Wendy Kopp, president and founder of Teach for America, will deliver the spring commencement address at the University, Chancellor James Moeser announced.
Moeser will preside at the ceremony, set for May 14, 2006, at 9:30 a.m. in Kenan Stadium.
“Teach for America embodies the same ideals of public service and equal opportunity through education that are so highly prized here at Carolina,” Moeser said. “Our students will benefit from hearing a speaker of Wendy Kopp’s caliber, whose values so closely mirror those of our own campus community.
“I am delighted that Wendy’s participation in commencement will help further establish an already strong bond between Teach for America and our University.”
Moeser chose Kopp in close consultation with the commencement speaker selection committee, composed of an equal number of students and faculty and chaired by Executive Associate Provost Steve Allred.
Teach for America recruits graduating seniors from top colleges to teach for two years, at entry-level wages, in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged grade schools.
Kopp conceived the idea for Teach for America when she was a senior at Princeton University. Troubled by educational inequities facing children in low-income communities, she also was convinced that many in her generation were looking for ways to make a positive difference in the world.
She developed the idea in her senior thesis. The first year, 1990, 2,500 graduates of 100 colleges applied; nearly 500 were selected and trained by volunteer teachers and teacher educators. Businesses and foundations donated $2.5 million to start the program.
Last spring, more than 17,000 seniors applied to the program, competing for 2,100 slots. Currently, Teach for America fields 3,500 teachers, called corps members, and has more than 10,000 alumni. Program officials say the alumni work from within and outside the field of education toward changes needed to ensure educational excellence and equity.
By the end of the current academic year, 250 Carolina graduates will have joined Teach for America. The organization was the largest single employer of choice last spring among UNC seniors, with 43 joining the organization.
At that point, UNC ranked third in the nation behind Michigan and Cornell universities in participation. Currently, 79 UNC graduates teach for the organization.
In her book, “One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way,” Kopp describes how she founded and built the organization. She also discusses what is needed to realize its goal: equal opportunity across the nation for every child to attain an excellent education.
“I feel so strongly that at this time we have to be as focused as ever about addressing the old challenges that keep us from being the land of opportunity, like addressing the disparities that exist in our public education system,” Kopp said in 2002, speaking at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “Young people bring a fresh perspective to problems some leaders see as unsolvable.”
Among other distinctions, Kopp is on the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, the advisory board of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the National Council on Teacher Quality.