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Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award Recipient: Chike Aguh, EPM'10

Chike Aguh's work as a teacher led him to the Ed School where he has developed an intense focus on education policy and management that has caught the attention of his classmates and faculty.

"Chike Aguh is an incredibly focused, energetic, intellectually curious, and generous young man," says Lecturer Karen Mapp, director of the Education Policy and Management Program (EPM). "His 'can do' spirit not only propels him but everyone around him. I think Chike singlehandedly recruited at least 15 students to HGSE during our spring admissions admitted student event! I have no doubt that Chike will make a positive difference, wherever he lands."

This fall, Aguh will matriculate as a dual degree MBA/MPA student between the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Harvard Kennedy School. "As a policymaker and social entrepreneur, I want to spend my career helping design and implement that system of solutions that our public education system so desperately needs," he says. "For America to live up to its promise and for it to continue to compete against nations like China and India, we have no choice but to educate every student to be an innovator capable of competing on this new global playing field."

Upon learning that he had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for EPM, Aguh answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School?
After I graduated college, I worked in the Bloomberg administration in the New York City Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein, taught second grade as a Teach For America corps member at an all-boys K-8 charter school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and taught ESL at a rural high school in Thailand as a Fulbright scholar. What I took from all those experiences besides great relationships with my students and my colleagues were three things:

  1. Academic achievement at a high level is possible for all students.
  2. Teaching students discrete pieces of information is necessary but insufficient. We must also help them develop the higher order thinking skills so that they are truly ready for college, career, and citizenship.
  3. Our education system and the schools in it need a radical reinvention if all students are going to get the education they need to compete on this new global economic stage.

It was that third realization that led me out of the classroom and here to HGSE.

What was your favorite class this year?
I cannot just choose one. The first was Understanding Today's Educational Testing with Professor Dan Koretz, which opened up the black box that is standardized testing in America and gave me the skill-set to accurately discern what these tests are actually telling us about student achievement. The second is Strategic Management for Public Purposes with [Professor] Harry Spence. This class highlighted the fact that managers in any organization exist to support the staff, not the other way around. The best managers create universal goals but then support their staff to innovate constantly in the pursuit of those goals.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
What has been reinforced for me again and again at HGSE is that for well-intended policies to succeed they must be married to the best management and implementations. We need a combination of soft hearts and hard heads to create the education systems that America needs and that our children deserve.

What will you change in education and why?
I want the U.S. Department of Education to operate like a venture philanthropy firm. It should fund new and bold ideas in education. Test those ideas rigorously to see if they work. And it should scale up what works and shut down what does not. I think too often in education we get stuck debating the same old options that have not increased student achievement. I think programs like Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund from the administration are a good start but we need many more programs and people who are dedicated to spurring innovation in education. As a teacher used to say to me, "If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you always got." And what we've always gotten in education is clearly not good enough for our times.

What advice do you have for next year's students going through your program?
Keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, that is generally where the biggest and most important solutions are found. Go to a lecture at the Kennedy School on nuclear nonproliferation or at the School of Public Health on swine flu. Make sure to visit the other schools to see their speakers and network with their students. I have seen great connections and projects start by stepping off Appian Way for a little while.


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