staff, September 21, 2014

Sometimes, inspiration can strike in the most unlikely of places. The inside of a college mascot costume, for example.

That was the case for University of Wisconsin alumnus Sam Rhyan. He came from a background where substance abuse and addiction were common, and a college education was not an expectation. And while at school, he honed his management skills by taking on leadership roles in UW-HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America). But perhaps his most formative experience was serving as the mascot for the university?s athletic teams.

?My stint as Bucky Badger truly allowed me to see the impact that one person is able to make on individuals as well as communities, which gave me a twisted sense of confidence and an ?I can do anything I want? mentality,? he said.

After Rhyan graduated from Wisconsin in 2011 with a bachelor?s degree in life sciences, he wasted no time in applying his skills to helping improve the minds and lives of young people.

?Wisconsin told me to take my major, my knowledge and my experiences, and do something with it,? he added. ?So I am.?

Today, Rhyan is the technology manager and science department lead for KIPP San Francisco College Preparatory High School in California, which opened its doors in August 2013 to a founding class of 120 ninth graders. The school is part of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation, a national organization devoted to providing high-quality, publicly funded education to students from low-income areas in order to help them graduate from college.


The KIPP Foundation runs 10 schools in the Bay Area that serve more than 3,000 students, around 95 percent of whom are minorities living in underserved communities. The foundation says that in places where about 85 percent of Latino and African-American students read below grade-level, 83 percent of ?KIPPsters? have enrolled in college.

Rhyan says a big reason behind the KIPP schools? success is that they provide resources to help students get more engaged in the classroom. For instance, at KIPP San Francisco College Prep, he was able to provide students with a one-to-one ratio of Chromebook laptops, thanks to a large grant.

?Thus, in most classes most days, students are deeply interacting with technology to create, learn, collaborate, show knowledge and more,? he said. ?The access to technology and resources allows our teachers to build rigorous, personalized and engaging lessons to deliver the best education to all students.?

Additionally, teachers are given the tools they need to grow and become more effective educators.

?Our teachers are treated as professionals and have ample resources provided to them, on and offsite, to receive personalized professional development of their choice,? Rhyan said. ?I attended three conferences throughout the year related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Common Core for science and instructional technology, where I was able to participate and present to my peers.?

Underpinning all of this is the foundation?s view that this investment will pay dividends in the form of intelligent, motivated adults - regardless of their background. This aligns with Rhyan?s own outlook.

?There is a deep belief that our students can and will do anything it takes to get to and through college,? he said. ?Last year, our team crafted a school vision and structure that included extended school days, mandatory tutoring and a ?no excuses? mindset.

?I feel obligated to help students defy their circumstances, prove the statistics wrong, create a better life trajectory and create scalable models within education that can reach students across the country. It really takes immense amounts of hard work, focus, compassion and patience. If I can hold myself accountable to such traits, I can help my students create positive futures for themselves and their communities.?

By Jorge Rivera