Fellowships for Education Entrepreneurs: 3 Questions With ProFellow Chike Aguh

Dec 26, 2012
A professional photo of Chike Aguh smiling wearing a suit and tie.
Chike Aguh, Public Service Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Chike Aguh is a true ProFellow, earning five competitive fellowships since his graduation from Tufts University in 2005. Although short-term in focus, each of the fellowships has provided him skills and opportunities that support his long-term goal: to reimagine and innovate the American education system so that all children and citizens, particularly the poorest, are prepared to be innovators in today’s global economy. This past summer Chike served as a Presidential Public Service Fellow at Harvard University where he is an MBA/MPA student, and used this opportunity to support a federal strategy to train two million Americans with federal job training programs by 2015, among several other initiatives. Intrigued by Chike’s path, we asked him more about his interest in fellowships.

1. Why did you pursue a series of fellowships early in your career?

I grew up the son of two immigrants from Nigeria who came to the United States for educational opportunity and I chose very early in life to devote myself to transforming education systems at home and abroad into ones that can prepare students to be innovators in the twenty first century.  As I was graduating from Tufts University as an undergraduate, I was seeking a series of opportunities that would give me four things: Strong knowledge of how decisions in education are made from the 30,000 foot policy level all the way down to the school level; understanding of the work of teachers; international experience and knowledge of global education issues, and; a great network and strong cohort of colleagues that will follow me through my career.

I was blessed to be able to accomplish these objectives through the fellowships in which I was able to participate.  The New York City Urban Fellows Program, which takes recent college graduates and places them in high ranking positions in New York City government, placed me in the New York City Department of Education, the world’s largest school system, where I observed and contributed to macro-level decisions.  Next, I was a corps member of Teach For America, an organization that places recent college graduates in high-need schools for a two year teaching commitment. During this experience I taught second grade at an elementary school in Brooklyn where I learned what it takes to truly educate children for college, their career and citizenship.  Before going back to graduate school, I was also a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand where I taught English as a Foreign Language to middle and high school students. Through Fulbright, I had the opportunity to travel around southeast Asia.  These fellowships positioned me well for my future career and have been invaluable experiences.

2. What would you like to do long term and what is your plan to get there?

In the long term, I want to be an innovator, investor and policymaker in the education space.  After a career cycling through the private, public and social sectors, I would like to be in a senior policymaking role where I can affect the course of education and human capital policy for United States.

3. What tips would you give others applying to competitive fellowships?

My tips for those applying to competitive fellowships are:

  • Have a clear reason for wanting the fellowship. Fellowship admission committees are attuned to those who simply want the fellowship for purpose of boosting his or her resume.
  • Speak to former fellows. This will give you a better idea of how to market yourself to the fellowship you are applying to and will also show the reviewers that you are truly interested.
  • Pursue fellowships that have a strong network and cohort experience. Beyond the brand equity of these fellowships, the most valuable part of the fellowship is the colleagues you will meet and remain connected to.

After graduating from Tufts University with a B.A. in Political Science, Chike Aguh (pronounced Chee-kay Ah-goo) worked for the New York City Department of Education as a New York City Urban Fellow. He subsequently became a corps member of Teach for America and taught 2nd grade at Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the only all-boys elementary charter school in New York City. Chike was also a Fulbright Fellow in Thailand and an Education Pioneer Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education. Chike is a graduate of the Harvard School of Education and is now a graduate student in the joint MBA/MPA program of Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.