ThinkFWD - Broken Promise? Higher Ed and the Path to Upward Mobility


February 11, 2015 at 7pm


Microsoft NERD Center
1 Memorial Dr
11th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States


Andi Dankert

ThinkFWD is a quarterly speaker series focusing on important issues at the intersection of tech and politics.

Institutions of higher education have been described as “great equalizers,” giving Americans from all backgrounds a chance at social and economic mobility. But today, many argue that colleges are sharpening class divides rather than blurring them. How can we ensure that higher ed is a springboard for opportunity? And how can we create career pathways so students from diverse backgrounds can break into high growth industries like the technology sector?


Dr. Nish Sonwalkar is an unconventional educator, more comfortable teaching online with adaptive technology than lecturing at a podium in a brick-and mortar classroom. After joining the MIT faculty, Sonwalkar realized that a one-size-fits-all pedagogical style would not suit his creative, complex, multifaceted student body. Marrying his technological expertise with his classroom experiences, he began creating new learning platforms for students, including two that are still in use throughout more than 800 courses at MIT. He is the former founding director of Hypermedia Teaching Facility.

Lani Guinier is a professor at Harvard Law and is active in civil rights in higher education. She has written extensively on issues of race, gender, and democratic decision-making. Lani has sought new ways of approaching questions like affirmative action while calling for candid public discourse on these topics. 

Dr. Nancy Hoffman is a Vice President and Senior Advisor at Jobs for the Future, a national non-profit in Boston, focused on improving educational and workforce outcomes for low-income young people and adults.  Dr. Hoffman is the co-lead of the Pathways to Prosperity State Network with Bob Schwartz (Harvard Graduate School of Education/HGSE).  Hoffman has held teaching and administrative posts at Brown, Temple, Harvard, FIPSE, M.I.T. and elsewhere.  She has also served as a consultant for the education policy unit of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Her most recent book is Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life, (Harvard Education Press, 2011). Hoffman holds a B.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She serves on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.  She teaches a course on philanthropy, non-profits and school reform at HGSE. 

Dr. Vijay Kumar provides leadership for sustainable technology-enabled educational innovation at MIT. In his prior roles at MIT as Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Assistant Provost and Director of Academic Computing, as well as at other institutions, Vijay has been responsible for strategy development and leading units engaged in the effective integration of information technology and media services in education.

Vijay was the Principal Investigator of OKI (Open Knowledge Initiative), an MIT-led collaborative project to develop an architecture for enterprise educational applications. Vijay is a member of the Advisory Committee of MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW). He is the Executive officer for MIT’s Council on Educational Technology. He was a member of the steering committee for I-Campus, the MIT-Microsoft Alliance initiative for educational technology. His experience also includes programs for teacher education and planning for technology integration in K-12 education in Maine and Massachusetts. He currently serves on the Massachusetts STEM Council’s Network Operations Board. 

The Panel will be moderated by Sasha Post, The Director of Policy Planning at 


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