Jackson ’14 Spends Summer on Advocacy

Joe Jackson ’14 – This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to accept an internship for StudentsFirst, a grassroots advocacy group fighting for children through educational reform both on the local and national stages. It has now been just under five weeks since I started, and already I have learned so much more than I thought was possible in such a short amount of time.

Stepping back for a moment, for those who don’t know, a year and a half ago two classmates and I, all starry-eyed about the way our educational system works to say the least, set out to ‘reinvent’ the college application process. Our goal was simple and twofold: to facilitate and ease the application and transition process for all students already planning on entering college and to show countless other students that a college education wasn’t some unattainable dream. We knew we had an idea that could really be a game-changer because it put students and families first, so needless to say we were surprised when our website didn’t get picked up the very next day.

With hindsight, looking back now it’s not too difficult to understand why this might have been the case. For starters, none of us had ever tried to run a startup before which brought some inherent problems in and of itself. More importantly though, at every turn we seemed to find the same thing—that our educational system seemed more concerned with complacency and the status quo than with finding innovative, alternative means for helping its children. Like so many other countless systems under which we operate, this system wasn’t working to help the individuals it was designed to, at least not first. It is bureaucratic, slow moving, and puts the needs of children first only after the needs of the adults in the system have been met. We met with more resistance from school administrations, both private and public alike, who were unwilling to even entertain our idea, despite the fact many had faculty members that thought the idea would be great for their students. This is unacceptable in a field as essential as education.

After spending time learning about StudentsFirst, their mission, conducting research on their behalf, and working with a tremendous team there, it was like I experienced a moment of clarity. I had already seen firsthand many of the problems they work to combat and found there were so many others than I had been oblivious to, but prior to this summer, I didn’t know how to go about fixing them. What is so refreshing about StudentsFirst is that their solution to it all is profoundly simple, yet profoundly effective: transparency, accountability, equity, incentivizing high achievement, and elevating the teaching profession—these five pillars are the answer to a broken system. It is invigorating to be part of an organization that is not afraid to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves and that has a track record of doing it well.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone in the Wabash community, past and present, who have worked to make an opportunity like this possible.

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