Category Archives: Innovation

Interview with Sal Khan

Read original here.

Toward a One-World Schoolhouse

Interview with Sal Khan

Winter 2015
Page Content

By now the story is familiar to most educators. Ten years ago, Salman Khan, with three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, agreed to help tutor his cousin Nadia, who was struggling in math. Using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad, Khan offered Nadia a sequence of mini lessons designed to scaffold her learning. Over time, other friends and relatives heard about Khan’s success and asked for similar help. He uploaded videos to YouTube for them that ended up drawing many views and comments. At this point, Khan began to see an idea that could revolutionize education. In 2009, he quit his job as a hedge fund analyst and started Khan Academy – a nonprofit educational organization offering free online lessons to anyone interested. With backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, then, Google, Khan Academy has grown from a one-man shop into an international center for learning, with thousands of resources, lessons, and lectures.

It all started with mathematics. But now Khan Academy also offers courses and support in history, health care, medicine, finance, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, music, American civics, art history, economics, computer science, and more. All of it is available for free, 24/7, to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and, more recently, through Khan Academy Lite, to those without Internet access (see sidebar on page 45). Khan Academy clocks 10 million unique visitors per month now using its program and more than 16 million registered users.

I caught up with Sal Khan this past summer to see how things were progressing and where his academy is heading next.

Ari Pinkus: Where do you think we are in the process of rethinking education for the 21st century? Where do you see your biggest contribution?

Sal Khan: We are still in the very early stages. There is starting to be a broad consensus that the Prussian model of moving students together at a set pace with limited flexibility for true exploration and inquiry is not optimally serving students for the 21st century. With that said, it has been difficult for mainstream education to move away from it for a whole series of historical, psychological, and economic issues.

Khan Academy’s biggest contribution has been to allow learners to take agency over their learning at scale. The idea of standards-aligned software and content that caters to a student’s individual needs is not a new one. What is new is a deep and comprehensive tool like this being used by tens of millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers. This scale has validated the need for more student-centered, differentiated curricula and has allowed us to be a voice to help catalyze a change away from the Prussian model.

Every growth area of society is hungry for people who can create, but traditional transcripts and curricula leave little room for true creativity. I believe that the most important part of “the transcript of the future” will be one’s portfolio of creative works.

Pinkus: Describe the key tenets of the learning structure for the one-world schoolhouse you imagine and the outcomes you expect it will bring about.

Khan: I go into much more depth on this in The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined [2012], but the 30,000-foot overview is:

  • Elevate the role of the teacher from lecturer to master mentor-coach-inspirer. I believe the most effective teachers are those who can help change the mindsets of their students. Teachers who can show students how to inquire and learn and create, how to develop a growth mindset and grit and become excited about learning. Teachers whose passion for learning and helping is unstoppably infectious. Lectures can be OK sometimes, but most of the awesomeness of deep learning happens when teachers and students discuss and explore side by side.
  • Offer large blocks of time for students to develop portfolios of projects. These projects could be anything from computer programs to dance performances to an open-ended inquiry into some aspect of science. Every growth area of society is hungry for people who can create, but traditional transcripts and curricula leave little room for true creativity. I believe that the most important part of “the transcript of the future” will be one’s portfolio of creative works.
  • Focus on differentiated, mastery-based learning for core skills. The Prussian model moves students together at a set pace. Even when a student has a learning gap (for example, as evidenced by a “C” in a test on basic exponents), the whole class is pushed ahead (moving on to, say, negative exponents or logarithms) and the student can only build as best she can on this weak foundation. This system ensures that students have Swiss cheese gaps in their knowledge, and it is the primary reason why students struggle in more advanced topics. Algebra is not inherently difficult, but it becomes hard to master if you have gaps in your understanding of exponents or decimals or negative numbers. I believe that learners and teachers can now leverage tools like Khan Academy to allow all students to master concepts at their own pace – which has the added benefit of allowing the students to take agency over their own learning.
  • Think in terms of student agency. The most important skill that anyone can learn is how to learn. Students tend not to learn how to learn when they are force-marched through a curriculum and focus only on what they are told to do next. With mentorship from their teachers and peers, students should be encouraged to set their own goals and learn to pace themselves. They need to learn to pull knowledge their way rather than have it pushed onto them. Asking schools to focus on student agency is not some esoteric idea. I believe that humans naturally have this instinct and drive to learn, but it is all too often suppressed by 12 to 16 years in a factory-model school.
  • Allow for mixed-age cohorts and encourage student responsibility. Over hundreds of thousands of years of pre-human and human existence, we learned in mixed-age environments and, in the more recent millennia at least, gave early adolescents significant responsibilities. This allowed for younger learners to learn from older ones and the older ones, in turn, to feel responsibility for the younger ones. It also allowed older students to contribute to the well-being of their family or tribe. About 200 years ago, we decided to break this pattern by using age as a proxy for development and separated kids by that measure. This factory model made it much easier to deliver information to large groups of students simultaneously, but it also infantilized our youth and caused us to lose one of the most basic and effective human learning interactions – the student-mentor relationship. I believe that what we now call “teenage angst” is really nothing more than a hunger for responsibility and agency in a world where teens have very little. These young people would have a lot less angst – and learn more – if they were allowed to help younger peers and allowed to contribute in some real way to society.

