A lesson in leadership
A profile of Course 17 alum Zachary Dearing
“If someone told me when I graduated from high school that I’d be back in Dallas four years later teaching high school math, I’d have said they were crazy,” says Zachary Dearing ’12. This year, the 23-year-old deferred a position with McKinsey & Company to become a Teach for America (TFA) corps member at Woodrow Wilson High School, part of the 157,000-student Dallas Independent School District.
Dearing arrived at MIT in 2008 with twin passions for business and politics, and with the aspiration that he would not only major in economics and political science but pursue a career in these fields. Yet he does not regard his decision to spend two years teaching algebra to academically challenged, low-income students as a departure from his larger ambitions.
Dearing resonates with TFA’s dual mission of giving underserved kids the best conceivable classroom experiences with a cohort of talented teachers, and of producing leaders from this corps who over time, in different arenas, can help improve the nation’s schools. “This is an amazing chance not only to have a direct impact on the 140 kids I teach annually, but also a larger impact later on in life,” he says.
At Woodrow Wilson High School, where approximately 65% of the students are at risk of dropping out, only two of Dearing’s pupils had heard of MIT. Dearing, who grew up just a few miles away, benefited from an abundance of resources while in school, with “passionate educators and people there to support me in whatever I wanted to do.” Here he must cope with a school of limited means, and with students whose home lives are, to say the least, challenging. “I’m trying to teach them, you may not like algebra, but if you want control over your life, or want to change things, the only way is through education.”
Dearing is cautiously opening up about his own experiences, with the hope of exposing his students “to all the possibilities out there.” He has a lot to share. From an early age, he avidly pursued and built on his interests. At age 12, he worked for a CPA, and as a young teen, started his own firm assembling computers. For two summers in high school, he interned as a financial analyst for a hedge fund firm. For spring semester of his high school junior year, he served as a page in the U.S. Senate because he wanted to see how politics worked from the inside. He was a student government leader, as well as the salutatorian of his class.
During his four years at MIT, while completing coursework for his double major and for dual minors in Management Studies and Energy Studies, Dearing managed to work at a boutique telecommunications and media consulting firm, and at Goldman, Sachs, where he was immersed in valuing mortgage-backed securities. He also interned in the Massachusetts governor’s office, summarizing key legislative issues, including public education.
For Dearing, some of MIT’s most important lessons were not on any syllabus: “I was struck in my political science classes by the importance of exploring issues in a holistic, interdisciplinary way, by the idea that complex problems can’t be solved through silo-minded solutions.” He credits this approach with helping him avoid “tunnel vision about a career path.” He also came away from MIT “with the idea of service.” Through the MIT Public Service Center and his fraternity, Chi Phi, he spent several weeks in Ghana helping build filters for purifying water. This reinforced for him that “to get solutions, you need to dive into the details. You need to get the perspective from the front lines.”
This is exactly what Dearing finds himself doing now, teaching seven classes daily to 9th graders who frequently struggle with math basics. He hopes to help all his students pass the high stakes state exam at the end of the year, and demonstrate that by “persevering, regardless of their circumstances and background, they can learn.” After two years in Dallas, it will be on to McKinsey, where he views additional opportunities for grappling with big problems up close. For Dearing, he says, it will always be about “making a significant impact on things I am passionate about.”
By: Leda Zimmerman
Photo of Zachary Dearing by Brandon Thibodeaux