Profile with Rachel Mazyck
Rachel Mazyck (North Carolina & Linacre 2005) is the President of Collegiate Directions, Inc (CDI). She was previously on the Chief Academic Officer’s team in the Baltimore City Public Schools and worked as an elementary school teacher with Teach for America in Mississippi. Rachel holds a DPhil in Educational Studies from the University of Oxford, a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from Harvard University and a BA in English with highest distinction from the University of North Carolina.
Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?
Rachel Mazyck: Geographically, home is in Maryland. I grew up halfway between D.C. and Baltimore and that’s where I moved back to after I left Oxford.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favorite childhood memory?
Rachel Mazyck: One that sticks out the most is a family dinner when I was seven or eight. We – my mom, my dad and younger brother, Marques – had just come back from a trip. I just remember it as a happy moment. My mom fixed taco salad, and since food is always important to me, that was exciting. We were playing a C.D. that was a family favorite and had just come in from playing outside. It was a happy family moment, and those are definitely the ones I treasured growing up.
Rhodes Project: What is one of your hobbies and why do you like it?
Rachel Mazyck: Cooking is one of my hobbies. I enjoy it primarily because I like to eat. It’s a way to be creative, take some risks and have some fun in a low-key way. Cooking also facilitates community. I love not only being able to cook, but also feeding people and starting conversation. Whether it’s with family or friends, I love community time at a table where everyone can eat, chat and laugh. I tend to like making soups that I can make in large quantities. I got my biggest soup pot while I was living in Oxford because it was so cold, I loved having hot soup all day, and I always had something to offer to people who stopped by to visit. I’m also a big fan of cooking lasagna and lemon bars.
Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about education?
Rachel Mazyck: I think a lot of it was sparked as I was growing up. I went to a private all-girls prep school from 7th grade through 12th grade. In the process, I recognized that I was having a very different educational experience than a number of my friends and family members. That was the start of it – recognizing that there was this divergence in trajectories simply because of the education we were receiving.
Secondly, I spent a few weeks in South Africa when I was in high school on a trip with my church. While I was there, I had a conversation with a math teacher in the township of QwaQwa. He asked me what classes I was taking the next year, which was my senior year of high school. I was telling him I would be taking calculus and we weren’t connecting. He didn’t understand what I was saying. I thought it was a language barrier, so I started to write out different calculus problems and talk about integrals and we still weren’t connecting. Math is supposed to be a fairly universal language, so I was really confused. I realized in the process of the conversation that he didn’t actually know what calculus was because he had never had the opportunity to learn it. He was teaching high school to kids my age and they would never have the chance to take calculus – at least in high school – because their teacher had never had the opportunity. I was struck by the disparity that exists depending on where you live and what options you have available to you, whether that’s disparity within the US or disparity between different countries and their educational systems. It really made it clear to me at that point, going into my senior year of high school, that education was an area I wanted to focus on.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about the work you are doing at Collegiate Directions, Inc.?
Rachel Mazyck: CDI is a non-profit that helps low-income first-generation-to-college students prepare for and get into college and then also complete college. We realize that only 11% of these types of students graduate in the US within six years currently. We are looking to change that number. 98% of our students who have come through our program have graduated from college.
We do a combination of academic skill-building and preparing for some of the standardized tests the students have to take. We walk them through the college application process, including figuring out which colleges they want on their college list. There is an extensive process of thinking through the development of the college list. We also help them through the financial aid application process and navigating that with both the student and their families. Then we stick with the students throughout college. We stay in touch with them every couple of weeks to see how things are going and to provide any support that they need or point them to resources on their campus that can be helpful. Excitingly, we recently started an alumni group for all of our students who have graduated from college. So we’re still keeping up with them, albeit with a lighter touch now that they’re out of college.
I’m working with a really great team of people who do a lot of hard work. The students come into the program ready to work hard too. They are just looking for the support, information and advice that I had by virtue of the fact that my parents went to college and that I had someone at my college who was really knowledgeable. In many cases, our students figure out a lot of it on their own, so we just try to help with the expertise that we have in the process.
Rhodes Project: I read that you spent a few years with Teach for America in Mississippi. Can you recall a memorable teaching moment from your time there?
Rachel Mazyck: I can think of a couple moments. One is happier than the other.