Pinkus: When should students first be exposed to the kind of learning you advocate?

Khan: Most of what I am advocating is already happening in many preschools, especially Montessori schools. Unfortunately, the Prussian model begins to dominate once you get into late elementary school and continues to dominate through middle and high school. To a large degree, this switch came about because, without technology, it was perceived to be much harder to have students explore and master, say, algebra at their own pace than, say, to develop fine motor skills. The whole motivation of Khan Academy is to make tools that can enable the natural exploration and student agency to continue from preschool through college and beyond.

Pinkus: Which subjects are most conducive to self-directed, self-paced learning? Why?

Khan: All subjects. However, I think personalized pacing and mastery are most important when there is a progression of skills for which advanced skills become indecipherable without deep understanding of basic ones. This is most pronounced in mathematics, but is also true in most of the sciences. But as I said, I think all subjects benefit from developing student agency.

Khan Academy Beyond the Internet

Khan Academy’s mission has been to “enable everyone, everywhere to achieve a world-class education.” The problem, however, is that more than 60 percent of people in the world don’t have Internet access. So, at the behest of a former Khan Academy intern, the organization created Khan Academy Lite (KA Lite) as a way to bring academy lessons to those who can’t get online.

Since its start in December 2012, KA Lite has blossomed into a worldwide learning community, supported by a team that formed a separate nonprofit organization, Learning Equality, dedicated to “exploring solutions for distributing and hosting open educational resources via low-bandwidth and offline channels, taking advantage of existing infrastructure or low-cost and low-power hardware solutions.” KA Lite now has thousands of installments in more than 120 countries, including low-income schools in India, orphanages in Cameroon, prisons in the United States, and First Nation communities in Canada.

Educators interested in getting involved with developing the open-source KA Lite project, or helping with implementation, can connect with the group at info@learningequality.org.

Pinkus: How do you respond to people who believe that computer-based instruction is about replacing teachers or lowering the skill level needed to be a teacher?

Khan: I’m the most vocal person out there in support of teachers. Without question, human beings are the most important part of the learning process. I’d prefer my children to be with an amazing teacher-mentor-coach and no other supplies than to be alone with the most state-of-the-art technology. Khan Academy is not about technology for technology’s sake or about efficiency or cost savings. It is about leveraging technology in pursuit of a more human, interactive, creative classroom. And the most important thing in this regard is to free up class time so that students can spend more time with amazing teachers, not less. It also elevates the importance of the teacher from lecturer and grader to master explorer-motivator-advisor-inspirer.

Click here for the full interview.

Millennial Trains Project: A ride for experimental learning

Christian Science Monitor

Click here for original publication.

With the Millennial Trains Project, Patrick Dowd gathers creative people for a nationwide trip along the rails.

Denielle Sachs, head of global communications of the social sector office at McKinsey & Company and Millennial Trains Project mentor, addresses participants in the train’s observation car during the stop in Denver.

Millennial Trains Project

Since Patrick Dowd, 26, launched the Millennial Trains Project earlier this year, it has been touted as a new form of experiential education. Here’s how it works: Millennials propose creative projects and must raise $5,000 through crowd funding to get a seat on the train. There, they advance their ideas in the cities in which the train stops and learn leadership skills in evening mentoring sessions.

In the first trip last August, 24 participants traveled for 10 days through 7 cities from the San Francisco Bay Area to Washington, D.C. The second trip scheduled March 16-26, 2014, will take travelers from Los Angeles to Miami. The train will stop in Albuquerque; Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Atlanta. This time, the first 40 applicants to reach the $5,000 funding goal by January 15 will secure a spot. As the organization ramps up for the trip, I sat with Mr. Dowd to discuss the project.

