Alumni in Action
“Education Pioneers got me into education at the right level and supported me to succeed.”
Zakiah Pierre - 2010 DC Metro Area
Spotlight on Zakiah Pierre
National STEM Director, College for Every Student
Cohort: 2010 DC Metro Area
Fellowship Placement: Friendship Public Charter Schools
Education: PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Creating 21st Century Schools:
Education Pioneers Alumna, Zakiah Pierre ('10), is transforming STEM education for all of America's students.
Most kids love amusement parks, and Zakiah Pierre was no different. But what set Zakiah apart from the other roller coaster riders one summer at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, was the small device she clutched in her hands: a hand-built contraption to measure the coaster's G-force.
That ride changed Zakiah's life; it was the moment when her classroom-anchored science knowledge rocketed to life.
'I'd just spent four days at the University of Wisconsin,' she explained, 'as part of the Girl Scouts' 'Wider Opportunities' program, studying physics and gravity. When we were on that roller coaster experiencing everything we'd learned, it was amazing. I want every kid to experience what I did.'
After graduating magna cum laude from Tuskegee University with a B.S. in chemical engineering, Zakiah knew that she wanted a career in the sciences; she'd already spent three summers interning at 3M and one at the University of Michigan doing research on why engines fail. She cast a wide net to find her path.
'I started doing all kinds of things,' she said, 'including designing transfer paths for hazardous waste disposal, serving as a quality control engineer at DOW Chemical and teaching chemistry. What I kept coming back to was that I wanted to get future generations as excited about science as I am, and that meant transforming our nation's curriculum.'
Zakiah envisioned a systemic overhaul of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in America to make it more hands-on and real-world relevant. She knew how she wanted to make an impact, but she needed an entry point.
While pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zakiah learned about the Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship. Suddenly, everything clicked.
'I want to design curriculum to influence how kids learn STEM in our country,' she said. 'STEM is vital for understanding the world around you, and being an informed consumer and voter. I knew I could transform STEM curriculum at the systemic level, but I had a purely science background and couldn't get into the education sector on my own. Education Pioneers got me into education at the right level and supported me to succeed.'
The Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship offered Zakiah the opportunity to gain the work experience and the education policy knowledge she needed to realize her vision for STEM education.
During the summer of 2010, Zakiah joined Education Pioneers' DC Metro Area cohort and was placed with Friendship Public Charter Schools (FPCS), a charter school management organization that operates six public charter schools and manages four turnaround schools, including two science, engineering and technology academies that serve students in the 6th through 12th grades. At FPCS, Zakiah analyzed student and teacher assessment data to measure performance across the ten campuses and created a system to make it usable for FCPS staff.
'I developed a report card system for FCPS that compiled all of their schools' data into one document,' she explained. 'For the first time, FCPS had a clear picture of how each of their schools were doing, individually and collectively. And I saw firsthand how data can truly help institutions inform decision making. It was incredibly eye opening.'
What Zakiah learned at FCPS was augmented by the Graduate School Fellowship's structured professional development workshops. It was during those dynamic sessions, surrounded by other talented professionals from diverse backgrounds, where she gained the education knowledge she needed.
'One of the best parts about the Education Pioneers Fellowship is that it gave me what I needed to know to become a leader in education,' she said. 'The workshops got me up to speed on policy knowledge and informed me about the challenges and opportunities in education, providing me with greater context about how I could implement my vision for STEM curriculum.'
After completing her Fellowship and her Ph.D., Zakiah turned to Education Pioneers to help her secure a high-impact career in education leadership, and she credits Education Pioneers with getting her the job as 'research associate extraordinaire' at Change the Equation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan CEO-led initiative that answers the White House mandate to transform STEM education in the U.S. In this role, Zakiah was responsible for compiling all of the data that informs STEM decisions, including compiling a state-by-state analysis and assessment of STEM education.
Now the National STEM Director for College for Every Student, Zakiah is firmly on the path to transform the STEM experience for thousands of students.
Zakiah has also started to work on developing and analyzing new STEM curriculum. She has entered some ideas into STEM curriculum competitions, tried new curriculum with day camps and is looking to partner with universities and corporations to get more hands-on STEM practices into the classroom. Her plan, within the next 10 years, is to have tested and implemented new STEM middle school curriculum as broadly as possible.
'That's the crucial age when students decide if they like STEM or not,' she said. 'And I want to ensure that they love it.'
If she has her way, American students will become as passionate about STEM as she is. Zakiah is excited to be a part of the national movement to transform STEM education.
'There's so much to learn, and so many people who are invested in this,' she said. 'It's such an exciting and great place to be. Despite the challenges, I'm in this for the long haul. I'm here for the kids, and I won't stop working until I realize my vision for transforming STEM education and their lives.'