By Byron Lichtenstein – CDB Scholar, Yunasa Camper, Apprentice, IEA Board Member
My relationship with IEA began in 2002 when I was a seventh grader. I grew up the product of 40-student classrooms and overworked teachers in a large California public school system. At age 7, my father passed away and my mother struggled to figure out how to reenter the workforce and maintain some normalcy for her two sons. With so much to handle, she left my brother and me in charge of our own education. For years I struggled between unmotivated teachers who ignored me because I was “doing fine” and amazing teachers who were too shackled by overcrowding and underfunding to provide full academic support. There were times when I felt like leaving school – when it wasn’t worth the boredom of just sitting there or the discipline of detention for distracting other students when I finished work early.
But then IEA came into my life. They worked hand-in-hand with me to identify and send me to a highly rigorous and highly creative high school. And from attending the Yunasa summer camp to discovering a deeper love of architecture through their Apprenticeship program, IEA fueled an intellectual fire within me that at times had felt like just an ember. They provided me opportunities that I could never have found on my own and that my mother could never pay for. At a time in my life when I needed a mentor, they were there.
There are two areas where I believe IEA makes a real difference in students’ lives: enabling them to find an academic area that inspires them to learn, and building the emotional support system that allows them to succeed.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of education is teaching students that what they learn in school is not only applicable to the classroom but also to the situations they encounter every day and to the passions they may one day pursue. However, it is an aspect that is often overlooked and – without the necessary mentors to show them – an aspect that is hard for students to fully understand. IEA’s Academy and EXPLORE programs introduce this real-world application aspect to the learning environments of young students. By creating exciting alternative-learning environments or matching industry professionals with high achieving children, these programs enable students to directly see their education applied to the world and gain the appreciation for learning necessary to achieve academic excellence. These programs give the required personalized attention that allows students to delve deep where their interests lie and also motivates them to succeed and grow beyond where books and hypotheticals could take them.
But it’s not only intellectual and academic stimulation that these programs provide; it is also a social and emotional foundation necessary to maintain their academic performance. Each and every IEA program builds a community of intellectually curious and academically motivated students to form the emotional and social foundation to push students to their full potential. Programs like Yunasa allow students to be surrounded by peers who share a love of learning and create an environment where students can be comfortable with themselves and their minds. I remember attending Yunasa as a 12-year-old – interested in nature and slightly awkward – and for the first time feeling like I could talk about anything with anyone. IEA helped build my confidence and made me feel like I could explore what I loved. It connected me to a group of friends that bolstered my curiosity and my belief that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to. That community and that inspiration have been key to my development and I believe that they are key to every child’s development. They are essential to helping young students maintain their motivation for education and ensure that they are excited to continue learning.
The Institute for Educational Advancement has been and continues to be an integral part of my life. They have been there for every major decision from choosing the right high school to deciding to go to Harvard. I know that I am the person I am today because of them.
Since joining IEA as a Caroline D. Bradley Scholar in 2002, Byron has participated in multiple programs with IEA and for the last four years has served as a selection committee member for the CDB Scholarship. As of 2017, Byron serves on the Board of Directors. Currently, Byron is a Vice President at Insight Venture Partners, a venture capital and growth equity firm based in New York. Prior to Insight, Byron worked at Bain & Company as a management consultant and also at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Global Health Discovery team. He graduated from Harvard College with degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Economics.
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