Uncategorized | October 4, 2013

Indy-area Alumni Change Education at Home and Abroad

60.7 million children around the globe are not enrolled in school.

In a world where receiving a quality education is not an equal opportunity, two William & Mary alumni are working to make sure every child has the chance to learn. Both residents of Indianapolis (in fact, both residents of Broadway Street, living across the street from one another), Patrick Herrel ’05 and George Srour ’05 are changing the lives of young people worldwide.

But before they set out to change the world, the two started a little smaller – with the W&M community. They met while participating in the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, which supports the development of students through community involvement. Participants develop community-based research skills and form action plans for community engagement.

During his time at the College, Srour participated in many service activities. He raised money to help replace trees on campus that were downed by Hurricane Isabel. During an internship to Uganda through the United Nations’ World Food Program, Srour visited an orphanage in Kampala. When he returned to campus, he began the Christmas in Kampala campaign, which raised funds for the construction of a new school.

The trip made him realize there was a sustainable way to help the children in sub-Saharan Africa, where half the world’s out-of-school children live. “I realized I could do a lot more than just Christmas in Kampala,” said Srour. “I had an entrepreneurial spirit and I found a niche that hadn’t yet been served.” In 2006 he started his own company, Building Tomorrow, which works to build schools in sub- Saharan Africa. Building Tomorrow’s model creates clear guidelines for what is the local community’s responsibility, what is the local government’s responsibility and what is Building Tomorrow’s responsibility. The longer-term focus and clarity sets Building Tomorrow apart from other similar organizations in the United States.

“We can’t afford to continue this, to have so many people out of school,” said Srour. “We need to captivate the minds of young people and teach them they can be a force of good.”

The new schools have served to spur change in African communities. New roads have been built, scholarships funded, teachers organized and housing constructed as the result of communities being empowered to help themselves. The organization also empowers young people in the United States to invest their resources in providing students with access to an education. Since the founding of Building Tomorrow, thousands of students across the United States have raised money for the construction of schools, have developed a connection to their global community and have gained understanding of the opportunities we take for granted.

Herrel considered the opportunities that he took for granted when he graduated and it was what led him to his job in education.

During his time at W&M, Herrel was a driving force behind the Alan Buzkin Bone Marrow Drive, which has become one of the most successful outreach programs in the country. After graduation, he considered law school, but then met a recruit for Teach for America. The recruit made him realize there were tangible ways to address civil issues right away without spending years in law school. He told Herrel that equal access to education was a pressing issue facing future generations.

“I sat back and acknowledged the degree of my own privilege,” said Herrel. “Creating these opportunities for kids really fired me up.”

Herrel joined the organization, teaching high school civics and economics in Charlotte, N.C. He eventually turned to recruiting for Teach for America. When a position opened at The Mind Trust, an education organization based in Indianapolis, Srour and other friends contacted him, telling him, “You’ve got to do this.”

The Mind Trust aims not only to grow the capacity of excellent charter schools in Indianapolis, but to bring the best charter models to the city – schools that show that all students, regardless of circumstance, can achieve great results.

Currently in Indianapolis, there are 40,000 public school students and less than half of those have access to quality schools. Herrel is in charge of the Education Entrepreneur Fellowship Program, which supports its fellows as they launch their new education adventures in Indianapolis. The initiatives that have come out of this program have helped improve student learning and the quality of K-12 school systems.

“There has been persistent failure to provide equal access to education, said Herrel. “When the system is not serving these students, we have to take a new approach. I want a system created where all students have equal opportunities. We will continue to make student-focused changes and push for what all students deserve, to give them schools that expect them to achieve on a national scale.”

Herrel and Srour were recently named to the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which recognizes top innovators and entrepreneurs in the nation.

“My first thought was I made it just in the nick of time,” said Srour. “But seriously, I know a lot of people on that list; it’s humbling to be included on there with people I look up to.”

Herrel is not surprised there are two William & Mary names on Forbes’ list, due to the College’s emphasis on community engagement. “William & Mary is all about serving and getting involved,” said Herrel. “It’s an ethos – that is what we do and it’s not optional. We have churned out some great leaders and I’m really proud of our alumni.”