By Lilly Berkley, UA News
As Steve Erickson sat among a group of other University of Arizona students during an information session with a Teach for America representative, who spoke about work within the organization, something was changing within him.
At that point, Erickson, a student in the Eller College of Management, and his friends — fellow 2005 grads Josh Eich, Michael Dougherty, Evan Witte and Joe Young — had launched BTO Auction Technologies, a drafting platform for fantasy sports, focusing specifically on college rivalries. The group built software used for draft picks, eventually winning the McGuire Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition.
However, learning about the work of Teach for America, a nationwide organization that places recent college and university graduates and professionals in under-resourced urban and rural K-12 schools, would change Erickson’s career path completely.
“I was immediately enamored. (The speaker’s) excitement inspired me,” said Erickson, who graduated with degrees in economics and entrepreneurship.
About 48 hours after that session with Teach for America, Erickson decided to dedicate time learning about nationwide equity gaps. Teach for America is driven by a vision that all children deserve a quality education, regardless of their background or access to resources. That resonated with Erickson.
“After that, there was no turning back,” he said. “I had to reflect on my center, what I believed in and what my values were. When I did, those fundamental values led me to join Teach for America, where I thought I could make the biggest impact. I made the difficult decision to walk away from our startup, but knew I was making the right decision.”
After saying goodbye to his business venture, the 22-year-old Erickson began working with “31 eager and energetic fourth-graders” at Quentin Elementary School on the west side of Phoenix.
“They were the most impressive kids, but were far behind academically,” he said. “At 9 years old, they should have been reading chapter books. But some were reading picture books and, on average, were reading just below a second-grade reading level. The same was true for math.”
Not only did he have to teach students to learn, but he had to learn how to teach.
Top image courtesy Pixabay.