Teach for America: Answering the Call

Mitchell London (’07) was a first-year SMU student from Mountain Brook, Alabama when Teach for America changed his life. “We have what you might call a fairytale love story,” he says with a laugh.

Mitchell London
Mitchell London

The story began with London’s participation in the University’s 2004 Alternative Spring Break program. He spent a week volunteering in a New Orleans classroom staffed by Teach for America (TFA), which recruits and trains outstanding college graduates for two years of teaching in high-need school districts across the nation. There he saw firsthand the educational inequity that is a way of life for low-income American schoolchildren.

“It was mindblowing,” says London, who received his B.A. in political science from Dedman College in May. “I had grown up with a certain conception of what a high school education was like, and I found a completely different experience in New Orleans.”

As a result, London has made a commitment to the program. He attended TFA training in Houston this summer, after which he traveled to Mississippi for at least two years of teaching. He also spent his senior year as one of SMU’s three TFA student recruiters. Eighteen SMU students were selected, double the number as in previous years.

“Teach for America is not simply about education, it’s about developing leaders for the future,” says Dustin Odham (’05), who began his TFA career teaching math and coaching girls’ varsity basketball in St. Louis. Last August, the organization named him St. Louis region executive director.

Dustin Odham

Odham, who earned his B.B.A. degree in finance from the Cox School of Business, follows two other SMU alumni into similar leadership positions. History graduate Marion Hodges Biglan (’93), now TFA’s national director of special projects, is the former Chicago region executive director; Andrea Stouder (’02), who earned degrees in English and religious studies, is the Phoenix region executive director.

“The battle we’re in is so important,” Oldham adds, citing statistics that students from low-income areas are three grades behind their contemporaries in academic achievement by the time they are 9. “That disparity between low- and high-income communities must be addressed.”

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