Alexis Morin '15
The seeds of Alexis Morin’s passion for improving the nation’s public schools were planted when she was still in high school, where she served as a student representative on her hometown’s school board. That passion has bloomed into a nonprofit organization with a growing national presence and recognition from the White House.
In her sophomore year at Princeton, Morin cofounded Students for Education Reform with classmate Catharine Bellinger ’15. With national backing from philanthropists and policymakers, the organization soon grew from a Princeton-based student organization with modest membership to a nonprofit with 136 chapters on college campuses in 33 states.
In 2012, the effort was ranked among 15 finalists in the White House's Campus Champions of Change, a contest that recognizes innovative service programs created by undergraduates. Forbes magazine placed Morin and Bellinger on its "30 under 30" list in 2012 -- a catalogue of "disruptors, innovators and entrepreneurs" under the age of 30 who, the magazine says, are impatient to change the world. And Time Magazine placed them on its "12 Education Leaders for 2012" list.
The mission of the organization is to mobilize undergraduates to advocate for important education policy reform in K-12 schools. Its three major objectives are building awareness of education inequities, training students for job opportunities in education reform and promoting state legislation to improve the quality of public education.
She describes the organization's undergraduate members as an engaged group with an important point-of-view. “We’ve recently graduated from K-12 schools, and we’re also going to be future education consumers in a number of ways,” Morin says. “We are aspiring teachers, aspiring entrepreneurs who are going to enroll in MBA programs and many members who are going to be public school parents. So we’re at a unique point in the debate where we have so much at stake in what happens in the public schools, and we also have this opportunity to really interrogate what the best policy solutions will be.
“The tough part is balancing the regular demands of undergraduate life,” she says. In fact, both she and Bellinger have taken periodic leaves from Princeton to build the organization.
Morin credits the growth of Students for Education Reform to the opportunities presented by a Princeton education. In her freshman year, after browsing the Alumni Careers Network for a possible summer internship, she located Jason Kamras ’95, a Teach for America alumnus, National Teacher of the Year in 2005 and chief of human capital strategy at the District of Columbia Public Schools. Kamras responded within a day to Morin’s application for an internship in the D.C. schools and hired her soon after as a summer intern. As a 19-year-old, she helped recruit more than 900 teachers and classroom aides for the D.C. schools. She also helped interview vendors from around the country who were bidding on a project to upgrade the district’s recruitment software.
All in all, Morin says it was a pretty heady experience. “I saw the recruitment and selection strategy firsthand and was part of the team that was trying to ensure that every single classroom had a great teacher leading it,” she says.
Her Princeton connections also opened up doors to a network of other alumni who have secured places as leaders of the education reform movement. They include Wendy Kopp ’89, founder of Teach for America; Jon Schnur ’89, co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools and a senior education policy advisor in the Clinton administration; and Princeton Trustee Katherine Brittain Bradley ’86, co-founder of CityBridge, a D.C.-based foundation active in education, service and health initiatives.