“The rules of society are supposed to be the same for everyone. It’s like a poker game, but it’s important to recognize that the game is played very differently depending on the number of chips you have been given to enter the game.” -Cheryl Ingram, USA

Education today is full of opportunities and obstacles – and more often than not, the two go hand-in-hand. For Cheryl Ingram and the students she works with each day at Year Up Puget Sound, overcoming obstacles in education is simply a matter of how many opportunities are available. “The biggest challenge is closing the opportunity divide for young adults,” Ingram says. “We have a diverse population that is constantly facing issues of homelessness, poverty, and – depending on their zip code – not receiving the same opportunities as others who are born into different circumstances. Our country has to overcome institutionalized discrimination in order to address the inequities that young and older adults, especially those of color, face.”                                            

Year Up Puget Sound (YUPS) is a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits, and corporate internships. According to YUPS, 15,000 young adults in the Puget Sound region do not have access to livable wage careers or higher education. As Academic Director of the program, Ingramprovides strategic vision and leadership, while ensuring departmental alignment with site-wide and national learning goals. Ingram and her YUPS colleagues work to give these students access to curricula that provides a rigorous, relevant, world-based academic experience.

Having grown up in a low-income household herself, educational equality and equity is very personal to Ingram. “…This is why I fight so hard for marginalized and oppressed populations who face institutional discrimination,” she tells us. “This is what it is about and why no matter how tough things get, you don’t ever give up.”

I’m proud to share today’s Daily Edventure with Cheryl Ingram.

What inspired you to become an educator?

During my undergraduate studies, I was working during a summer program for the Boys & Girls Club of Omaha-North Club (Now the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands). I was working as a teaching specialist and teaching basic education in math, history, reading, etc. to children ages 8-12. Our club was so understaffed at the time I was managing groups ranging from 25-40 kids in one session. They used to drive me crazy!

I was working with a major population of children who had come from low income families – a majority African American — and the last thing these students wanted to do in a summer program was learn about reading, writing, etc. I had to think of very creative and innovative ways to keep them engaged. I mean, we were learning how to do math through pool, basketball and dodge ball. They were learning to write and read by creating their own stories that were personal to their experiences.

Growing up low income, I never realized the amount of cultural richness you could utilize to engage learning. I remember at the end of the program, the unit director Dave Felici said to me, “You need to go into education, it is your calling.” Although I finished my undergraduate work in Communication Studies, his comment stuck with me for a very long time and to this day, I will never forget that statement.

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator? How did you feel at the time?

A defining moment in my career was when I was working on my dissertation at New Mexico State University. I did research on nine individual students who shared their most interpersonal life stories with me about their struggles through their educational trajectories.

I had two participants who at the time had faced long waves of homelessness and grew up below the poverty line for most of their lives. I remember one participant sharing his story that involved sleeping on people’s back porches with his mother and his siblings throughout high school. Another who shared that he used to sleep in his car throughout part of his college career. Those are two of many stories that you experience students facing in our educational system.

As I sat through those interviews I started to remember that this is what it’s about: working with students who have such experiences and working with them to improve their quality of life. I reflected on growing up within a low income family and neighborhood that faced its own challenges. I started mentoring and working with these students on projects and throughout their education. To sit at graduation and watch many of them walk across the stage was a major moment of pride for me as an educator.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

Technology has the potential to truly change the way we educate on many different levels. With equitable access and resources, it allows for the nourishment and flourishing of creativity for students. It has the potential to close the opportunity divide that many people, especially young adults, ages 18 to 24, face in society.

Our job market is changing and there is more and more of a demand for talented people with technical skill sets. With the right experience and opportunity for such young people, the potential to create change is always evolving. Here at Year Up Puget Sound, where I currently work as an academic director, we are working to create a major catalyst for change to close the opportunity divide here in Seattle, and across multiple cities within the U.S.

We recently piloted the Microsoft IT Academy program and used the content to help 50 percent of our students achieve over 92 Microsoft Technology Associate and Microsoft Office Specialist certifications in multiple areas of IT. It is amazing to see not only what the certifications can do for confidence, but the opportunities that these certifications open up for our students in the job market and the potential to further higher educational opportunities.

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

I’m excited about the way technology is evolving and the opportunities it’s opening up for those who may not otherwise have had the chance to level the playing field. The rules of society are supposed to be the same for everyone. It’s like a poker game, but it’s important to recognize that the game is played very differently depending on the number of chips you have been given to enter the game.


About Cheryl Ingram

Academic Director

Year Up Puget Sound

Seattle, Washington, USA

  • Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska
  • Educational background: Doctorate in Education, MA in Education, Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Website I check every day: www.philanthropy.com
  • Favorite childhood memory: Playing curb ball in my neighborhood,
  • Favorite book: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Microsoft IT Academy
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”


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