TFA Alumni-Founded Organization Helps Kids Get a Jump on Their Future
From career educators and physicians to civil rights attorneys and entrepreneurs, Teach For America is a bold and diverse network comprising leaders from all walks and sectors. "Voices of Change: A Leadership Series" highlights some of the corps members and alumni who are tackling the systemic problems of inequity and partnering with others to make meaningful progress for kids and communities.
Shiroy Aspandiar (Houston ’10) is a co-founder of One Jump, a non-profit organization that curates one of the largest databases of enrichment opportunities in the nation. Opportunities include pre-college, volunteer, scholarship, summer camp, college fellowship, and youth initiatives—the kind of experiences that can transform a young life.
“We aspired to create a one-stop shop so our students could seamlessly search for programs and opportunities catered to them, so we did just that,” Aspandiar says. That's what One Jump is—a search engine that allows students to effectively search through thousands of curated opportunities on one web platform.
THE DECISION TO ACT
“There’s a big difference in the access to social capital for students from predominantly upper-class backgrounds compared to that of most of my students in Houston,” Aspandiar says.
Aspandiar grew up in a South Asian household where he was often encouraged to perform well in school and aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer.
He attended the University of Oregon, majored in political science and philosophy, and initially intended to pursue law school. It wasn’t until Aspandiar’s junior year of college that he thought of teaching as an option.
“I vividly remember seeing this lawn sign on campus that said ‘Only 1 in 10 students from low-income neighborhoods will graduate from college. If this upsets you, do something about it.’ Teach For America’s sign caught my attention. The disparity was so stark that initially I didn’t believe the statistic was true. It led me to research the achievement gap and ultimately to begin my journey to learn about and combat injustice.”
In his senior year, instead of applying to law school, he applied to the corps.
CORPS EXPERIENCE BROUGHT NEW AWARENESS
Aspandiar found himself teaching in Houston, though he had never been to Texas before.
As a 22-year-old teacher, Aspandiar grew up overnight. “You're now responsible for the hundred-plus students in front of you looking to you as a leader,” Aspandiar says.
For Aspandiar, teaching AP world history and psychology at a predominantly Hispanic, low-income school was challenging and fulfilling. The year he started in the classroom, only 1 out of 80 students passed their AP world history exam. By the time he left, more than 60 percent of his students were passing, exceeding the national average for all students.
“When you’re putting in the time and effort to empower your students, you begin to see the impact of your work. Over my four years of teaching, I began to truly appreciate the pivotal role teachers play in their students’ lives and also learned that there was so much more to be done,” Aspandiar says.
After four years of teaching, Aspandiar sought to increase his impact. He was accepted to Harvard University to pursue his master’s degree in education. After graduation, he went on to KIPP Houston High School to serve as Dean of Instruction.
“I learned a tremendous amount at KIPP serving in administration, but I was always drawn to entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, I could take ideas and bring them into existence to solve real problems,” Aspandiar says.
With that, he leapt into One Jump full time.
BAND OF TFA ALUMNI GET ONE JUMP OFF THE GROUND
One Jump has four co-founders: Aspandiar; Juanita Parra, a former student at Eastwood Academy High School; Raj Salhotra (Houston ’13); and Karthik Soora (Houston ’11).
In Houston, Aspandiar, Salhotra, and Soora noticed the lack of social capital separating their students from others at more affluent schools.
“If you ask an affluent family what their children are doing this summer, there’s almost always an intriguing answer: they’re taking lessons, going abroad, have an internship lined up, are attending a summer program at their dream school, or have another equally tremendous experience accessible to them. However, for many of my students, they either did not know those opportunities existed or lacked the means to participate in opportunities that contribute to their learning. They tended to have a job to help out their families,” Aspandiar says.
Soon, they began researching, connecting, and helping students apply to various enrichment opportunities based on their needs, talents, and skillsets.
Aspandiar recalled one example with his student, Jorge. “Jorge had never been on a plane before, and he got the opportunity to go to Cornell University for a pre-college engineering camp. They built a solar-powered home, and having that opportunity changed his perspective on what was possible. As a high school junior, he came back to school on fire. College was no longer this abstract thing. It was something tangible, concrete. He experienced it—now it mattered. Today, he’s finishing off his junior year at the University of Rochester’s engineering college and doing research over the summer."
To broaden students’ perspective of what they could achieve, Aspandiar and team started with a series of short how-to videos. Bit by bit, they got more feedback from students and decided to create an accessible online database of curated opportunities for first-generation and underserved students.
After fleshing out the idea for the nonprofit in 2013, they were accepted into OwlSpark, Rice University’s Startup Accelerator.
“The program gave us a crash course in how to pitch, how to find a board and capital, as well as how to market and position,” Aspandiar says.
ONE JUMP TODAY
Since formally launching in 2014, One Jump has been accepted into other social impact incubators such as Good Works Houston and was a finalist for Teach For America’s 2016 Social Innovation Award. They were also one of five social ventures selected for Notre Dame’s Irish Impact Zielsdorf Family Pitch Competition and were selected as semifinalists for the Camelback Fellowship.
Today, Aspandiar is executive director of One Jump, while his co-founders are taking their next steps in education. Karthik Soora is pursuing his MBA at Yale's School of Management, Raj Salhotra is about to graduate from Harvard Law, and Juanita Parra is graduating soon from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.
Meanwhile, One Jump continues to grow. The platform has nearly 3,000 student users in more than 164 schools in 23 states in addition to more than 135 teachers and counselors.
Aspandiar cites Teach For America’s diverse network in connecting One Jump to leaders, schools, and talent.
“Because of my connection to the corps, I’m able to tap into a network of 56,000 alumni in just about every domain all across the country,” Aspandiar says. “They immediately understand the value of One Jump’s mission, whether they’re a graphic designer or a teacher.”
Aspandiar’s team also taps into Teach For America’s alumni network to ensure that students gain access to the portal. “Frequently, we reach students through guidance counselors or teachers at school systems where there is an alumni presence,” he shares. “Once students and parents realize there is an online portal that will connect them with summer enrichment and scholarship opportunities, they are eager to engage.” The One Jump team doesn’t stop there. They also provide students with mentors in the Houston area to offer free counseling on college readiness. This program, Students With Ambition Go To College, or SWAG To College, is another critical tool in closing the gap for kids.
“I think One Jump is an amazing organization because you can explore careers at a young age,” enthuses Houston ISD Eastwood Academy High School student Nayeli Saldana, who recently participated in the University of Houston Summer Engineering program. “They have opportunities in the medical, STEM, and business fields, and you’re also able to network with people from across those sectors.” Nayeli and her sister Mayeli have had the chance to take part in several summer programs through One Jump.
Forging strategic partnerships for One Jump and developing a robust internship program are two other areas for Aspandiar. “The internship program is another way to connect folks with real-world work experience,” he says. “Our interns are enrolled in colleges nationwide.” Many of these interns are originally from Houston, were raised in the communities One Jump serves, and work to support the organization in a variety of roles, from bloggers and social media coordinators to UX designers, product designers, coders and more.
“I love the idea of students doing things by and for students,” Aspandiar says. “If we adults could just step away and really empower students, there is no limit to what these brilliant minds can achieve.” Aspandiar believes that One Jump is one means to this goal. “At One Jump, we are creating an opportunity ecosystem for students who have so much to offer the world,” he shares. “We’re helping equip the next generation of student leaders who can help propel America into the 21st century.”