Q. How do you describe what you do for people?

I say that we run crowd-funded train journeys that provide an opportunity for people to explore their own personal, professional, and creative frontiers. Everyone sees their own passion in this train. Ultimately, the whole thing is pretty user generated. It’s kind of like a coral reef, where we create the reef, the rock, but then it’s populated by all these other forms of aquatic life, which are people’s ideas in this case of the train.

What’s consistently really exciting for me is to hear the ways that other people interpret the opportunity. So for instance, somebody who really loves poetry will say, this is a great opportunity for me to talk about poetry with people. And somebody who is interested in energy innovation will say: here’s my chance to go visit national laboratories of energy innovation. However we describe it, and the way that we intentionally built it, it is psychologically accessible to a very broad and diverse range of interests.

Q. Describe more about the process for getting on the train. 

In order to get on the train, applicants have to raise $5,000 and design a project they want to advance across all the localities where the train stops. It’s really effective for a couple reasons. For one thing, we don’t have an admissions committee for this train. People admit themselves through their own hard work and desire to be a part of the initiative. So the only thing that we screen for with people’s initial crowd-funding proposal is the sincerity of their project. So if someone is serious about their idea, we approve them so they can begin crowd-funding.

Then they have to go make a pitch to whoever they can. It might be folks at their local church, it might be local business owners, it might be one foundation. But they have to communicate the value of what they’re doing to others and build a community of support for their ideas and aspirations [in order] to build on those ideas through a transcontinental journey.  And then they raise the $5,000 and the first ones to reach that goal get on the train. Some of our supporters were nervous about that. “Are you going to get a good quality of people? You don’t have an admissions committee like most things that are prestigious.”

And we ended up with the most high-caliber, diverse groups of people I’ve ever spent time with. And it was just self-selecting. It had to do with the tone [and] expectations that we set, and the way we’ve been describing it. We left a lot of it open to interpretation in the context of people’s own interests, so great people came forward from all over the world. We had folks from India, Hawaii, Pittsburgh, a lot of different places and doing all different types of projects.

Q. And why do you think now is the perfect time for this project?

The Millennial Generation is coming of age and the verdict of what our generation is or can become is still very much open to question and unresolved. And there’s been a lot of negative commentary about this young generation of Americans, which I don’t find particularly helpful or inspiring. I think that the Millennial Generation has tremendous aspirations and I like that the train provides a platform for people to explore and amplify and experiment with those aspirations – all of which represent possible futures that might be best for us.

I also think that now is a good time because our country is more divided than at any point since the Civil War, and trains have a very special way of bringing people together across place and time. And that is true today as it was after the Civil War, [just] as it was in the 1950s, which is when our trains come from. And I think that when you travel and go to different cities you can’t help but have the prejudices that we hold in our hearts be eroded, and that’s a positive thing for our country.

Q. Can you talk more about how this idea of experiential education on trains came about? 

It just felt right in the beginning. When I experienced it [as a Fulbright Scholar] in India, it seemed really tremendous to me. I didn’t then see it as this is a great platform for experiential education – although that’s definitely what it is and how people are interpreting it now that we’ve done this in the States. I think that it was providing an opportunity for discourse and discovery that was very exciting for me. It was very moving and kind of enlightening experience in the way that really good travel with other inspired people can be. So I was amazed by it, loved it, and felt we don’t have anything like this in America.

And it turns out that trains really do provide a great environment for discourse. And when you take a very intentional approach to creating an environment for discourse in a transitory environment like on a train, it can be quite amazing what results, and that’s what we found with the Millennial Trains Project.

Q. Describe more about the projects and the kinds of participants you attract. 

The essence of these projects is a focus on building trans-regional perspective on whatever your personal, professional, or creative frontier is. So for some people, their projects are an extension of the work that they do every single day. For instance, there’s an entrepreneur in food waste recycling and that’s what her project was about. For other people, it’s an opportunity to step away from what you do on a daily basis and experiment with an alternative track for yourself. So for instance, there was a speechwriter from the White House – her particular project was about poetry, which she doesn’t get to do every day at the office, but going on this journey provided her with an opportunity to strengthen and affirm her nascent self-perception as an artist, and now she feels stronger and that may lead her down another path.

Q. What do people take away from the experience?

You might have an idea about one thing based on the context that you experience in the area where you live. It’s a really valuable experience to see how that perception measures up against realities that exist across the geographical breadth of our country.

The second thing they come away with is the feedback and affirmation and challenges that come from interacting with other really inspired people who are on the train who have projects that are completely different from what they’re doing.

The third element is leadership development. The project is based on the idea that journeys build leaders. That is a fundamental human truth that exists, and is celebrated in every single culture in the world….

