U.Va. Education and Business Students Tackle Education Challenges


Three University of Virginia graduate students enrolled in a business and education dual-degree program are focusing their unique perspectives on a variety of challenges facing education on the world stage during their summer internships.

The students are in U.Va.’s MBA/Master of Education dual-degree program, “Innovation in Education Reform,” [ß] which prepares the next generation of leaders to apply business principles to challenges facing education at all levels. The program is offered through a partnership between the Curry School of Education and its Darden School of Business.

One of the students, Rafe Steinhauer, put together a series of internships that have taken him to France, The Netherlands, Finland and finally, Los Angeles. His goal is to explore two very closely related concepts: education entrepreneurship – starting organizations designed for teaching and learning, and entrepreneurial education – the teaching and learning of how to start organizations.

“Not only is there a need for innovative organizations to help improve education,” Steinhauer said, “but there is also a need to identify effective ways to teach individuals how to start these kinds of organizations.”

After completing a leadership course in Normandy, France, Steinhauer spent time with some young entrepreneurs at Team Academy, a college in Amsterdam.

“Team Academy employs an innovative approach to developing young entrepreneurs,” Steinhauer said. “Studying their model sparked my desire to learn more about how innovation can be taught and learned.”

Before returning to the U.S., Steinhauer stopped in Helsinki to conduct research on Finnish schools, where in 2006 students ranked first in the world on standardized tests.

Steinhauer then began an internship in Los Angeles with Building Excellent Schools, an organization that develops urban school leaders and helps establish high-performing schools in America’s poorest communities.

For Steinhauer, all of these experiences are the perfect mix.

“I wanted to connect my prior experiences in education and entrepreneurship by starting an academic organization, but I needed to hone my business skills and learn educational theory,” he said. “I also wanted access to a community filled with knowledgeable people. The M.B.A./M.Ed. program was the perfect fit.”

Fellow student Kat O’Neil is spending her summer in the San Francisco Bay area working as a graduate fellow at Education Pioneers, which she described as “an organization committed to developing a pipeline of leaders to address the achievement gap in the U.S. education system.”

O’Neil is working with Oakland Unified School District’s data and analytics team to determine the district’s data needs and priorities.

She has also discovered the benefit of working directly with principals to understand their data needs. 

“We work together, the principals and our team at Oakland Unified School District, to figure out how to help school leaders make better data-driven decisions,” she said.

“Kat’s project is a great example of the power of connecting business and education practices,” said Catherine Brighton, an associate professor of education at the Curry School and program coordinator for the M.B.A./M.Ed. program. “School leaders across the country have increasingly greater access to huge sets of data. They may lack the training necessary to utilize that data in a way that can make meaningful improvements to their schools and school divisions.”  

O’Neil discovered the M.B.A./M.Ed. program after teaching in Washington, D.C. and Seoul, South Korea.

“I came to this degree program with an inspired passion to pursue a career in education specifically addressing inequity in the U.S. education system,” O’Neil said. “In my work this summer, I am continually inspired and motivated by the individuals in Oakland working tirelessly to improve education for their students, which is by no means an easy task, but a critical one nonetheless.”

Gaines Johnson is helping to develop a long-term growth strategy for an education technology company that aims to create classroom assessment and teaching solutions for classrooms across the United States. With his work at The Parthenon Group in Boston, he hopes to continue to provide schools and students with the best possible products to actively engage students in their own learning.

“I have always believed that our country’s education system would benefit from adopting best practices from the business world,” Johnson said. “While the United States has continued to increase spending on education, and remains at the top in per-pupil spending, our country continues to fall behind in learning.

“I have a passion for education and believe that by combining business best practices with education acumen, our country can once again lead the world in student learning.”

Part of applying business best practices for Johnson includes helping companies create products that will improve student learning in classrooms and be profitable.

Johnson, O’Neil and Steinhauer will return to U.Va. this fall to complete their final two semesters of study.

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Audrey Breen

Assistant Director of Communications School of Education and Human Development