Award poster with the title in grey and white, an icon with a lightbulb surrounded by two laurel leaves, and fifteen black and white images of the winners.

Announcing Our 2016 Social Innovation Award Finalists

The finalists for this year's Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award are as diverse as they are impactful when it comes to the evolving face of education.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The fifth edition of Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award has no shortage of creative, ground-breaking entrepreneurs on our list of finalists.

The award recognizes alumni whose work exemplifies innovation and our core values; they are addressing education inequity across different areas, including early childhood education, teacher development, and social justice.

Our 15 finalists were selected from a pool of 149 applications—one of the most diverse pools to date—with half of all applicants being women and 43 percent of applicants identifying as people of color. In addition, we presented a new track focused on broad student outcomes and will be providing funding to more of our entrepreneurs.

Learn more about our finalists, competing in three tracks: Overall, Pilot, and Pre-Pilot.

Overall Track


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Louise Baigelman (Boston ’09)
Story Shares

“When I think of what we are doing with Story Shares, I still think of individual students. And then I think of the potential to reach millions more of them.”

Louise is the co-founder and Executive Director of Story Shares, a literacy hub that addresses the needs of struggling readers in middle school, high school, and beyond. Story Shares provides a digital platform to enable writers, educators, and students to create and publish Relevant Reads. These books cover a range of age, interest, and reading levels, and are enhanced with features to make reading more accessible and fun.

Headshot of a smiling young adult female in a white blouse.

Kelly Lambrinatos (St. Louis ’07)

"My mission is to ensure that children thrive on their own terms, and ultimately, have the opportunity to become influential contributors to their communities."

Kelly is the Executive Director and co-founder of VOCEL: Viewing Our Children as Emerging Leaders, a nonprofit early childhood education organization. VOCEL, founded by Kelly and business partner Jesse Ilhardt (Chicago ‘08) in 2014, was created to unleash the leadership and potential in all young children through communication-focused early childhood education programming. 

A smiling young adult male with a goatee in a black t-shirt stands in a park, trees are in the background.

Kalani Leifer (NY ‘08)

"Teaching is the most entrepreneurial job I've ever had. Now I'm trying to bring that same hustle and creativity to the next big challenge facing my former students and their peers: overcoming underemployment."

Kalani is the founder and Executive Director of COOP, a nonprofit connecting urban public college grads to meaningful careers in tech, media, and design. “Overcoming underemployment” is its mission, and the community aims to launch 10,000 careers by 2025. COOP has been established in New York City and will add a San Francisco Bay Area branch this fall.

Headshot of a smiling young adult male in a pink collared shirt.

Eric Leslie (Philadelphia ’04)
Union Capital Boston

"Through teaching and organizing, my anger about the conditions of urban education and the enormity of the systemic challenges drove me to seek disruptive solutions to the challenges that can be overcome when people unite and work together."

In 2014, Eric founded Union Capital Boston (UCB), which connects the dots between existing resources and community members in order to increase opportunities for families in order to achieve educational equity. Members join UCB through educational partners and engage in rewards-based community building, resulting in improved outcomes for schools, students, and families.

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Colin Seale (D.C. Region ’04)

“I want to create a world where critical thinking is no longer a luxury good because every teacher has the tools and skills to teach critical thinking to every student.”

In 2015, Colin founded thinkLaw, a Common Core-aligned program that helps teachers use real-life legal cases to teach critical thinking to all students. In addition to winning the Shark Tank: One Day competition at TFA’s 25th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C., thinkLaw has been awarded the ACLU of Nevada’s Community Juvenile Justice Award for ensuring that critical thinking is no longer a luxury good.

Pilot Track


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Jacob Allen (Chicago ’13)
pilotED Schools


“The advancement of one’s life does not occur without first believing in one’s self.”

Jacob is the co-founder and CEO of pilotED Schools, an emerging identity-centered charter school in Chicago. Focusing on the development of a healthy identity, the pilotED Charter Schools program prepares students and families to become leaders with a strong sense of self, agency, and enduring academic competitiveness.​

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Bryan Boyce (South Dakota ’09)
Cow Tipping Press

“What can fundamentally new ways of relating to each other do for both people with and without developmental disabilities? We've just scratched the surface of possibility.”

