This year’s Forbes “30 Under 30: Education” list brings together millennials from a variety of fields--namely, the nonprofit, edtech, and startup worlds. You might call it “The Breakfast Club” of education, as the listees have somewhat different backgrounds but a similar millennial mentality: you don’t have to climb the corporate ladder or gain 20 years of experience to make change. (And yep, we’re proud that EdSurge’s own Tony Wan, a driving force in our growth over the past three years, is part of the list.)
Three years ago, Forbes started publishing its “30 Under 30” lists in such sectors as technology, the arts, and medicine. Education joined the bunch last year. According to series editor, Caroline Howard, Forbes received about 80 to 90 nominations this year for the category. The competition was judged by the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn, filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, and Pearson’s SVP of Global Product Strategy, Luyen Chou.
Some media sources find the stream of twentysomething changemakers to be somewhat amusing (The New Yorker had a bit of fun with its “3 Under 3” parody), but the accomplishments of the listees is impressive. And while the listees serve in diverse roles, they “bucket” into a couple of intriguing groups.
About a third of those on this year’s “Education” list made their debut in Forbes last year. But they were busy this past year, scaling up, outwards, and broadening initiatives in the communities they serve. That group includes Edmodo founder Nic Borg, Class Dojo gurus Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, Quizlet's Andrew Sutherland, and Students for Education Reform co-founders Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin.
Two organizations also appear on the list again with different representatives than in 2012. Incubator 4.0 Schools found a spot on the 2012 countdown with Brian Bordainick, at that time the Director of Entrepreneurial Investment; this year, COO Katie Beck makes the cut. General Assembly co-founders Brad Hargreaves and Matt Brimer similarly landed a place on the 2013 list in the wake of their co-founder, Adam Pritzker, who was chosen for the 2012 collection. In essence, the power and spread of the organization itself seems a likely source of nominating force for individual co-founders and leaders.
The Teach for America Alumni
Most noticeable as a second bucket is the wealth of Teach for America alumni amongst the honorees. Nine members of the list spent two to three years in the classroom as teachers as TFA corps members before exploring other ed-related fields.
Some veered off into the nonprofit world after their teaching stint: Alejandro Gac-Artigas, for example, created his Philadelphia-based nonprofit Springboard Collaborative after spending two years with a first grade class. Others went the entrepreneurial route; TFA alum Dan Carroll co-founded Clever after seeing an absence of standardized software for collecting and managing K-12 in his own school. Another TFA alum, Beth Schmidt, founded nonprofit Wishbone, a Kickstarter-esque educational crowdfunding site for at-risk high school students, while Mandela Schumacher-Hodge recently took over as head of SWEDU after launching Tioki ("LinkedIn for teachers").
Of course, there are simply a lot of TFA alums these days--more than 32,000, not to mention the 10,000 TFA will recruit this year. (Truth be told: EdSurge’s Mary Jo Madda is a TFA alum, too!) Forbes’ Howard says she believes that the TFA badge signals something important.
“I do think that TFA is a training ground for people who are interested in education and can see the potential of where it can be going,” Howard explains. “I see that Dan Carroll is a terrific example of someone who went to Teach for America, saw an opportunity, and created something that we can now take advantage of.”
Beyond the entrepreneurs and nonprofits, a number of “wildcard” nominations popped up this year. The wildcards often blend education with other sectors, and as such, fill some important holes in the education ecosystem.
Take a look at Dan Berkowitz, the only member of the list related to arts education, and an individual who easily spans the sectors between education and music. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention EdSurge’s own Tony Wan. The sole edtech (and education in general) journalist on the list, Wan brings the thoughtfulness of a historian and the gimlet eye of journalist to all his work. (Hey, Tony--are you blushing yet?)
You may ask: “So where are the schoolteachers and administrators on this list?” Excellent question. There are certainly teacher alums amongst the group but only two members of the list got close to “current educator status”: Andrew Buher, the COO of the NYC Department of Education, and Caryn Voskuil, manager of school model innovation for Rocketship.
Nominations did include an assortment of teachers and administrators, underscoring that “there is an interest in what individual teachers are doing,” as Howard describes. But for the sake of this list, Howard says Forbes turned the spotlight on individuals with a broader scope. “We focused on people that have the ability to take a sector or industry, and bring it to some sort of larger impact than the individual classroom.”