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The Kids are Alright

The Kids are Alright

There are so many reasons for us to love Teachers College. We’ve got our proud legacy as pioneers in education writ large; our own personal histories at TC that prepared us to make a difference in the lives of others; and great scholars making discoveries that founders like Russell, Dewey and Thorndike could never have imagined.

But when I really want to kvell1 about Teachers College, I talk about our students. While no academic institution has cornered the market on bright, motivated and caring men and women, our students stand out for two reasons: They are passionately dedicated to the ideal of doing good; and they convert that passion into far-reaching impact well before they earn their degrees. This column’s headline aside, our students are anything but “kids,” and to a remarkable extent, even the youngest among them are already engaged in important work at schools, nonprofits, companies, foundations, government offices, arts organizations and other venues from the moment they enroll at TC.

On the following pages, you’ll meet a sampling of these passionate souls, including:

  • An innovative high school principal who founded a groundbreaking public school that drew praise and a visit from President Obama;
  • The founder of an organization that is bringing nutrition education to urban elementary school students by involving them in hands-on gardening;
  • A former undocumented immigrant who graduated from Stanford and is now working to create citizenship opportunities for others;
  • An executive at JP Morgan who advises philanthropists seeking to fund promising educational strategies;
  • The former chief advisor for both the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers on charter school development;
  • One of China’s most admired artists, who is renowned throughout the world for his work with photographic time exposures; and
  • A middle school Spanish teacher who is helping children from Ecuador and other countries ‚Ä®make documentaries about their own experiences.

Again, those are just our current students. As always, you’ll also find stories about alumni doing great things, from a U.S. Attorney in southern Ohio…to the executive producer of a recent documentary film about the world’s youngest Ph.D. student…to a nurse who rose to become an eminent nursing educator and scholar and the first woman president of an Ivy League university.

What draws great future leaders to Teachers College? Certainly, our mission, history, affiliation with Columbia University and location in New York City don’t hurt! Likewise, our stellar faculty, who choose TC in part because of the excellence of our students. But our most magnetic pull is the TC experience, which forms critical paths to leadership in research, policy and practice. There is no firewall between theory and practice here. Our students not only create new knowledge in collaboration with our master scholars, but also put it to work through programs such as the Zankel Urban Fellows, which provides scholarship assistance in return for service in New York City schools, and the Federal Policy Institute, which provides face-to-face contact with legislators and other leaders with whom students will soon be dealing on a professional basis.

As we ring down the curtain on the academic year, we send another generation of graduates off into the world to build on the accomplishments of those who have gone before them. There’s always some sadness in seeing people move on, but it’s more than outweighed by the knowledge that they are sure to do us proud—and that the next group of remarkable, idealistic and talented achievers will be arriving soon.

Susan Fuhrman (Ph.D., ’77)

Published Thursday, May. 19, 2011