We had a lot of fun in my classroom and read-aloud time was one of those special moments during the day. We read all kinds of books, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and a lot of poetry. I taught fourth grade – so nine through twelve-year-olds. One of the things about teaching children that age is that you have to be able to make things engaging. We spent some fun times trying to conjugate the verb “to be”. It was a bit of a challenge for some of my students, so we sang it to the tune of “Frère Jacques.” I now have recordings of all of us singing the conjugation song.
The other memory that stands out is of a student who came into school one morning. He was supposed to do a journal assignment and was not cooperating. He had his head down on the desk, refusing to do anything and looking rather obstinate. I can’t say that all my days of teaching were like this, but on this particular day I did have the presence of mind to check in with him and find out what was going on. I ended up taking him outside where he tearfully shared that there had been a drug bust in his apartment complex the night before. His mom had swept them up and taken him out but he hadn’t been able to get his shoes so he was wearing someone else’s and he was upset by that. We talked about it and I encouraged him to write about it and use that as his journal entry instead of the prompt I had given that morning. For the rest of the day he was shaken up, but he got his work done and was able to focus. That story always reminds me that teaching is a highly interpersonal venture. You have specific content and skills that you want students to learn and you have to be really creative and structured about the way you do that. But you are teaching real people and real people go through real things. Sometimes they just need to be heard, not for an excuse as to why they can’t do their work, but certainly as a way of recognizing their dignity and their humanity. It is important to see them as people before you see them as students.
Rhodes Project: What advice would you offer to a young woman considering a career in education?
Rachel Mazyck: I would really encourage people to recognize that work in education is big picture and systemic and has the possibility of having great impact on a large number of people, but it’s also deeply personal. It relies strongly on personal connections and individual passion. What I have found to be really important in any work in education is making sure that I keep both of those in mind. You want to have your eye on the policies and the overall impact of educational decisions on the larger group of students, adults or members affected. You also want to keep the individual stories. You want to be in the work in a way that allows you to engage with individual people and understand what the impact of education is for them. I think when you can keep both of those in view, you make wiser decisions. You can find a place that you are passionate about and really sink your teeth into it while engaging with the broader context. I think that having both the big picture view and the personal view are essential to work in education.
Rhodes Project: Who are some of your mentors?
Rachel Mazyck: I have had the privilege of having a number of really great mentors. There are so many to pick from. The first who comes to mind is Nina Marks, the woman who was the president of CDI before I stepped in. She was actually my college counselor in high school. When she left the high school to start her own college counseling business, she also started CDI. She has been a really great model of what it means to have expertise in a specific area and use it to the benefit of those who don’t have the option of getting that information themselves. She is a really gracious woman who cares a lot about the people she works with. If you watch her interact with students, you see that she really has a knack for understanding people in a way that’s made a huge difference in her work.
Another mentor would be Sonja Brookins Santelises. She is the chief academic officer of Baltimore City Public Schools and was my boss when I worked there. She is a remarkable mix of someone who has a really strong intellect, someone who is really passionate about family and someone who is really passionate about her faith. To work alongside her has just been great. She has three kids, an important job in Baltimore City and a deep passion for the students and teachers with whom she works. Since leaving the job I’ve been able to spend more time with her outside of work. We’ll get together with her and her family every now and then. It’s so much fun to see someone who lives such an integrated life. She doesn’t have a work box and family box that don’t ever connect. I think it’s easy to compartmentalize and to try to keep them separate. It comes with a lot of pressure – for women in particular – to keep them separate, but I don’t know if it works very well that way. Sonja’s life – faith, family, and work – is incredibly integrated. She’s a lot of fun to be around and I have definitely learned a lot from her.
Rhodes Project: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
Rachel Mazyck: If I could have one superpower it would be to know the right question to ask in any situation. I think there a lot of times when people don’t need to be told things. They can figure them out on their own. They just need to be asked the right question. Trying to figure out what the question is that will trigger their own learning or their own reflection is always kind of tricky. I would love to be able to always know the right one to ask.
Rhodes Project: What is something you are looking forward to right now?
Rachel Mazyck: I am going to Arizona with a group of high school girls from my church to work with a church there. We’ll be doing some service in their local community. I’m really looking forward to that. Again, I like to mix individual interactions with bigger policy questions and more systemic work. It’s also just fun to hang out with high school students. They have a huge amount of energy, are incredibly passionate and ask a lot of great questions. It’s always rejuvenating to spend time with them. What the team is hoping is that we’ll get some new ideas about how to serve people back in our area simply by going to a different context and thinking outside the box a little bit while we’re there.
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