Google’s ‘Education Evangelist’: Students Are Changing Faster Than Colleges (CHE)

APRIL 06, 2016

Google’s frontman on education is a guy named Jaime Casap. He grew up in Hell’s Kitchen. That’s before the hipsters took it over. He was raised on welfare. There was no guarantee he’d go to college. That background informs the advice he gives to young people today.

“Really what I tell students is to be proud of who they are. Oftentimes, kids who are growing up in poverty hide their poverty or don’t talk about their poverty, don’t talk about the way they grew up. I encourage them to own it to be who they are.”

Mr. Casap is one of the most visible people on the education innovation circuit. Not surprising. After all, he’s a top guy at one of the country’s most powerful tech companies. But more than that, Jaime Casap has become an important advocate for low-income and minority students. He even has the ear of the White House.

Here is an edited transcript of Mr. Casap’s conversation with The Chronicle.

Goldie Blumenstyk: Hello, I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, and welcome to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Re:Learning Podcast, a weekly look at the changing education landscape.

If Silicon Valley was looking for its Horatio Alger, Jaime Casap could be a perfect candidate. Son of a single, immigrant mother; some of the kids he grew up with in Hell’s Kitchen ended up in jail. He found his way to college at SUNY Brockport, and after some jobs in finance and consulting, he landed at Google 10 years ago.

When he gives talks, Casap doesn’t usually mentioned Google email for colleges, or Google Scholar, or any of the other products the company sells. He talks about himself. That’s deliberate. He puts himself out there as an example to other young people growing up today the way he did. People for whom the idea of going to college and getting a meaningful career still seems like an all-too-impossible dream. I caught up with Jaime Casap at an education conference last month, and I asked him if he ever worries that his success story makes it seems like the education challenges young people face today are already solved.

Jaime Casap: More than anything, one of the questions I get all the time is “How did you get out? How is it that you got out?” I get that question all the time. I try to redirect that question back to this idea that it’s not just me. I’m not some super genius, that there are millions of me out there, and it’s a combination of working hard, getting your education, and luck. That shouldn’t be the magic formula. It should just be education and hard work. Luck we should be able to manage better. I talk about my upbringing a lot because it demonstrates how important education is. It highlights that with education you can really accomplish anything.

Goldie Blumenstyk: Casap got his master’s at Arizona State, and he teaches there now — that is, when he’s not flying around the country doing talks or sitting beside Michelle Obama at a White House summit. He’s a big fan of ASU’s president, Michael Crow, and what that university has done to increase access and create new academic disciplines. But he said a lot of the rest of higher education still has a long way to go.

Jaime Casap: I think that there’s a tide turning in terms of innovation. I think a lot of what you see in innovation in education is happening in K-12, but we’re starting to see a switch into higher education. I remember talking to a CIO 10 years ago, and he said that technology would never be a differentiator for a student selecting a college. I think that that’s relatively still true, but I can give you a quick example my daughter has experienced.

She started her career at one school, and I won’t name the school, but every time she went into a class they told her, “You can’t bring your laptop into my class. You can’t use your laptop in my class.” That happened with three of four classes in her first semester, and she’s like, “I can’t do this. I spent four or five years in eighth grade, ninth grade, and high school using my computer to take notes, to write things, to look things up while teachers were speaking. You are able to trade binary options from USA as explained in this website about binary options and binary options brokers. It’s just part of who I am.” She left, and went back and got into Arizona State University, and so I think you’re starting to see more of that where innovation that’s happening in K-12 is starting to trickle up into higher education.

Goldie Blumenstyk: Have you ever walked to the back of the classroom, though, and looked at what the students are looking at when they have their laptops up? It is a lot of, sometimes, Facebook, and shopping, and you know —

Jaime Casap: Yeah, but part of that is, one, they have their phones. They can do this anyway. But the other part of it is — I experience this firsthand every time I get up to speak. When I get up to speak, there are no professors in the room that are there to tell you to shut down your computer. If I’m looking in the room like this, I get up to speak, everyone can have their devices. It’s up to me to engage my students. It’s up to me to engage the audience and hold their attention. And if you’re standing up on the top of the stage preaching down to a bunch of students every single day, eventually there will be times with kids will just wander off. It would make more sense to have those kids engaged in project-based learning. Have more collaborative-based learning. Maybe that’s really the issue here. It’s not that a professor can stand up on stage and talk for an hour, but instead having the kids more engaged in that education process.

[full article here.]

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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