On Alumni Day 1993, Wendy S. Kopp ’89 set a record that seems unlikely to fall anytime soon: She became the youngest winner of the Woodrow Wilson Award, Princeton’s highest undergraduate alumni honor, less than four years after graduation. (She also was the first woman honored; this year’s recipient, Sonia Sotomayor ’76, was the second.)
Kopp founded Teach for America, an innovative national teacher corps to help underfunded schools in urban and rural areas, after outlining the idea in her senior thesis. The Woodrow Wilson School major is pictured here catching up with her thesis adviser, sociologist Marvin Bressler.
In her Alumni Day address, Kopp pushed for changes to conventional public education. “If, in fact, we are to achieve our vision that one day every child in this country will have equal opportunity for quality education,” she told the audience, “then we must invent a whole new concept of school. Our schools are possibly the only institutions which stand today on the same assumptions on which they were built hundreds of years ago.”
Kopp’s vision continues to have a remarkable influence on education in the United States. At the start of the current school year, there were 32,000 Teach for America alumni, 63 percent of whom were working full-time in education, and the organization estimates that its teachers have reached more than 4 million students since its charter year in 1990.