Melanie Bowen ’93 has spent a life of asking questions and still sees so many more on the road ahead
Dartmouth challenged me, stretched me, and gave me the curiosity, creativity, confidence, and courage to go places, meet people, and do things that I never would have imagined.
I grew up in a small town with 5,000 people, one stoplight, and a regionalized junior/senior high school from which no one had been accepted to Dartmouth, yet.
Hanover looks like a small place, but within its borders I found an entire world of ideas, like many before and after me. Through comparative religion classes, I sought perspective on my Catholic upbringing. In geography and anthropology classes, I explored an African and Asian view of the planet. As a Russian major, I studied behind the iron curtain and practiced breaking bread (and drinking vodka) with people who held very different political views. Through health challenges that followed me home, I learned about grit and perseverance.
These experiences ignited two questions in me. First, were these faraway places around the world so vastly different? Or were they more similar, in everyday life, filled with people just like us, trying to take care of their families and make sense of the world? And second, was education as life-altering for others as it had been for me? And if so, shouldn’t everyone pursue as much of it as possible?
On the first question, I had to travel and live in different places, to see for myself that the answer is, confoundingly, yes – to both parts of the question. I tested the questions in Kazakhstan, working with some of the first foreign investors in Central Asia after independence from the Former Soviet Union. I tested them in South Africa, not long after the end of Apartheid, supporting companies through their transition into the world economy, and colleagues through new conversations across racial, ethnic, and gender lines only recently, and uneasily crossed. More recently, I tested them again in India, working with social entrepreneurs and investors in one of the most creative, and sometimes baffling, places on earth.
On the second question, while I have come to believe that education is life-altering, I have also learned about the barriers, obvious and hidden, to getting kids to school, keeping them engaged, and supporting them as far as they can go. Those barriers are more obvious in places outside of the U.S. where I have lived and traveled, where governments lack the resources to offer free, high quality K-12 education to all their students. But they also exist at home in the U.S., where many of our students struggle to stay engaged in their younger years, and struggle to stay enrolled in their later ones.
While Dartmouth gave me the curiosity and confidence to explore the world and seek an answer to my first question, it also gave me the creativity and desire to try to find answers to the second. At Discovery Education, we created the first comprehensive K-12 video streaming platform to bring concepts to life for students with short teachable clips, reaching over half of K-12 schools across the U.S. just as classrooms were getting wired. In India, I worked with affordable school entrepreneurs to create scalable models in communities where parents would do anything to give their kids a chance at a better life, but where the government schools were not able to deliver consistent, quality education to all students. Back in the U.S., I led the board of a young charter school as it grew to meet surging demand from families searching for better public options for their diverse learners. And most recently, at EAB, we have created the first fully unified student success management system, using big data and collaboration tools to unite administrators, faculty, staff, and students in a common platform built to help colleges and universities graduate more students with less debt and better outcomes.
And there is so much road left ahead…
Thank you, Dartmouth, for helping me develop first the curiosity and the confidence to explore the world, and then the courage and creativity to try to make it a better place, for all our children.