And we also take an intentional approach working with City Year, one of the leading nonprofits focused on the high school dropout crisis. We’ve built a whole curriculum and philosophy on how journeys build leaders. So part of the journey is an hour each day talking about personal leadership development.

Q. What lessons have you learned from the last train trip?

A big personal lesson is that one of the greatest things that you can do in life is just completely put yourself on the line for a really big vision. And the very moment where you just give absolutely everything that you have to give, that’s when other people will lift you up. So you’re not going to do anything big 100 percent by yourself, but if you give 100 percent of yourself, that might get you 80 percent of the way. And then other people will pick up on that and help you go the last mile.

So I guess it’s like having faith that if you try to do whatever you feel is the most noble thing – and if you’re pushing yourself so much, and you feel like maybe you’re not going to get there – have faith that other people will pick up on that and help you go the last mile.

This interview was trimmed for conciseness. Click here to see the full interview. 

Ari Pinkus is the Associate Editor of Publications at the National Association of Independent Schools in Washington, D.C., and maintains a blog at the NAIS website.

One Millennial Takes Others on Train Rides of Experiential Learning

NAIS

Click here for original publication.

Since Patrick Dowd, 26, launched the Millennial Trains Project earlier this year, it has been touted as a new form of experiential education. Here’s how it works: Millennials (ages 18-34) propose creative projects and must raise $5,000 through crowd-funding to get a seat on the train. There, they advance their ideas in the cities in which the train stops and learn leadership skills in evening mentoring sessions.

MTP is funded through a combination of crowd-funding, corporate sponsorship, and philanthropic grants from foundations and individuals. In addition to crowd-funding in small-dollar amounts from 1,000 individuals, current and past sponsors include Norfolk Southern, Bombardier Transportation, the United Nations Foundation, and the S&R Foundation.

In the first trip last August, 24 participants traveled for 10 days through 7 cities from the San Francisco Bay Area to Washington, D.C. The second trip, scheduled for March 16-26, 2014, will take travelers from Los Angeles to Miami. The train will stop in Albuquerque, N.M.; Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Atlanta, Ga. This time, the first 40 applicants to reach the $5,000 funding goal by January 15 will secure a spot. As the organization ramps up for the trip, I sat with Dowd to discuss the project and his vision for its future. (The Christian Science Monitor has published an abbreviated version of the interview.)

Ari Pinkus: How do you describe what you do for people?

Patrick Dowd: I say that we run crowd-funded train journeys that provide an opportunity for people to explore their own personal, professional, and creative frontiers. Everyone sees their own passion in this train. Ultimately, the whole thing is pretty user generated. It’s kind of like a coral reef, where we create the reef, the rock, but then it’s populated by all these other forms of aquatic life, which are people’s ideas in this case of the train.

What’s consistently really exciting for me is to hear the ways that other people interpret the opportunity. So for instance, somebody who really loves poetry will say, this is a great opportunity for me to talk about poetry with people. And somebody who is interested in energy innovation will say: here’s my chance to go visit national laboratories of energy innovation. However we describe it, and the way that we intentionally built it, it is psychologically accessible to a very broad and diverse range of interests.

Ari Pinkus: Describe more about the process for getting on the train.

Patrick Dowd: In order to get on the train, applicants have to raise $5,000 and design a project they want to advance across all the localities where the train stops. It’s really effective for a couple reasons. For one thing, we don’t have an admissions committee for this train. People admit themselves through their own hard work and desire to be a part of the initiative. So the only thing that we screen for with people’s initial crowd-funding proposal is the sincerity of their project. So if someone is serious about their idea, we approve them so they can begin crowd-funding.

Then they have to go make a pitch to whoever they can. It might be folks at their local church, it might be local business owners, it might be one foundation. But they have to communicate the value of what they’re doing to others and build a community of support for their ideas and aspirations [in order] to build on those ideas through a transcontinential journey.  And then they raise the $5,000 and the first ones to reach that goal get on the train. Some of our supporters were nervous about that. Are you going to get a good quality of people? You don’t have an admissions committee like most things that are prestigious.

And we ended up with the most high-caliber, diverse groups of people I’ve ever spent time with. And it was just self-selecting. It had to do with the tone [and] expectations that we set, and the way we’ve been describing it. We left a lot of it open to interpretation in the context of people’s own interests, so great people came forward from all over the world. We had folks from India, Hawaii, Pittsburgh, a lot of different places and doing all different types of projects.

Ari Pinkus: Why did you decide to launch Millennial Trains Project?

