Teach for America founder and President Wendy Kopp recently contributed to the defeat of her own high school’s robotics team — and she couldn’t be more proud.
In what Kopp described Monday as an ironic twist of fate, a public school robotics team organized by a Teach for America recruit beat out Kopp’s own well-funded school for first place in a Texas-wide competition.
About 40 people attended a Yale Entrepreneurial Society-sponsored lecture, during which Kopp discussed her experiences starting a nationwide nonprofit organization. Teach for America strives to improve public education by recruiting outstanding college graduates to focus on educational reform in disadvantaged urban and rural public schools, Kopp said.
Teach for America now has over 10,000 current members and alumni. Kopp said Yale, in particular, responded to the concept with an “outpouring of idealism.” Last year, 19 Yale seniors went on to join the group.
The idea for Teach for America came to Kopp when she was a senior at Princeton University. Instead of opting for strenuous employment on Wall St., a popular choice among her fellow graduates, Kopp said she began to look for a way to improve education in a nation that has an abundance of corporate workers.
After she graduated, Kopp began asking business executives and education experts to help fund and publicize her idea. College students across the United States reacted enthusiastically to Kopp’s recruitment efforts, which are now funded by contributions from a handful of high-profile corporations.
Kopp said recent graduates’ lack of experience is actually beneficial because it allows them a fresh perspective and bountiful energy that sustained experience in the workforce often dampens.
But the idea of providing an equal education for all has not been embraced by most people, Kopp said. Poverty, poorly-managed healthcare and malnutrition have all contributed to an educational environment that cannot respond to students’ needs, she said.
Kopp said exposing graduates to the necessity for educational reform has “changed the consciousness of our future leaders.” Kopp cited several stories from Teach for America participants who she said are continuing to improve educational standards across the socioeconomic spectrum. For example, a 25-year-old alumnus recently became the president of the school board in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Young people are uniquely positioned to make a real and significant change in the world,” Kopp said.
Yale Entrepreneurial Society president Nathan Taft ’95 SOM ’04 said Kopp embodies the purpose and ambition of the YES.
“Wendy Kopp is a great inspiration to the future leaders here at Yale,” he said.
Sarah Zeidel ’06 said she was moved by Kopp’s discussion of how personally involved Teach for America recruits become in improving the learning environments they encounter.
“[Kopp] was really inspiring and I definitely identify with the struggles to move kids forward that she mentioned,” Zeidel said.