In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Brooks Garber '00, founder and CEO of AcademME, recounts how his positive experiences at Haverford led directly to his work in education policy and reform, and why he stays connected to the alumni community.
Can you recount a memorable Haverford faculty member?
There are many faculty members who left substantial impressions, but one who increasingly stands out as I get older is Mr. Cunningham. He was our middle school principal - talk about a difficult job - and filled in whenever and wherever the school needed him. It isn't a classroom lesson, but rather life lessons that Mr. Cunningham exemplified. His calmness in chaos, his kindness, his positive attitude, and his respect for us as young men were lost on me during middle school, but looking back, these are critical skills for life.
I remember one time in sixth grade, I was running to the cafeteria and attempted to jump over one of the walls between Crosman and the lunch room front door. I didn't fully make it. My back leg dragged behind me slamming into the top of the flagstone mid-shin and cutting my leg wide open (I still have a great scar). It took a second to realize what happened and then when I started feeling the pain, I didn't know what to do. I hobbled back towards Crosman and luckily Mr. Cunningham was walking out of the building. He picked me up, rushed me to the nurse, dealt with getting me to the ER, handled my parents, and made a painful (and kinda scary) situation as easy as it could be. When I came back to school the next day, I was pretty embarrassed, but Mr. Cunningham made me laugh about the situation and put me at ease. He was the type of person we all hope to be.
Can you trace your career path from Haverford to founding AcademME?
There is a direct line from Haverford to my career. During my sophomore year in college, I was in a communications class where we gave weekly speeches. We selected our own topics, and I gave a speech on single-sex public charter schools as an education reform alternative. I loved my Haverford experience and found it so odd that the U.S. public education system wouldn't offer single-sex public education as an option -- at the time (2002), there were only 3 single-sex public schools in the U.S. To take advantage of any alternative to traditional public education, you had to buy it, yet the populations most in-need of alternatives (poor, minority, and urban) were the ones least able to afford the options. I felt like there was a complete disconnect between need and government services.
My experiences at Haverford led to my speech topic, which led me to professors at Vanderbilt studying education policy, who led me to working in and with local and state governments on education policy, which led to a Master's in Public Policy focused on education policy, which opened doors in D.C. where I came to work on federal education policy, and finally to my founding of AcademME. AcademME is a solution to a problem in education. Individuals need a way to identify what skills they need for career advancement, and education providers desperately need an affordable way to connect and recruit students into their programs.I've reconnected with folks I didn't know lived in D.C., made new friends from other classes, and developed new business relationships. It is amazing to see how the school has grown and improved too. When hearing about all of Haverford's accomplishments, you can't help but be proud to be part of such an amazing place.
What do you hope to achieve with AcademME?
AcademME connects learning and earning. Our immediate goal is to help individuals make smarter decisions about career enhancing education. Increasingly, it is clear our population isn't ready for the 21st century. Only 45% of the US workforce has any education beyond high school, but by 2020 70% of available U.S. jobs will require a high-school diploma plus some sort of advanced education. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are new competitors dramatically chaining the face of work, and because the pace of technological change is so rapid now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects everyone will have to upskill at least 3 to 4 times over their career to stay economically relevant. Lifelong learning is the new normal.
AcademME helps people navigate this new environment. I love the opportunity to see how we can make the educational system work better for students and providers. Individuals can understand the specific skills they need to learn to achieve their career goals and what education programs can teach them their needed skills, based on their own customizable search criteria. At the same time, we help education providers cost-effectively recruit students. Some providers now spend $15K per new student in marketing and recruitment costs. There is a strong connection between increased marketing expenditures and rising tuition. We want to lower this cost. When the workforce needs advanced education to stay employed, it shouldn't be hard for individuals to find quality career enhancing education aligned to their needs, nor should providers have to spend prohibitive amounts recruiting students.
Eventually we intend to work our way backwards to undergraduate education too, and align an individual's career interests to help with their college, grad school, and lifelong learning decisions.
Why is it important for you to stay connected with the Haverford community?
I think I've attended the Washington, D.C. Regional Reception almost every year since 2008 or 2009. Aside from the great socks (thanks, Drew Delaney '01!), it is a great opportunity to stay connected with the community. I've reconnected with folks I didn't know lived in D.C., made new friends from other classes, and developed new business relationships. It is amazing to see how the school has grown and improved too. When hearing about all of Haverford's accomplishments, you can't help but be proud to be part of such an amazing place. I also think it is important for younger alumni (especially those in college who attend the reception) to see the lifelong benefits of being a Haverford graduate.
Brooks Garber '00 is the founder and CEO of AcademME, an education technology company connecting learning and earning. AcademME helps individuals smartly upskill at the graduate / continuing education level. Brooks' career has focused on education reform and improving how the education system works for, and with students. In 2011, Brooks began his own upskilling journey, culminating with his JD and MBA in 2016. AcademME was born from Brooks' frustrations searching for JD / MBA programs, the challenges he experienced working for a university launching online programs, and a Houzz commercial. Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.