Patrick Dowd: When I was a Fulbright Scholar in India, I helped lead a train journey over there that’s been going on for a couple years, and is really a big sensation in India. When I came back from India, I was working in finance in New York right as Occupy Wall Street was reaching its height. And I felt there was a more positive way to channel the dissatisfaction that a lot of people felt with where the country was, and [it] would look more like the trains project from India than these protests that were going on outside our office, so I decided to take a risk and try to start it.

Ari Pinkus: And why do you think now is the perfect time for this project?

Patrick Dowd: The Millennial Generation is coming of age and the verdict of what our generation is or can become is still very much open to question and unresolved. And there’s been a lot of negative commentary about this young generation of Americans, which I don’t find particularly helpful or inspiring. And I think that the Millennial Generation has tremendous aspirations and I like that the train provides a platform for people to explore and amplify and experiment with those aspirations – all of which represent possible futures that might be best for us.

I also think that now is a good time because our country is more divided than at any point since the Civil War, and trains have a very special way of bringing people together across place and time. And that is true today, as it was after the Civil War, as it was in the 1950s, which is when our trains come from. And I think that when you travel and go to different cities you can’t help but have the prejudices that we hold in our hearts be eroded and that’s a positive thing for our country.

Ari Pinkus: You described a little bit about your experience in banking, and I wonder if you could elaborate on your background a bit more.

Patrick Dowd: I did a lot of different things after I graduated from Georgetown, where I was student body president. After graduating, I basically just let my curiosity guide me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I worked as a legal reporter, I worked as a campaign speechwriter, I was a field researcher and then an investment banking analyst. So I got to try a lot of different things. None of them were my dream jobs, but they all helped me build skills. When my passion and sense of purpose was really ignited by this idea of the trains project, I had the skills I needed from these other jobs to realize that vision.

Ari Pinkus: Can you talk more about how this idea of experiential education on trains came about?

Patrick Dowd: It just felt right in the beginning. When I experienced it in India, it seemed really tremendous to me. I didn’t then see it as this is a great platform for experiential education – although that’s definitely what it is and how people are interpreting it now that we’ve done this in the States. I think that it was providing an opportunity for discourse and discovery that was very exciting for me. It was very moving and kind of enlightening experience in the way that really good travel with other inspired people can be. So I was amazed by it, loved it, and felt we don’t have anything like this in America.

And it turns out that trains really do provide a great environment for discourse. And when you take a very intentional approach to creating an environment for discourse in a transitory environment like on a train, it can be quite amazing what results, and that’s what we found with the Millennial Trains Project.

Ari Pinkus: Can you talk about the kinds of trains you use and whether you’re partnering with anyone?

Patrick Dowd: We charter refurbished rail cars. They’re from the 1950s. Around the country, there are a handful of different kind of mom and pop outfits that own vintage rail cars, restore them, and go on different excursions. So we work with a company out of Los Angeles, another one in San Francisco and grab these old cars from the 1950s. We just kind of lasso them all up and we put them behind an Amtrak locomotive and they go.

Ari Pinkus: Describe more about the projects and the kinds of participants you attract.

Patrick Dowd: The essence of these projects is a focus on building transregional perspective on whatever your personal, professional, or creative frontier is. So for some people their projects are an extension of the work that they do every single day. For instance, there’s an entrepreneur in food waste recycling and that’s what her project was about. For other people, it’s an opportunity to step away from what you do on a daily basis and experiment with an alternative track for yourself. So for instance, there was a speechwriter from the White House – her particular project was about poetry, which she doesn’t get to do every day at the office, but going on this journey provided her with an opportunity to strengthen and affirm her nascent self-perception as an artist, and now she feels stronger and that may lead her down another path.

Ari Pinkus: What do people take away from the experience?

Patrick Dowd: You might have an idea about one thing based on the context that you experience in the area where you live. It’s a really valuable experience to see how that perception measured up against realities that exist across the geographical breadth of our country.

The second thing they come away with is the feedback and affirmation and challenges that come from interacting with other really inspired people who are on the train who have projects that are completely different from what they’re doing.

The third element is leadership development. The project is based on the idea that journeys build leaders. That is a fundamental human truth that exists, and is celebrated in every single culture in the world. And we also take an intentional approach working with City Year, one of the leading nonprofits focused on the high school dropout crisis. We’ve built a whole curriculum and philosophy on how journeys build leaders. So part of the journey is an hour each day talking about personal leadership development.

Ari Pinkus: Talk about what a day on the train is like.

