Teach For America Founder Will Address Graduates

The president and founder of Teach For America, Wendy Kopp, will take the stage in May as the University’s 2006 Commencement speaker.

Kopp’s organization seeks to eliminate educational inequality by providing thousands of recent college graduates first-hand experience in some of the nation’s most needy schools. Among UNC’s 2005 graduates, Teach For America was the largest single employer of choice last spring, with 43 graduates joining the organization, including Student Body President Matt Tepper ’04.

The concept of Teach For America grew out of Kopp’s undergraduate senior thesis in 1989 at Princeton University. About 17,000 applicants a year now compete for 2,100 slots teaching for two years at urban and rural public schools. At the end of the program, some of the 14,000 Teach For America alumni have gone on to work long-term as educators – some have even opened their own schools. Still others are working to improve public education as policymakers.

Four students and four faculty members comprised an advisory committee that forwarded Kopp and seven other candidates to Chancellor James Moeser, who has the final decision. Committee Chair Steve Allred ’74, executive associate provost, said the committee considered business leaders, political and literary figures and a sports celebrity.

Allred said that Kopp’s commitment to public service fits well with the ideals of the University and its graduates and that the choice wasn’t surprising, given Moeser’s emphasis on UNC’s mission of service to the state, and particularly to the needs of public education, in his State of the University address in September.

“We tried to forward to the chancellor a broad range of speakers we think would appeal to the students as well as their families,” Allred said. “A lot of folks whose only visit to Chapel Hill is to Commencement. We have to think of the grandmother of the first person in the family graduating from college, what her reaction will be.”

Allred declined to release the names of the other candidates.

In addition to her work with Teach For America, Kopp serves on the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, the advisory board of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Current Student Body President Seth Dearmin, who served on the advisory committee, heard Kopp speak this fall at UNC.

“She has a tremendous story to tell,” Dearmin said. “She’s someone who took her honors thesis and turned it into a true social movement.” But, he added, “Commencement is not an opportunity for her to encourage seniors to join the program – they will have already made up their minds. She’ll be talking about larger issues.”

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