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 ( 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

Emily Headshot.jpg

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.

Erica Mosca: Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders

Erica Mosca is the Founder and Executive Director of Leaders in Training (LIT), a Las Vegas based non-profit that empowers first-generation college graduates to become diverse leaders that change the world. Leaders in Training offers four years of free tutoring, SAT prep, and leadership training for high school students. In return, the students pledge to return to Las Vegas and/or become stewards of their communities.

As a proud first-generation college graduate herself, Erica is passionate about social justice and education. As of today, Leaders in Training has 8 formal programs, 100+ students, a 100% college acceptance rate and a 100% college persistence rate of all students who started higher education.

Celebrating National Arts in Education Week with Harvard Ed Portal and Harvard Alumni

Celebrating National Arts in Education Week with Harvard Ed Portal and Harvard Alumni

Harvard Alumni for Education celebrated this year’s National Arts in Education Week (September 10-16) with a meetup during the university-wide event, Question + Create: A Harvard Alumni Gathering on the Arts. Sponsored and hosted by Harvard Alumni Association, Question + Create brought together alumni from across the university to celebrate their contributions to the arts and to connect members of the Harvard community interested in and working in and through the arts.

Teaching in Rural America: Georgia Holt Inspires Students to Dream Big

Teaching in Rural America: Georgia Holt Inspires Students to Dream Big

HAEd recently received a request for a donation of a Harvard pennant from Georgia Holt, a fifth grade teacher in Georgia. We were happy to accommodate her request, and she kindly shared this story:

I teach school at Hamilton Crossing Elementary in a rural county in Georgia, outside of Atlanta. I teach fifth grade reading. Part of my classroom structure allows for “Book Club” time. A period of time where students pick novels of their choice, respond to them, and discuss different book topics with their classmates. Book Club groups are organized by names of colleges.

Personalizing Education and Empowering Students: An Interview with Facebook’s Adam Seldow

Personalizing Education and Empowering Students: An Interview with Facebook’s Adam Seldow

In May 2016, Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) hosted an Askwith Forum titled Engineering Personalized Learning: The Story of Summit Schools and Facebook. The discussion focused on a partnership between Facebook and Summit Public Schools, in which the partners engineered and developed a free, online personalized learning platform for Summit Public School students.

Following the forum, HAEd had the opportunity to chat with Adam Seldow (Ed.M.’03, Ed.M.’08, Ed.D.’10), Head of Education Partnerships at Facebook. He discussed his involvement in the development of the partnership, Facebook’s investment in the future of personalized learning, and the long-term benefits for students and teachers involved in this new era of learning.

Bringing Design Thinking to Philippine Schools: Stories from Habi Education with Gerson Abesamis

How can we leverage design thinking to enhance education quality in resource-starved, developing communities such as those in the Philippines? In this episode, Habi Education Lab Founder Gerson Abesamis talks about how the start-up uses small design thinking workshops and collaborative lesson prototyping in a professional development program for teachers, resulting in innovative learning experiences in classrooms across the Philippines.

Interviewer: Michi Ferreol, Director of Marketing and Communications of HAEd

If you enjoyed this podcast, please follow #HAEd_podcast#HAEdAfrica and @HarvardAEd on Twitter for information on upcoming events and programming. You may also download this podcast on iTunes here. New episodes will be released every week. 

See the full schedule for our fall series podcasts here:

Beyond Start-up: The Story of AidChild Founder and CEO Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan

Beyond Start-up: The Story of AidChild Founder and CEO Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan, Ed.M. '10, CPL Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, HKS '09-'10

How can we move beyond focusing on the early-stages of entrepreneurship to discussions about building sustainable ventures? In this episode, Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan, who is also HAEd's Co-President of the Sub-Saharan Africa Chapter, talks about the importance of the space beyond start-up and his work in founding and leading AidChild, which was the first organization in Uganda to provide free anti-retroviral therapy for children living with HIV.

Interviewer: Rufina Park, Director of International Engagement of HAEd

If you enjoyed this podcast, please follow #HAEd_podcast#HAEdAfrica and @HarvardAEd on Twitter for information on upcoming events and programming. You may also download this podcast on iTunes here. New episodes will be released every week. 

See the full schedule for our fall series podcasts here:

‘Perspectives from Harvard Alumni for Education’ Podcast

Fall 2016 Series: Going from Education Start-Up to Sustainable Venture


The HAEd Perspectives Podcast features Harvard alumni working in the field of education who have interesting perspectives, experiences, and knowledge for the benefit of the Harvard alumni community and the general public.


In the fall, we will be talking with Harvard alumni working in education start-ups and exploring questions such as:

  1. What kind of competitions and funding opportunities are out there?
  2. What are the most important things to consider when launching a start-up?
  3. What kind of impact have you made?
  4. How do you move from start-up to sustainable enterprise? 

Seni Sulyman: Andela Leads Disruption in Africa

Seni Sulyman: Andela Leads Disruption in Africa

Last week, HAEd had the honor of speaking with Seni Sulyman, a graduate of Harvard’s Business School (MBA, ‘13), to learn more about his new role as Director of Operations for Nigeria at Andela, a technology start-up that is making waves in Africa.  Andela is committed to identifying and training the next generation of tech leaders on the African continent.  Founded by Jeremy Johnson, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Christina Sass and Ian Carnevale in 2014, the company is backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV (Google Ventures) and Spark Capital. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg even made an unannounced visit to Lagos to meet with Seni and the rest of the Andela team in Nigeria. Needless to say, it was an exhilarating moment for the team.

An underpinning belief at Andela is that genius and talent are equally distributed around our world.  However, access to world-class employment opportunities, like the ones that Andela provides to its developers, are not.  The team is guided by this vision, Seni shared, and hopes to assuage the jobs-skills mismatch that is currently rife across Africa. 

Vidur Chopra: Understanding Education After Conflict & Displacement

Vidur Chopra: Understanding Education After Conflict & Displacement

Vidur Chopra is a current doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He previously worked at UNICEF to support practitioners in their focus on early childhood development during times of conflict and environmental disasters. His current research focuses on how youth are impacted by armed conflict and how education can play a role in post-conflict reconstruction.

Below is HAEd's special interview with Vidur Chopra.