Education is not necessarily the first job sector you would think college graduates would go into.
With the tremendous problems facing teachers in the School District of Philadelphia — including budget pitfalls and low-performing schools — it might be hard for some to imagine entering a career in this field.
For Penn’s Class of 2013, only 9 percent of graduates are in the education sector while 29 percent are employed in finance , according to data from Career Services.
But for current students in the Education Policy master’s program in the Graduate School of Education, the moment they knew they wanted to change the system is something they can practically pinpoint.
For Morehouse College graduate D’Andre Ball , the moment was during an event featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the impact of black male teachers on the lives of students .
Ball, a black male, was planning to take a year off before law school when he began working as a mentor in an all-male charter school in Chicago . It wasn’t long before he realized that he wanted to work on college access for youth instead.
With a political science degree , Ball believes he brings a unique perspective to studying education. “The legal field definitely has an impact on what education is doing now,” Ball said.
While Ball originally was inspired to pursue education because of his mentorship work, he joined this policy-based program because it would allow him to affect change on a wider level. “I’m starting to accept the fact that I might not be working with students.” However, he ultimately feels that this path will be more beneficial.
For Wendy McCulley , the death of her mother spurred a reevaluation of her personal goals after 17 years of working in the corporate world.
Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., McCulley recalled how her sixth grade math teacher would leave the class to learn on their own. “I think that my experiences and the issue I’ve with math over the years — the phobia I’ve had — has followed me throughout my career,” she said.
After years of working as an executive at companies like Life Alert and Experian she said, “Business never really stratified all the needs I had to be creative or to be doing something meaningful.”
For Irene Atkins , a similar experience with wishing to feel fulfilled in her work led her to switch from pursuing work in the music industry to working in education.
Atkins participated in a scholars program for high school students that exposed her to college life at UCLA, where she eventually began working as a college coach during her undergraduate years . “I saw how big a difference it made in my own life,” she said. “I wanted to be that force in someone else’s life.”
She recalled working with a student who was set on going to UCLA, but was rejected. Atkins worked with her through the appeals process, where only 2 to 3 percent of appeals are accepted, she said. Eventually, the student was accepted, making her first in her family to go to college.
“I didn’t get that kind of joy and fulfillment out of music,” Atkins said. “I had to think about my life purpose.”
For native Philadelphian Alexis Little , the moment was after returning home during winter break to the announcement of mass school closings in Philadelphia back in December of 2012 .
As a History major , she planned to become a lawyer to help people in her Southwest Philadelphia community who often lack access to a quality legal defense, she said.
Many people in her life thought she would pursue a doctorate after she graduated from Bowdoin College. Even the former president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, advised her to do a Ph.D. program instead the one time she met him at an event. “People’s criticism made me look further into what I’m doing,” Little said.
Like many Penn students, she also applied to Teach For America, the top employer of Penn’s Class of 2013 . However, she turned down TFA because she only wanted to work in Philadelphia. “I knew that I didn’t want to teach and it should not be a backup plan,” she said, citing how important the role of classroom teachers is to student outcomes.
Now, she wants to change policies to help students.
The four students are all studying in the Education Policy program at GSE, and while their stories of arrival are different, the theme they all share is that one experience set them on the path to education.
Whether it was a teacher who took special interest in them or a parent who strived to expose their child to higher education, the four were reflective on the fact that this was something that is not a given for every student.
“There were some good teachers and a guidance counselor that took an interest in me,” McCulley said. “I was lucky and it shouldn’t be about luck or chance.”
Atkins recalled the formative experiences she had in a private school from second to fourth grade that equipped her with skills she needed to be in an honors track when returning to public school. “I feel very grateful that I was placed on that advanced track, but I’m mindful of all the kids that were not,” she said.
McCulley said many have asked her why she just does not simply network her way into the education sphere where she lives in Los Angeles. “I felt responsible to really understand how the system works,” she said. “Policy affects what is happening in the classroom — what the kids are learning.”
As for how she can apply skills amassed over a long business career, she was mindful of the notion that some feel that the last thing schools need is another businessperson telling them what they need.
“I have to be cognizant to apply my skills in a way that’s going to be effective,” she said. “I really need to understand education before I go and try to have an impact.”Comments powered by Disqus
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