The Power | Why I Chose Learning & Service

My bet on data in education, and how it will power future-ready philanthropy.

Regardless to any title I’ll carry in my professional career and personal life I’ve committed myself to the idea that I will always strive to be a philanthropist. I am a man for others that believes that improving the lives of those around me as the ultimate goal in life. While many understand philanthropy to be the giving of financial support, I’ve understood the most impactful form of philanthropy to be the gift of education and mentorship. With this commitment to non-traditional philanthropy through education I aspire to find my unique place in the world. In my pursuit I was drawn to Columbia University Teachers College and ultimately to the Learning Analytics program.

I am inspired by the Teachers College’s commitment to education beyond the traditional sense. TC is truly innovative in the field of education. Teachers College found a way to create programs that cover a broad spectrum of areas while still fulfilling the duty of empowering educators to teach, mentor, and bettering the lives of others. I am at my best when I am mentoring and leading. I think that teaching can take many forms and I see TC as the place to help me foster my leadership and mentoring skills and ultimately be my spring board to improving as many lives as possible. This commitment to philanthropy through education has been present in my life for years, and began when others committed to education and philanthropy supported me.
Being a Gates Millennium Scholar and a Georgetown 1789 scholar exposed me to the power of philanthropy; how it can reshape the trajectory of peoples lives and gives gifted young people a chance to thrive and reshape their communities. These two programs were more than scholarships, I built relationships with donors, professors and advocates that taught me that philanthropy could take many forms and that it’s never too early to start. Early and often in my college career I sought opportunities to give back the only way I knew how, through mentorship and leadership.

I saw the Institute for College Preparation as the most effective and quickest way I could begin to “pay it forward” and start to reshape my community. The Institute for College Preparation is a program that for over two decades has provided DC middle and high school students with intensive and comprehensive pre-college academic prep and life-changing experiences. I am no stranger to the disparity in opportunities black and Latino students face on a daily. I realized that as a young black man, first generation college student I had a presence, a pull with these kids that my other counter- parts did not (most of them being women or white). I began to realize how much clout I can have in the DC community, that effort, understanding, and mentorship can be as powerful of a force as any scholarship. This experience led to me founding my own student run mentoring and tutoring organization at Georgetown.

In my sophomore year I co-foundered a one-to-one mentoring and tutoring organization that had an exclusive partnership with Thurgood Marshall Charter academy. As a founding member and President I help build a student run organization with over 30 tutors that enriched the lives of students and led me to have a greater understanding of the D.C. education system and the complex problems that the U.S. education system as a whole have been struggling with for decades.
While my academic concentrations were in Arabic and International affairs my personal interests have always drawn me back to the mentorship and education. During my summer abroad in Amman Jordan I found more joy in learning about the Jordanian education system and working with orphans than in the more popular activities of camel riding, and snorkeling. My Junior and Senior years at Georgetown I worked with teens in the juvenile system as a mentor and supporting them in their acclimation into their communities and schools. No time in my life did I feel more like myself, more driven, or more passionate; that passion did not go unrecognized, as I was honored by the First Lady as part of the First Lady’s Leadership & Mentoring Initiative. This initiative is in alignment with the Obama administration’s “North Star” and “My Brother’s Keeper” initiatives with the goal of having the highest proportion of college in the world by 2020.

After interning at a D.C. start-up my junior year I became fascinated with the impact a small group of driven and intelligent people can have when they leverage technology to problem solve and reshape their environment. Upon graduation I turned down a great opportunity to teach in Miami as apart of Teach for America to take a full time offer with Event Farm, the Event marketing software start-up where I had interned. As a Project Manager with the experiential technology team, focused on creating real-time data driven results through our tech I learned first hand the power of a data driven environment. Our clients such as Google, Facebook, and Unilever saw the value as well. I was responsible for uncovering the connections and crafting stories from real-time event data and delivering that relevant information to multi-billion dollar companies. I was expected to do this with a degree in International Politics and Arabic, having no formal understanding of data analysis. All that being said it was the most exciting time of my life, I felt like a man on fire. My life had become consumed with data; investigating every measurable relationship and finding patterns that clients didn’t think existed. The kid who spent his college years mostly reading BBC Arabic and Wendy Kopp ‘s theories on improving the American Education system had falling in love with data.

All that being said, I never lost my passion for philanthropy through education and mentorship. Event Farm was eye opening but I wasn’t in love with the work I was doing and after a year of exploring other options I found the Learning Analytics program. After seeing how data driven technology can be applied in corporate America I have spent time pondering its application in the education industry. Can we accelerate progress education policy by connecting quantitative data to leaders; leaders who have been in the trenches with these kids and understand what the data is telling us and institute dynamic solutions? D.C. being a great place for Edutech start-up I’ve seen some great things, but I know that what I’m looking for I can only find by joining this groundbreaking program. I spent most of my college career trying to bridge the gap academically for students on a one-on-one basis; this may be a chance to find a way to truly impact education policy, and influence the lives of young learners on a macro scale.

Truth be told, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know exactly where this journey will take me. But isn’t that why study, why evaluate, why search to find the true answers? I do know I’ve spent the best parts of my life trying to reshape the futures of the disadvantaged and the last two years finding emerging patterns that can improve social behavior. I know that through my research and my conversation with Program Head, Professor Ryan Baker, Learning Analytics program is innovating the way we think about education, how we thinking about learners and how we engage in the education community. I see Columbia University Teachers College as the best place to farther my passions. Here more than anywhere else I’ve looked I see there is a true commitment to education beyond the traditional sense. I loved mentoring and tutoring and supporting young minds, but right now my goal is to be around leaders and innovators who are trying to improve the lives of young people and change the way education works in the U.S on a major scale. I want to build something from the ground up, and this is the first brick for me.

Cypher is that build. Welcome to The Cypher

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