Elyse Colgan - Class of 2003

Written for The Key Review - 2009-2010 Issue

Update: April 26, 2011 -- Elyse Colgan '03 was featured in the LA Times on 4/25/11 for her inspirational approach to teaching in Compton. Click here to read the Op-Ed, 'Education: The Magic of Hard Work'.

What did you do after graduating from Key School?

After graduating from Key School, I attended Princeton University. I majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and minored in finance. Upon graduating in 2007, I accepted an offer to play professional water polo in a Division I Italian league. I moved to Varese, Italy, a small town outside of Lake Como, and continued to explore my interests in water polo, travel and great food. One year and lots of pizza later, I returned to the United States and embarked upon my next adventure as an eighth grade math teacher in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts through the organization Teach For America. I taught Algebra 1 and Algebra Readiness at Charles R. Drew Middle School for two years and loved it! I also received a master’s degree in urban education from Loyola Marymount University.

What are you doing now?

I am currently residing in Santa Monica, California, and have just accepted a position on staff with Teach For America as a recruitment director. I am in charge of making sure we meet our ambitious recruiting goals in a portfolio comprising UC Santa Barbara, Pepperdine and Azusa Pacific University. I see my new role as a way to continue my impact on closing the achievement gap in our country, while also exploring my interests in business and entrepreneurship. While I am not sure what my long-term career goals are, I’m excited by the unknown and revel in the idea that there are still endless possibilities to explore. My next athletic adventure is training for the Vineman, Napa Valley’s Ironman, that takes place at the end of July 2011.

What do you remember most about your experience at Key School?

What stands out to me the most when I think about Key School is the energy and sense of community that pervades the campus. This is evident in every tradition—from the Halloween parade (that song gets stuck in my head at least once a month) to the Wye Island camping trips and graduation ceremony. I remember great conversations with close friends over Angie’s chicken sandwiches, amazing teachers who I called by their first names, and a gorgeous campus that still, to this day, feels like home.

Which faculty members do you remember most?

The faculty at Key School is what makes the school so phenomenal. Over the course of my fourteen years as an Obezag, there were many faculty members who stood out to me. Ms. Moo made me fall in love with the Phantom Tollbooth and creative writing in fifth grade. Mr. Carneal and Mr. Lord were amazing eighth grade English and civics teachers who pushed me to explore my perceptions of the world as it is, and as it should be. In Upper School, I always wanted to be in Mrs. Hill’s class because of her passion for English literature and the provocative conversations that naturally resulted as we explored traditional texts in new ways. Babette made me feel as though I was proficient enough in French to move to Paris. Doc Levantine made me want to be a scientist, and she reminded me, on a daily basis, of the important things—like sleep and drinking water—when my chlorinated brain was too overloaded to function. Mrs. Foster was always happy to see me no matter how ridiculous my trip to the health office was. Lastly, I remember Mrs. Favero always giving me feedback on papers, no matter when I called (late) or when the paper was due (soon, very soon).

Which faculty influenced you most?

There are so many faculty members that had a profound impact on me and it is impossible to list them all in this small space. Instead, I just want to say “THANK YOU” to all those who crossed my path during my time as a “lifer”—I am extremely grateful for the tools you gave me both in and out of the classroom.

As a graduate, how do you feel the program at Key School prepared you for college and beyond?

I’ve reflected on this question a lot during my two-year experience as a teacher in one of nation’s lowest performing schools. The juxtaposition of the educational opportunities available to my students in the community of Watts compared to ones I was afforded in Hillsmere is overwhelming. I feel very strongly that Key School prepared me to do well, both on the college level and post-graduation. Key School is a place where creativity and high-level thinking are the norm. You are not just advised to think outside of the box, you are expected to. I think above all, Key School provided me with the confidence that my opinion mattered. I have felt that I was uniquely prepared for both academic success and high leadership positions.

Do you keep in contact with any other Key School alumni?

My friends from Key School are family to me. Anna Noelle Favero ‘03, Kelvin Moulden ‘03, Sarah Casilio ‘03, Lindsay Officer ‘03, Liz Dierdorff (Birsner!) ‘03, Gabrielle Picard ‘03, and Jimmy Nelson ‘03 are all people I keep in touch with regularly. We also have a strong West Coast contingent—Trevor White ‘03 and Tim White ‘01 are holding down the city of LA with me—while Ali Dierdorff Looney ‘01, Krissy Olson ‘02, Jimmy Praley ‘03, and Sara Feldman ‘03 all live close by in San Diego.

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