The contest, sponsored by Summer Advantage USA, a non-profit that runs academic seasonal programs for kids, and Ashoka U, the education arm of the social entrepreneurship organization, challenged students to solve some of Summer Advantage’s most pressing problems.
The members of the Brandeis team – Maw Maw Khaing, M.B.A ’10, Thuy Nguyen, M.B.A '09, LeeAnn Peterson, M.B.A '09, and Phuong Ho, who is a chemistry teacher at Malden High School – all have experience in the education field.
“Because of our backgrounds, we all are aware of the demands that teachers face,” said Khaing, the team leader. “We understand how a low teacher turnover rate ensures continuity in student learning, and also keeps administrative and training costs down. It made our assignment - figuring out a way to retain Summer Advantage’s faculty – more relatable.”
Under the guidance of IBS Professor Grace Zimmermann, the Brandeis team spent three weeks in January applying their management skills to the problem. They scrutinized other summer programs’ strategies for retaining seasonal staff, analyzed the effects of different motivational tools, and interviewed dozens of members of the education industry.
“Teachers need an incentive to come back year after year,” said Khaing. “Obviously money is a big motivator, but it’s not sustainable for Summer Advantage to provide annual raises.”
Summer Advantage faces another big obstacle, too. In order to maintain certification, teachers must each year acquire a certain number of professional development points - the currency for renewing an educator's license. The points also enable teachers to make more money. The most convenient time for a teacher to participate in such a program is during the summer months, which poses a direct conflict with returning to a job at Summer Advantage.
The Brandeis team, however, came up with a solution. The students proposed Summer Advantage add a professional development component to its teacher training and grant each teacher points for completing it. The program could also partner with local school districts to encourage teachers to earn points by working for Summer Advantage.
In February, teams from Brandeis and five other schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University, Queens University, Tulane University and The New School presented their projects to a panel of judges at the Ashoka U Summit in Washington, DC.Winning the competition “felt very rewarding,” according to Khaing. “We worked hard, and it paid off.”