes on. I saw firsthand that using edtech inspired my students to be more curious, creative, and resourceful. As a teacher, edtech products helped me meet students’ needs and deliver more engaging and meaningful lessons. I decided that I wanted to dedicate my career to creating and delivering the best edtech experiences, which brought me to HGSE. In grad school, I focused on learning to design and build edtech experiences with educational outcomes in mind.

After HGSE, I joined Clever to help large districts to implement edtech at scale, first as a District Partnerships Associate, then as a District Success Manager. Clever solves some of the most pressing technical problems districts face, from helping districts comply with data security and privacy regulations to getting students logged into apps without having to memorize dozens of passwords. I learned so much at Clever about the struggles districts face implementing edtech, from selecting products to managing technical challenges. I wanted to get closer to the edtech development process, which brought me to IXL Learning. As a product designer, I create new features and enhancements to the IXL product to meet student, teacher, and administrator needs.

What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I vividly remember a very important lesson I learned from Professor David Dockterman, in his first lecture for Innovation by Design. He walked the class through the history of technology adoption in the classroom. From radios to TVs to computers, the same cycle would repeat itself: schools would buy new technologies, but not train teachers on how to use them, how to integrate them into lessons, or how to show students how to use the technology to its full potential. As a result, the majority of these technologies would sit in the back of the classroom, unused. The lesson: you can develop the edtech panacea that solves all educational issues, but if schools and teachers can’t integrate it into the classroom, no one will use it. Implementation matters.

What's it like working in edtech? What advice or guidance do you have for other educators interested in transitioning out of the classroom and into similar roles like yours?

Edtech is a fascinating industry because it brings together people who have a passion for education and who have deep experience as educators, designers, and engineers. There are so many great student and teacher success stories I get to hear every day at work, and I feel like I am part of an industry that is improving educational opportunities and experiences.

If you’re an educator looking to move to edtech, I would think first about your career goals and make sure a career in edtech will fulfill them. If you are looking to design edtech products or help other educators discover better ways to use technology in the classroom, a role in an edtech company could be a great place for you. If you are looking to be a community leader and shape the lives of individual students and families, being a teacher is probably a better fit.

If you feel like you want to make the move to edtech, I recommend doing research on the kinds of skills and experiences needed to contribute at an edtech company, and then figure out how you will meet those needs. For a lot of educators, going into sales, account management, customer service and marketing can be great because those roles all leverage the communications skills and persuasive abilities that teachers use everyday in their classrooms. If you want to design edtech products, but you have no design experience, start designing edtech experiences now in your classroom! Create your own websites and edtech materials, use edtech products with your students and think creatively about how you would improve those products. You can also explore design schools and graduate programs that specifically cultivate this experience, like I did. If you want to go into engineering but don’t have engineering experience, explore bootcamps and graduate programs that can help you build those skills, and start coding projects on the side. I cannot stress enough how important it is to start practicing these skills before making the jump into edtech. Not only will you gain the experiences you need to thrive in a new role, but you will also see if you enjoy the day-to-day work involved in that role.

What are some of the issues you’d like to see addressed in education? What role do you think technology can play?

This is a hard question. Some of the most pressing educational issues (school funding, teacher development, school safety) are best addressed by government policy, in my opinion.

One of the most pressing issues in education is the achievement gap, and I think technology can help address the achievement gap through personalized learning. Edtech products give teachers the power to quickly pinpoint the exact standards a student is struggling to learn and directly address those needs, all in a fraction of the time it would have taken a decade ago. That said, we need teachers and schools that are fully equipped to address these needs - technology is only one piece of the puzzle.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I plan to be in edtech, working with and hopefully leading teams to design impactful technology for classrooms and schools.

What are some things we wouldn’t learn about you from your resume?

I love art - I’ve been doing ceramic art for years in my free time, and I find it’s a great way to express myself creatively and expansively.


