Building the next generation of thinkers: Meet Siebel Scholar Rushi Sheth
School, homework, good grades, high scores on standardized tests, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat. High school students face no shortage of pressures today if they hope to attend a four-year college. The list of directives is long and even if they check all the boxes, college admission is not guaranteed.
The College Board, a not-for-profit organization with over 6,000 colleges and universities among its members, works to connect students to the colleges of their dreams. When they created a new program to give high school students a chance to follow their own personal interests in a project-learning setting, Siebel Scholar Rushi Sheth (’13) knew he had the right mix of skills to lead the charge. In 2016, he became the Executive Director of their AP Capstone Diploma Program.
What is the AP Capstone Diploma Program?
The AP Capstone Diploma program places structure around a high school student’s Advanced Placement (AP) course experience and introduces them to project-based learning and college-level research. Students who perform well in four AP courses of their choosing and two interdisciplinary courses, AP Seminar and AP Research, can earn the AP Capstone Diploma. The program is entering its fifth year and will serve approximately 60,000 students in 1,500 schools across 42 countries.
For students that achieve an AP Capstone Diploma, what does that mean for them?
First and foremost, it means these students are capable of college-level research in topics of their choosing. The AP Capstone program hinges around two courses called AP Seminar and AP Research, interdisciplinary courses that are skills-focused. Teachers instruct students how to evaluate and conduct research, and then students choose academic topics to deploy these skills.
In this model, students become content experts and teachers provide the research skills and coaching to help students navigate the complexities of conducting academic research. They also create academic research reports, present and defend their findings to a panel. This takes remarkable motivation and dedication, and we believe students rise to the occasion because they have ownership of their research topic.
AP Capstone projects are not your ordinary school projects that live and die in the classroom. We encourage our students to pick a topic that’s dear to them and then advocate for or continue their work later in college and career. This is student-centered, project learning and we are excited to bring this to a growing number of schools.
What prepared you to become executive director of the program?
Work in investment banking, teaching, school leadership and corporate consulting contributed to my ability to serve AP Capstone schools, teachers and students. After graduating from Indiana University, I joined JP Morgan in their leverage finance group at the peak of the bull run in 2006. I got to see what the frenetic deal-making exercise looks like and I got to see the low point in 2007. Like many of my colleagues, my position was eliminated at the end of 2007. I found I had this blank state in front of me and thought about what kind of professional I wanted to be, and kept coming back to the wonderful educators who shaped my academic trajectory.
I wanted to pay that experience forward, and joined the 2008 Teach For America (TFA) Denver Corps. TFA offers an alternative pathway into the classroom and I align with their mission to serve students who did not traditionally have access to an excellent education the way I did.
After two years of teaching, I wanted to try my hand at administration. We were expanding from two middle schools to four and I took on an administrator role helping to set up the third and fourth schools. It was an entrepreneurial experience that I enjoyed but I learned within a year the principal career track was not for me. I enrolled at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management in 2011 so I could learn best practices from a corporate world and apply them to non-profit management down the line.
To get corporate world experience, I worked for two years at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) immediately after Kellogg. I enjoyed it but eventually missed education so much that I was ready to return. The right opportunity presented itself in 2016 with The College Board looking for someone to run the AP Capstone Diploma program. Since then I consider my role a dream job and I am excited for the work which lays ahead
How did teaching change your mindset?
I started working at a public charter school serving students in southwest Denver. And I loved every second of it. If the compensation for teachers was higher, I’d probably still be a classroom teacher. I was surrounded by young energetic teachers who leveraged great energy and diligence to help students succeed. Our focus on success in college and beyond helped foster a powerful student culture. I am proud of my students who have now graduated college and I am honored when they reach out to me for career advice. Teaching was a meaningful experience that had a transformational impact on my career.
How did you get involved in the Siebel Scholars program?
I was asked to apply for the scholarship at the end of my first year in business school based on my first-year GPA. A panel of faculty and administrators chose five Siebel Scholars from my class and I consider it an honor to be included in this group. Through the Siebel Scholars program, I have enjoyed many opportunities to meet remarkably talented Scholars and alumni who are global experts in life sciences, energy sciences, computer sciences, and business.
It is also a privilege to keep in touch with this group at conferences hosted by the Siebel Scholars Foundation. During my time as a Siebel scholarship recipient, I have attended conferences on class warfare and threats to our energy grid, and I look forward to the 2018 conference on artificial intelligence.