Today, I will be moving on from my role at the Christensen Institute to direct the Innovation Lab at Southern New Hampshire University. I have been honored to learn from all of you in my research at the Institute. Together, we have used the theories of disruption to explore issues of accreditation, alternative credentials, competency-based education, modularization, and moving from learning to know to learning to do in the workforce.
One of the privileges of this position is that over the years, many entrepreneurs have shared with me all of the incredible solutions that they are trying to build in service of more affordable and accessible pathways to higher education. Just this past Tuesday, I spoke with the co-founders of ApprenNet, an education technology company sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which is developing a competency-based and simulation-based learning environment.
In less than three years, this young company has made great strides in partnering with colleges and universities as well as school systems, such as Newark Public Schools and corporations like Merck and some of the largest retailers, to do more in the field of online competency-based education. I left that conversation buoyed by the substance of ApprenNet’s work as well as the co-founders’ excitement and optimism about how they could play a role in creating high-quality learning experiences for more people.
Just an hour or so later, Rachel Jacobs, the CEO, boarded the Amtrak train that derailed that evening in Philadelphia. She was killed, leaving behind a loving family including her two-year-old son. Nothing can be said that isn’t trite at this moment, and I send my deepest sympathies to her family and her colleagues and to all of the people whom she touched throughout her life.
As I was reading through the news on social media, I couldn’t help but notice certain comments questioning why news outlets seemed to be highlighting the death of a CEO when there were others also tragically killed in the accident. I only knew Rachel for a brief moment, but I can tell you one reason why she merits the attention.
We engage in sometimes seemingly intractable problems in higher education, and yet the intention of our work is good and pushes us ever forward. When we finished our conversation, Rachel’s co-founder Emily Foote Williams told me that they excitedly talked about what was next—their motivation to put their big picture idea into action. Even in a time of extraordinary grief and loss, there are moments of light. It breaks my heart to think about it, but I am glad that Rachel’s last few encounters were filled with hope and passion for what’s next.
I hope that we will always be able to keep that sense of hope alive as we struggle with the challenges ahead in education.
It has been an honor writing for all of you.