This interview was conducted by Merisenda Alatorre, HAEd's Communications and Marketing Director, who had the pleasure of meeting and working with Emily at HGSE.

Want to be featured as our next Alumni Spotlight or know someone who should be featured? Click here to nominate yourself or another alum!

Introducing Taylor Chapman, Chapter Co-Chair, NYC & Director of Programming


Taylor Chapman is a passionate advocate for equality of opportunity, most recently as Senior Vice President of the NationSwell Council. A Texas native, Taylor was an undergraduate at Yale when his experiences volunteering at a New Haven public school opened his eyes to the inequities in our education system. He spent the next four years as a public school teacher: first at a high-poverty high school in Charlotte, NC with the Teach for America program, then at a public high school in Japan’s largely rural Kumamoto Prefecture via the JET Program.  Looking to scale his impact, Taylor earned a Master in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, with a thesis focused on the reduction of human trafficking + modern slavery. 

Upon graduation, Taylor joined McKinsey’s New York office to learn the classic private sector skill set; there, he served clients in private equity, insurance, utilities, oil + gas, banking, retail, and telecom.  He then fought his way onto education-focused projects + secured a Public Sector Practice fellowship; in 2013, he did more education work than any McKinsey Associate in the western hemisphere.  

In 2015, Taylor was recruited to build a new growth team at Remind, an education tech startup delivering a text-messaging platform for teachers to communicate with parents + students.  Today, Remind is used in over 80% of US public schools, where it helps to boost parent engagement + student attendance.  In 2017, Taylor joined the NationSwell team in order to grow + evolve the NationSwell Council, its nationwide community of accomplished, service-minded leaders + innovators, and to maximize the Council’s potential for positive impact on America’s most pressing challenges.   

Taylor’s experience has left him convinced that human factors – innovative individuals, a relentless focus on solutions + what works, and a willingness to collaborate across sectors – while notionally small, in fact hold within them the keys to solving our biggest challenges.  

Introducing Jennifer Kizza, Co-President of Sub-Saharan Africa Chapter

Full name: Jennifer Kizza

Degree/Graduating Year: B.A. in Neurobiology and Global Health and Health Policy, 2016; MSc in Global Health Science, 2017

Location: Uganda

Position on HAEd: Co-President of Sub-Saharan Africa Chapter

Current role or job: Fulbright U.S. Student Researcher to Uganda

3 Fun Facts: I love running, am always looking for somewhere new to travel, and have bungee jumped over Victoria Falls.

HAEd Exec Team Member in Spotlight: Merisenda Alatorre, Director of Communications and Marketing

Full name: Merisenda Alatorre

Degree/Graduating Year: Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education, 2015

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Position on HAEd: Director of Communications and Marketing

Current role or job: Project Facilitator at the Clark County School District. I develop professional development programs and activities.

3 Fun Facts: I love to crochet. I’m obsessed with unicorns. I believe in magic. 

A Million Children Learning – Improving Elementary School Education at Scale

“What is the place value of 2 in 123?”

Gowtham, a cheerful 13-year- old who has enrolled in one of our after-school Math programs, suddenly goes quiet while his fingers slowly scan the question posed to him. “Tell me what number is this?” probes his teacher pointing to the number ‘123.' In a halting voice Gowtham finally responds, “Ma’am it’s One-Two- Three." Gowtham is already in 7th grade but cannot even recognize a 3-digit number; something he should have mastered by grade 3 or 4. I am sad but not surprised.

Gowtham is not alone. Over 200 million children go to school in India, but leave without learning much in way of understanding concepts and problem-solving skills. Every year, for the last 10 years, the Pratham (a leading Indian NGO) ASER report keeps hammering in the fact that fewer than half of lndia’s less fortunate children in government and low-income schools in grade 5 could properly read a text written for grade 2 pupils. Over the last few decades, schooling has expanded yet learning has not kept pace. Billions of dollars in expanding school infrastructure, teacher training and technology hardware has not shown much impact at scale.