When Joe Swartz and Michelle Staack entered the Carlson School as freshman, they never envisioned that after they graduated with business degrees they would end up miles away from home and managing, of all things, a classroom filled with kids.
But that's where they are, as the two are among the growing group of recent college graduates who are taking a community-focused career approach. For Swartz and Staack, they chose to join Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that develops nontraditional teachers and allocates them to teach in schools located in low-income communities across the country.
Today, Swartz, who graduated summa cum laude in 2009 with a marketing degree, including a double minor in mass communications and leadership, is in his second year of teaching math and science to fifth-graders in Houston, Texas. As for Staack, a 2010 marketing and human resources and industrial relations graduate, she is still getting used to her first-grade classroom in Baltimore, Md. This is her first year of a required two-year assignment.
For the two young and bright Carlson School alums who had Fortune 500 companies vying for their services after their respective graduations, Teach For America was not a fallback job option. It was their first choice.
"Fortunately, the Carlson School put me in a position where I did have job options," states Swartz. "I chose TFA because I realized that there's a lot going wrong in our current education system and there's a lot that people can actually do about it. TFA was my opportunity to be to be with like-minded people who are very passionate about making that change."
Adds Staack, "I think giving those who haven't gone through the traditional teaching route, like me, the opportunity to teach is just amazing. I had a hunch I was interested in education, so TFA was the chance to try something that wasn't on my plans when I started college and see if it's a new path for me."
Morgan Kinross-Wright, director, Undergraduate Business Career Center, says the Carlson School has developed a successful partnership with Teach For America over the last several years. "TFA puts our business graduates into the education system in a way that encourages immediate professional growth and advances their understanding of the complexities of education today."
Kinross-Wright anticipates a growing interest from Carlson students in a TFA experience given the new undergraduate nonprofit major.
Acquiring a TFA position is very challenging. An organization that only considers the most promising of impending or recent college graduates, as well as those with strong professional credentials, TFA puts applicants through a rigorous selection process that includes multiple interviews, conducting mock classes, and tests. Tens of thousands apply every year, yet only a few thousand are accepted.
While the goal is to get highly qualified people teaching in classrooms, TFA also puts a premium on helping their corps members transition out of the classroom and into their desired profession after their two-year assignment ends. They do it through their many connections with businesses, higher education institutions, and its large alumni community.
"That was one of my main concerns," says Staack, of when she was contemplating joining the TFA corps. "After all, teaching isn't the business world." She explains that her apprehensions were eased after being put in contact with former and current TFA core members who at one time shared similar concerns and explained to her that, through TFA's support, making the jump into the professional mainstream can be done. "The connections are really wonderful. They really make sure you have the information that is relevant to you."
As Swartz puts it: "Once you're a part of the TFA corps, it's their vision that you're always a part of it whether you're teaching, doing something in business, or whatever your aspirations might be. They do an amazing job with placing you."
So what is their next career step after they complete their respective TFA assignments? The two are keeping their options open.
"Once you've had this experience, you can't forget it," says Swartz, who is currently contemplating either pursuing a school superintendent or principal position to complement his business background, all while keeping business as an option as well. Then again, he says, "Once you get to know the kids, it's hard to leave, so I have a lot to consider with what I want to do next year."
With Staack at the beginning of her assignment, she's fully concentrated on her classroom but says she would like to combine her teaching experience with healthcare when the time comes. "I know TFA offers absolutely great career opportunities, and once I figure out what exactly I want to do after my two years, I hope to use the TFA connections to guide me through to my next career step."