Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive officer of Teach For America – the national corps of outstanding college graduates who commit to teach for at least two years in some of the country’s highest-need schools – was selected to give the 148th Commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis in 2009. Kopp received an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 2009.
“Wendy Kopp is an inspiring person who represents a role model for our students who themselves have the ability and creativity to make a positive difference in the world,” said Wrighton. “Advancing education in the United States is an important imperative, and we are very well-rewarded that the founder of Teach For America has agreed to be our Commencement speaker.”
Kopp, who gave an Assembly Series talk here in March 2006, received an honorary doctor of humanities degree during the ceremony.
Kopp proposed the creation of Teach For America in her Princeton University undergraduate thesis in 1989.
She was convinced that many in her generation were searching for a way to assume a significant responsibility that would make a real difference in the world and that top college students would choose teaching over more lucrative opportunities if a prominent teacher corps existed.
As a 21-year-old, Kopp raised $2.5 million of start-up funding, hired a skeleton staff, and launched a grass-roots recruitment campaign. During Teach For America’s first year in 1990, 500 men and women, selected from 2,500 applicants, began teaching in six low-income communities across the country.
Since then, 20,000 individuals have participated in Teach For America, impacting the lives of approximately 3 million students.
Fulfilling the need for faculty in low-income areas
Teach For America trains more teachers for low-income communities than any other organization or institution in the nation, and it has been recognized for building a pipeline of leaders committed to educational equity and excellence.
Teach For America recruits outstanding college seniors and recent graduates of all majors and career interests, as well as working professionals. It invests in the training and professional development necessary to ensure their success as teachers in the country’s highest-need urban and rural communities.
During the 2008-09 school year, some 6,200 corps members taught in 1,600 schools in 29 regions that are profoundly affected by the academic achievement gap, reaching approximately 400,000 students. Teach for America received more than 35,000 applications for the 2009 teaching corps – a 42 percent increase over last year’s record numbers.
More than 14,000 Teach For America alumni continue working from inside and outside the field of education to level the playing field for children and families in low-income communities. Nearly two-thirds of Teach For America alumni remain in education, almost half of them as classroom teachers.
In addition, more than 360 alumni school leaders reach more than 330,000 students each year, while 21 alumni have founded and continue to lead some of our country’s most innovative nonprofits.
Kopp also serves as chief executive of Teach For All, which supports the development of Teach For America’s model in other countries.
Washington University students are applying in increasing numbers to Teach For America. Applications from WUSTL seniors rose 19 percent from last year. There are 71 WUSTL graduates currently serving in Teach For America, compared with 56 in 2007. All told, 216 WUSTL graduates joined Teach For America from 1990 to 2008.
Of the Class of 2009, 25 Washington University graduates will enter Teach For America. A reception for them to meet Kopp will be held the afternoon of Commencement.
With a goal of recruiting strong analytical leaders committed to making a difference, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work started a partnership with Teach For America in 2005 that offers corps members and alumni incentives, such as scholarships, when applying to the master of social work program.
Kopp’s 2001 book, “One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way,” chronicles the organization’s creation and development, including numerous challenges she faced in its first decade.
Honoring a longtime commitment to education
In 1994, Time magazine recognized Kopp as one of the 40 most promising leaders under 40; in 2006, U.S. News & World Report named her one of America’s best leaders; and in 2008, Time named her one of the world’s 100 most influential leaders.
Kopp, who holds nine honorary degrees, received the Presidential Citizens Medal from George W. Bush in 2008. The medal, which is the country’s second-highest civilian honor, recognizes citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation.
She has also received the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award (2004), the Clinton Center Award for Leadership and National Service (2003), Aetna’s Voice of Conscience Award (1994), and a Jefferson Award for Public Service (1991).
Kopp serves on a number of boards, including the board of directors of The New Teacher Project, and on the advisory boards of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, and the National Council on Teacher Quality.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, where she participated in the undergraduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. At 25, she was the youngest person and the first woman to receive the university’s Woodrow Wilson Award (1993), the highest honor the school confers on its undergraduate alumni.
Kopp resides in New York City with her husband, Richard Barth, and their four children.