Patrick Dowd: It’s a long day. And it’s pretty stimulating. Everyone’s up at 6 a.m. We have breakfast on the train and usually we’re just getting into a new city at around 6 a.m. And then we get off, we get in a bus or taxi cabs and go to our local hub, which is always an entrepreneurial workspace, or creative design studio, or something of that sort, where we hear from some local leaders about what’s the vision for the future for Denver, for Omaha, for wherever we’re stopping, and give some context with the vision for this place and also its history. So that’s probably an hour or two there.

Then, there’s six hours of free time where participants go to all different corners of the city and pursue their projects so that’s a unique experience for everybody. Then we come back on the train in the late afternoon and we do a debrief on what did everybody experience and discover and witness in the city that day. And that’s one of the coolest parts of the day because it provides everybody with this extremely kaleidoscopic and granular and rich portrait of the city.

And it was amazing because our hosts would always say, ‘I can’t believe you guys have only been here for six hours because I’ve been living in this city for six years and it took me all that time to discover all these different little subworlds that you guys just encountered in this short period of time.’ And that’s what’s cool about traveling with a group of such diverse and deep interests: We strike this balance between your own individual purpose and the perceptions you get through that lens, and the perceptions that all of the fellow travelers on the Millennial Trains Project are sharing from their own lens. So you just get a much richer picture of a place in that way.

After the debrief, we have some lectures on the train from our distinguished mentors and they lecture about where are the new frontiers in their professional area. So for instance, we had the senior managing editor of the Associated Press talking about what are the new frontiers in media; we had some famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist talking about new frontiers in investment and entrepreneurship and frontier markets. And then we have dinner.

A lot of fellowship is built through those meals on the train. We had two 26-year-old chefs who provisioned the whole train journey and cooked in this little kitchen for all 50 people on our train, and we had great food. So we really bonded over those meals. So then when we were having dinner at 9, maybe people talk for an hour and then go to sleep and get five hours of sleep and then we’re up the next morning in a new city and it repeats again. So there’s hardly a down moment, except maybe when we’re traveling a bit on some of the long-hauls.

Ari Pinkus: How do you choose your mentors on the train?

Patrick Dowd: For our first journey, a lot of them volunteered and were really excellent. It was easy. We try to have a stable of mentors who are preeminent in their field and from a bunch of different fields. We had award-winning architects, journalists, successful venture capitalists, folks from major corporations. We try to pick people who clearly have some wisdom and perspective to share with the group and who want to be there. That’s the most important part that all of our mentors really get. This could be a faculty at an Ivy League school. If any of our mentors were teaching a course where I went to college at Georgetown, it would be an oversubscribed course because they are really well-established practitioners of their craft. All of the professors and mentors come on the train for free because they want to mentor to the generation. They want to do something that is a new way of doing things. And maybe they’re excited about going on a train journey, too.

Ari Pinkus: Tell us about your mentors.

Patrick Dowd: I’ve definitely been inspired by a lot of my teachers, by my parents. There were a handful of classes that I took in college that really changed my perspective of the world. One big mentor would be the dean emeritus of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. I took a class of his when I was an undergrad called ‘Explorers, Warriors, and Statesman,’ where we looked at the history of the world in terms of historically, mostly men, who really shaped its history at key moments. And we’d read a biography every week of somebody like Amerigo Vespucci or Marco Polo or Genghis Khan, and try to get inside those people’s experiences, and understand what’s the personal journey that people go on that leads them to have a really big impact and be of a lot of service to society and the world.

Ari Pinkus: What kind of exposure to experiential education did you have in high school, and what did you take away from those experiences?

Patrick Dowd: Actually a lot. At Georgetown Prep, they have a lot of good programs. Two that really stand out are summer service learning program in the Dominican Republic. It’s called Somos Amigos, which means “we’re friends,” basically. I went to the DR with a group of classmates and a teacher one summer, and we built a 60-foot-long concrete bridge with no power tools and working in tandem with local residents there that really solved a challenge for this local village, and we lived in a small hut with locals. And that was a strong experience that gave me some cultural sensitivity, I think, and [we] worked hard, too. I mean we were doing hard manual work and that was a humbling experience, for sure. And also fortifying. In different contexts, not manual labor, when things fell apart, I would remember that, that it’s not that hard.

And the other one was this model organization of American states, these mock diplomatic summits, where you prepare and take on the position of some nation and then debate for the interests of that nation. And I feel like I learned a lot through those.

Ari Pinkus: What lessons have you learned from the last train trip?