Bryan is the founder and Director of Cow Tipping Press, a nonprofit organization that teaches and publishes writing by adults with developmental disabilities. As the sibling of a brother with developmental disabilities, Bryan knows firsthand the value and richness of exchange across neurologies. He seeks to give others this opportunity through the often inventive, radically self-representative writing of Cow Tipping students.

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Michelle Ching (Bay Area ’13)

“I believe it’s important that educators play a major role in innovating to solve the problems that persist in education. Teachers know most intimately which issues are important and how best to tackle them.”

Michelle is the founder and CEO of Literator, an app that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance while providing analysis and guidance. Administrators use the insights gleaned from teacher inputs to allow them to make data-driven decisions and provide professional development or plan strategic interventions. Students and parents can see learning progress in real-time, making them feel more empowered in the process.

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Kimberly Mitchell (Los Angeles ’91)

"Sometimes awareness is all that is needed to radically change behavior. If a Fitbit can transform our health and fitness, I believe that Earshot can transform the way we teach and learn."

Kimberly is the co-founder of Inquiry Partners, a professional learning organization, and an innovative teacher feedback tool called Earshot, which helps teachers measure their ability to support students’ 21st century learning skills, e.g., communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking, by offering concise visual data and support.

A smiling young adult male in a light blue collared shirt.

Karthik Soora (Houston ’11)
One Jump

“With your help, we know that our students…can become empowered to become the next generation of leaders and college graduates in America.”

Karthik is currently working on One Jump, a web platform to connect underserved students to enrichment opportunities to help them take the leap to college and establish a streamlined digital pipeline for low-income students across America. Students can explore their interests, sign up for text message reminders of deadlines, and can even get their teachers and parents involved to keep them accountable.

Pre-Pilot: Broader Student Outcomes Track


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Sabina Bharwani (New York ’10)
Hello World Tech Studio


“We owe it to ourselves and future generations to see how the technology industry can be transformed when led by more than just a privileged and select few.”

Sabina is the founder of Hello World, an enrichment program that addresses the staggering lack of diversity in leadership roles in the technology industry by providing access to high-impact knowledge, skills, and services and by addressing society’s biased belief system about the capabilities of oppressed groups. Hello World offers expeditionary learning experiences based on today’s high in-demand competencies while delivering a platform for community engagement and advocacy.

A headshot of an adult female in a red blazer, against a light brown background.

Shree Chauhan (Miami-Dade ’05)
Parents in Partnership

“When parents harness their power, they can build better schools and stronger communities. That's the movement Parents in Partnership will ignite.”

Shree launched Parents in Partnership (PiP) to empower low-­income parents to lead positive change in their children’s schools and communities by establishing trust between parents and teachers, while addressing time and knowledge barriers to engagement. Tailored for child, PiP provides personalized coaching at home so parents can support learning, connect with teachers, and develop advocacy skills to address educational inequities.

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Jamie Jenkins (Atlanta ’07)
Building Opportunities & Opening Minds (BOOM)

“Until we quest for freedom in ourselves, our quest for freedom in the world will be fruitless. My ancestors taught me this. Life called me to do this. With BOOM our children will lead this.”

Jamie is the founder of BOOM, which seeks to reconnect children of Black-African descent to their ancestral history and heritage of ingenuity and enterprise that was systematically buried through slavery, apartheid, and anti-Black racism. BOOM will enlist, educate, and empower young Black visionaries to be leaders who cultivate consciousness and collective progress for Black people and ultimately counteract systemic racism and oppression.

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Lavon Powell (Charlotte ’12)
Jabari's Lab

“Science is ubiquitous. And much like life, full of innumerable opportunities of learning and exploration.”

Lavon is the CEO and founder of Jabari’s Lab, a monthly subscription box service that strives to close the educational gap and increase the exposure that black males aged 7 to 13 have with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The boxes will be filled with fun, relatable, and engaging STEM products to enhance and grow students’ skills, while exposing them to new opportunities and STEM career paths.

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Rachel Willis (Georgia ’04)
Elevating Equity

Ignoring the elephant in the room does not make it go away. Neither does ignoring the impact racial bias has on a student’s educational outcomes.”

Rachel, whose education was influenced by racial disparities, is the founder and CEO of Elevating Equity, an organization that creates spaces for educators and community members to examine race and ensure every student receives an equitable education. Its formula is simple: Start conversations about race and don’t stop until every individual who impacts a student’s educational outcome is anti-racist and culturally responsive.


Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.