Earlier this spring, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp told students and guests of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum how much her organization is committed to finding the best future leaders. Addressing the unlikely triumph of a then-nascent program that she conceptualized during her senior year at Princeton University, Kopp's reckoning struck a chord with the spirit of CMC: In effort to bridge educational inequities facing children in low-income communities across the United States, a leadership force both understanding of the issues, and committed to improving them, would have to be assembled.
Since its inception in 1990, more than 14,000 individuals have joined TFA. Of those who enlisted last year, about 95 percent held leadership positions at their college or university. Not surprisingly, Claremont McKenna currently ranks eighth among TFA's 200 most heavily recruited colleges and universities, with a CMC senior acceptance rate of about 46 percent. Last year, 12 CMC graduates enlisted in Teach for America's national corps, committing to a two-year teaching engagement in urban and rural schools across the nation.
"CMC is a fantastic place to recruit top seniors for Teach For America," says recruitment director Chris Kaleel. "I am always impressed by the students' level of achievement and strong commitment to service. Many CMC alumni have been some of our best corps members."
Susanne Mahoney Filback, associate dean and director of career services at CMC, says numbers indicate that more CMC graduates are looking into the field of education and nonprofit work directly after college. Of those who graduated last May, 163 immediately took on employment of some kind, and within that group, 32 chose work in education and nonprofits, including Teach for America. "When you look specifically at that category," she says, "by far, the majority of students who go into education and nonprofit work are joining TFA," whose program does not require a teaching credential, Mahoney says.
"It is a good option for those graduates who don't yet know whether they want to teach, but want to have the experience in the classroom."
Taryn Benarroch '05, who double-majored in government and music, was among the CMC dozen who postponed career plans to enlist in TFA. Accepting the role of special education coordinator at the Bronx Lighthouse Charter School in New York, her studentsspecial education students in kindergarten through third gradehappen to come from the area of Hunt's Point in the South Bronx, the poorest Congressional district in the nation, with one of the highest known rates of drug usage in the country.
The work in the classroom has been sobering, and Benarroch credits CMC's emphasis on leadership as essential to her success. "I couldn't have had a better education for this job. Teach for America's major philosophy is that teaching is leadership," Benarroch says. "Having done this for a few months now, let me tell you, it is no different from running a company or a political campaign."
TFA representatives, who visited CMC earlier this month, say the program offers many benefits to graduating students. The organization has crafted partnerships with the top graduate schools to offer deferrals, application fee waivers, or additional scholarships to students who choose join the ranks of Teach For America right after graduation. "We also have formal relationships with several companies," Kaleel says, "including Accenture, Bain, and Goldman Sachs, that actively recruit our alumni for full-time positions."
"I don't know that I will be a teacher forever, but the skills I am learning can be used anywhere, and more importantly, I will bring my awareness learned here to whatever job I do," Benarroch says.
For more information: Teach For America, www.teachforamerica.org.