Patrick Dowd: A big personal lesson is that one of the greatest things that you can do in life is just completely put yourself on the line for a really big vision. And the very moment where you just give absolutely everything that you have to give, that’s when other people will lift you up. So you’re not going to do anything big 100 percent by yourself, but if you give 100 percent of yourself, that might get you 80 percent of the way. And then other people will pick up on that and help you go the last mile.

So I guess it’s like having faith that if you try to do whatever you feel is the most noble thing – and if you’re pushing yourself so much, and you feel like maybe you’re not going to get there – have faith that other people will pick up on that and help you go the last mile.

Ari Pinkus: Where do you see the organization going in the next couple years?

Patrick Dowd: When I set out to do this, I said I’m going to do three of these [trips]. And it’s going to be a shot in the arm basically for the country and the people that take part in it and follow it. And I’m going to finish that.

Then there’s a question about should it blossom into something bigger than that that goes on for a lot longer, and I think that it could. I certainly feel that this is an experience that should be open to many more people and could really become the road trip for our generation because it’s an incomparable way to experience our country, and a great way to test your ideas and experiment with your dreams in the real world. And with the first three journeys, I’m experimenting with different permutations of the same concept to see what’s the most beneficial route this might take in the years ahead. For now, I’m just focused on this year, 2014, and what we’re doing. We have two more journeys: One in March from Los Angeles to Miami and another in August from Portland to New York.

One of the possible pathways in the future is doing something that’s more targeted towards high school-age kids. We had the editor-at-large of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the train and he was like this is a really great model for experiential learning and could also be, not a gap year, but something students do before they go to college, to get a sense of what opportunities are out there. You think you want to major in policy. Well, why don’t you meet with councilmen in various communities and see if you really like it afterward as opposed to making a big commitment, taking a big risk.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

White House Project examines, honors the role of innovative women in culture

Christian Science Monitor

Click here for original publication.

Jill Scott, Kiran Bedi, and other women who work to change cultural perceptions highlighted the White House Project event.

NEW YORK

The culture is getting a much-needed make-over as storytelling pioneers begin to transform the prevailing image of women. Vivid narratives of steely, enterprising female leaders enable women and girls to envision these roles for themselves and help society accept more women at the top of their fields.

That’s the message 400 people – mostly women from foundations, corporations, and women’s leadership groups – heard at an awards dinner hosted by The White House Project on April 7. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and where the problem is is in the culture,” said Marie Wilson, the group’s founder and president, in an interview with the Monitor at the event. “The image of women as wife and mother hasn’t changed inAmerica.”

Her organization sought out a solution: highlight people who are upending this traditional image through their creative works whether it’s in books, television, cinema, or theater because popular culture has proven power. It is part of the nonprofit’s effort to put more women in leadership positions across America.
Interestingly, this year many of the subjects are international women making their way in new and different leadership roles. Typically, those revealing their stories are women, too.

Meryl Streep, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress, presented an award to Kiran Bedi, the first woman in the Indian police force, who starred in the documentary “Yes Madam, Sir.” Directed by Megan Doneman, the film was shot in India over six years as it chronicled Bedi’s trailblazing career.

Bedi first drew attention for fighting back hundreds of Sikh protesters wielding swords while she was a newbie in the Indian Police Service in the 1970s. She irked politicians to the point that she was shipped off to run Tihar Jail, the largest and most corrupt prison in Asia. Gangsters and guards proved to be no match for her humanitarian spirit as she was able to institute spiritual and educational programs that lifted up prisoners’ living conditions. The reforms earned her the Asia Nobel Prize.

Actress Jill Scott was honored for her portrayal of another first among females. Scott playsPrecious Ramotswe, the first woman private detective in Botswana, in “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” on HBO.

Journalist Sheryl Wu Dunn received an award as an author of the bestselling book “Half the Sky,” which she wrote with her husband Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist. Guided by a Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky,” the book describes that the brutalization of women is the signature story of our time, and investing in women is essential to lift countries out of poverty. The authors paint portraits of innovative women in the developing world who have overcome oppression to create new lives by starting schools, hospitals, and small businesses.

Prominent leaders of major American media were among the presenters, including Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times; Geraldine Laybourne, founder of Oxygen Media; and Susan Taylor, editor emerita of Essence Magazine.

The program included a preview of Abby Disney’s upcoming PBS series “Women, War & Peace,” emphasizing women’s role in the post-cold-war period as casualties of war and necessary partners for peace.

It is the seventh time The White House Project has celebrated Emerging Leaders in Culture. This event comes after the nonprofit’s report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership,” from November 2009, which showed that women account for only 18 percent of leadership positions across 10 sectors, including business, politics, and media. Events focused on culture are an opportunity to promote the message about the importance of women’s leadership to a wider audience, Wilson said.

