Sarah Guest, who is pursuing her master of education degree at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, received the 2021-22 Sullivan Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Scholarship. In a recent interview, Guest said the Sullivan Scholarship “has completely changed the trajectory of my life. I cannot express my gratitude completely in words, but you can be confident that in my future work, the investment [the Sullivan Foundation] made will benefit all whom I come in contact with!”

Guest also reflected on her experiences at Vanderbilt and a recent project focused on equity in education.

Q: What are the defining qualities of a Peabody College education?

Guest: Peabody College prepares graduate students for work in a variety of industries. The professors are invested in helping students achieve their academic and personal goals, demonstrated in their personalized attention and continued guidance well after students leave Peabody. At Peabody, my peers have become close friends and continue to challenge me to stretch myself in unanticipated ways.

Related: Sullivan Scholar Sarah Guest of Vanderbilt aims to become a school leader

Q: Tell us about a final project you are completing in your program.

Guest: Last semester, I was able to participate in a special program at Columbia Law School’s Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) offered to Peabody students in the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) and Leadership and Organization Performance (LOP) programs. One portion of this experience is working on an interdisciplinary team on a consulting project. All projects at CPRL aim to increase equity in education using an evolutionary learning framework for transformational change.

In my project, we worked to create a set of tools to support the implementation of high-quality instructional materials and professional learning. Our hope is that leaders will be able to use the tools to gather input from stakeholders responsible for implementation, including students, teachers, and parents. Throughout the project, I gained a network of mentors, friends and innovators from top business, education policy, law and leadership programs from around the country. It was an intellectual challenge that I had been craving when I started graduate school. I even loved the program so much that I decided to stay at CPRL as a teaching assistant for this semester while commuting to complete my final course at Vanderbilt!

Q: How has the financial aid you received, including the Sullivan Scholarship, affected your life at Vanderbilt and beyond?

Guest: In a practical sense, not accumulating student debt has given me the freedom to pursue opportunities that complement my Vanderbilt coursework, such as teaching and participating in CPRL. In doing so, I’ve gained valuable skills and insight into the mechanisms by which leadership in various forms can have a far-reaching and sustained impact, particularly in the field of education. The stress reduction afforded to me through

this financial gift has freed my mental capacity to focus on what matters most: learning, growing, and making a difference in the lives of others.

Q: What are your career goals, and what impact do you hope to make in the future with this degree?

I am most passionate about working in the education sector and am pursuing opportunities with organizations that value students, teachers and families. Since the Peabody LOP program emphasizes practical application of knowledge and skills, I feel prepared for a wide range of roles. I am currently working for the CPRL at Columbia University, and I will continue working with CPRL or another organization with similar goals and projects. The collaboration between faculty and graduate students on meaningful, high-impact projects is an environment in which I’m able to engage my creativity, compassion and commitment to improving education for all students.

Q: How have the lingering effects and adjustments in light of the pandemic continued to impact your student experience?

Guest: Fortunately, I have been able to build strong relationships with both my LOP cohort at Vanderbilt and my CPRL cohort at Columbia. Although the pandemic has limited our in-person social interactions, we have found ways to meaningfully connect. As future leaders, we will be asked to adjust to unpredictable circumstances, and attending graduate school during this season of uncertainty has taught us the merits of challenging the status quo in our future ventures. In my opinion, it has opened a space for social entrepreneurship because of shifting perspectives on work-life balance, traditional limitations of talent acquisition, and social responsibility.

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