With the many alumni who have recently donated millions of dollars to their alma mater, it is not difficult to believe that a DePauw education prepares people for uncommon success.
However, money is not the only mark of success. Success can be giving back to the community as well, and Elisa Villanueva Beard, ’98, has been incredibly successful as a member for Teach for America.
On February 13, Beard was named co-CEO of Teach for America, an organization that sends recent college graduates and young professionals to teach in low-income communities for two years and trains them to become life-long leaders in education.
Beard and her co-CEO Matt Kramer will succeed Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp, who has served as the sole CEO of Teach for America for 22 years, but will now serve as chairman of the board of directors. Beard and Kramer have served together for eight years on Teach for America’s leadership team.
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution for Teach for America,” Steve Mancini, a spokesman for Teach for America, said.
Beard heard about DePauw from her high school mentor whose wife was an alumna of DePauw. Beard came to DePauw from Rio Grande Valley, Texas, a small town on the U.S-Mexico border.
The town’s population is 95 percent Mexican and is highly influenced by Mexican culture and places high value on family and faith. Beard experienced a bit of culture shock when she arrived on DePauw’s campus and was immersed in mid-western culture.
“It was like a foreign country to me,” Beard said.
The affluence and educational prowess of her classmates added to the culture shock. Despite being in the top 5 percent of her class, Beard found she was under–prepared for the academic rigor of DePauw. Despite her frustrations, she stuck it out.
“What I learned about myself was that I had the capability to figure out how to [succeed at DePauw],” Beard said.
As she spent more time on campus, Beard began to wonder why there were not more students from communities like hers on DePauw’s campus. During her sophomore year, she heard about Teach for American and the organization’s mission of creating equal access to a good education for every child in America. As a senior, she decided to apply.
“[The mission] really resonated with me as a cause that was right and fair,” Beard said.
She became a member of the 1998 Phoenix Corps. She taught bilingual first graders for two years before moving up to second grade with her students for a third year of teaching.
Beard’s job as a corps teacher was two-fold. She had to teach her students and train their parents to help their children progress through school. Many of the families she interacted with suffered from poverty and had trouble affording basic necessities.
“My students had lots of cavities,” Beard said. “I had to make sure they had access to dental care and taught them about dental hygiene.”
Beard’s students were able to overcome the obstacles they faced and achieve the high standards she set. She came to know her students and their families as hard-working people trying to overcome the challenges they faced.
“I learned that [unequal access to education] is a solvable problem,” Beard said. “You just have to expect the kids to do the work. You set the bar high and they meet it. You just provide the support they need along the way.”
After her three years of teaching, Beard was offered the opportunity to be the regional director of the Rio Grande Valley area. Although she loved her community in Phoenix, she said she is a Texas girl at heart and wanted to move back to her home state.
Since then, she has spent 12 years on staff for Teach for America, most recently as the chief operating officer on the senior leadership team.
As co-CEOs, Beard and Kramer will be responsible for the day to day operations of Teach for America, but each will have specific areas of focus. Kramer will handle recruiting, training and admissions while Beard supervises Teach for America’s 46 regions across the country and represents the organization publicly.
“Teach for America plays such an important role in developing the leadership our country needs to live up to our highest ideals,” Kramer said in a press release on February 13. “And Elisa and I are eager to continue the hard work of ensuring that all children in our country have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
The two will begin with a 100-day national listening tour where they will hear what Teach for America staff, teachers, supporters, school partners, and other associates feel they should be focused on.
Beard said she is excited hear what people have to say and to understand people’s view of Teach for America’s role in the social justice movement for education.
Beard is not the only DePauw alumnus to be part of Teach for America. According to Mancini, there are currently 30 DePauw alumni teaching. There are also DePauw alumni on staff at Teach for America.
“We have a number of DePauw grads on staff, from our recruitment team, to our instructional coaching team, to our development team,” Kaitlin Gastrock, who handles Teach for America’s media relations with college campuses, said in an email.
When Beard assumes her role as co-CEO, DePauw will have alumni working in every level of Teach for America.
“[Beard’s promotion] says something about your university,” Mancini said. “It is a tribute to her as well as to the education and opportunities DePauw offers its students.”