The next step it seems would be to bring along more men.

Ari Pinkus is a graduate student in management at New York University.

Women Struggle to Make It as Leaders, Says the White House Project

ABC News

by Ari Pinkus and Maureen White

Click here for original publication.

In terms of sheer numbers, women now surpass men in the work force, but they’re still lagging far behind their male peers when it comes to cracking those glass ceilings.

Women account for just 18 percent of top leadership roles in 10 sectors, including business, nonprofit groups, law and religion, according to the new report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership.”

“Women’s leadership is stuck in every sector of American society at a time when we need their innovation … when we need their talent, and the research tells us [to] bring in the women if you want to change things,” said Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project, the nonprofit organization in New York that produced the report.

 VIDEO: A study finds that women hold only 18 percent of top leadership positions.As many as 90 percent of women and men report being ready to see women in charge. At the same time, people also believe that both sexes are “already leading equally,” which is a misconception, according to the report.

It takes 33 percent of women in top positions for change to occur in the workplace, Wilson said.

“A third women makes it [seem] normal for women to be there,” Wilson said in an interview with ABC News’ Bianna Golodryga. “A third women makes sure that you focus on the agenda and not gender. A third women actually allows women to be themselves and men to be themselves. And what we are looking for is enough women leading alongside men so that both of us can contribute equally.

Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year 2009

“I’d really like 50 percent,” Wilson added. “But 33 [percent] really gives us the edge.”

In pockets of corporate America, it’s far below that number. Among the Fortune 500 companies, only 66 have females on their boards, according to the report. In the corporate ranks, women are known for promoting greater transparency and for being more averse to risk. The bottom line, too, gets a boost when women are at the top. For instance, there’s a 34 percent greater return on equity and shareholders’ investment, according to the report.

 VIDEO: Maria Shriver and Meghan McCain discuss women in businessThis has prompted some firms to consider putting more money in the hands of women.

“You are now having a fund started to invest in companies that have more women on their boards because that is the way to actually be more successful — innovation and as well as money,” Wilson said.

 Government’s Part in Making Progress

Government can play a pivotal role in continuing to move society forward by encouraging companies to hire women and join company boards, Wilson said.

“I’m guessing … that there will be something that comes out that is either punishing or giving enticements, like tax incentives … for people who diversify the boards,” she said.

Wilson, who has spent her career in the nonprofit sector, can’t get over how far behind her sector is in achieving parity among the genders, considering women make up 75 percent of the nonprofit staff. Just one in 10 women are in upper management, while one in five men have top leadership posts, according to the report.

In nonprofit groups, Wilson said, “women still are not earning salary that begins to touch the salary of a man and … they are still not in leadership in the biggest not-for-profits in America. It’s the size of the statistic that gets me.”

At colleges and universities, where women often expect to lead because they outnumber men, the experience is similar. Wilson noted that there hasn’t been a new woman president at a college in the past 10 years, and claimed women faculty members’ paychecks haven’t increased.

In math and science, where there aren’t as many women, Marissa Mayer, a vice president at Google, has made her mark. Just this week, she was honored in New York as one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year for her part in making Google the No 1. search engine.

Mayer doesn’t get caught up in the male/female divide in the workplace.

“I think of myself as a geek there, as a computer scientist, and that’s just great, but really it’s about passion,” she told Golodryga. “We are interested in trying to help people organize information, build new interesting things, trying to innovate. I think that’s the common thread that pulls the experience together for me, as opposed to being a woman.”

Even so, building a strong community of women is a priority at Google, she said. Women At Google brings in inspirational women to give talks. Big names have included Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Diane Von Furstenberg. A day care program for children of Google employees helps mothers make the transition back to work.

New Opportunities for Women to Lead

But in certain industries, the dearth of women is pronounced. The oil, auto and banking industries, as well as the U.S. presidency, have never had women at the helm. At this point, the industry that’s likely to be first to have a female CEO is banking, Wilson said.

“When I started looking at female leadership, a friend of mine from Ghana said that when things get messy, we get to clean up, and I think the banks may be the messiest,” Wilson said.

The economic crisis presents a special opportunity for women to rise to the top, Wilson said. It’s up to society to make the changes so girls can make it there, she added.

“I want little girls to know that they can reach the top, but I want big, grown men and women right now to make sure that I’m telling them the truth,” she said, “because again, we have an opportunity to put enough women in power to where a little girl can grow up and start to lead.”