I Have A Dream Oh, the Places They'll Go!

Content appeared originally in the September 1992 issue of Stanford Business magazine.

Thanks to the vision of a few MBA students in 1992 and the hard work of many more since then, a classroom of kids from East Palo Alto headed for college in the fall of 2000. The following is the background on the I Have a Dream program.

Fifty-six elementary school pupils from an impoverished neighborhood near Stanford GSB found out it’s OK to dream. At a barbecue given by MBA students in May 1992 they learned that they are beneficiaries of the first I Have a Dream program organized by graduate students.

Their sponsors, some 60 students in the MBA Classes of 1992 and 1993, raised $445,000 to fund the program. The MBA students themselves contributed $22,000. The money will help current third and fourth graders at nearby Flood Elementary School earn high school diplomas and go on to college. So far, the MBA student group has been able to pledge college scholarships of $4,800 each over four years to the youngsters. Fund-raising efforts will continue, overseen by an independent, nonprofit board that includes Stanford GSB students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

In addition to financial support, Stanford GSB sponsors have committed themselves and future MBA classes to act as role models, tutors, and advisers for the Flood students from now through high school. Like the original I Have a Dream program launched in 1981 in New York City by industrialist Eugene Lang, the Flood School program will hire a social worker to provide continuity as MBA classes come and go. MBA mentors are also assigned with continuity in mind. Each Flood School student has two — a first-year and a second-year MBA student.

As Lang explained in a visit to the business school a few days after the barbecue: “Up front, every Dreamer is guaranteed a college opportunity. But, contrary to what many believe, this scholarship guarantee is not the primary feature. As our threshold objective, we want each Dreamer to graduate from high school functionally literate and able to hold a fulfilling job. In fact, to most Dreamers, the college incentive is overshadowed by the personal elements of the program. This may explain why public education systems and most institutional and corporate programs cannot by themselves satisfy the educational needs of our disadvantaged kids. Institutions just cannot focus their resources to deal effectively with a human condition that requires sensitive and sustained individual attention. They cannot inspire or reciprocate love and respect.”

The Flood School program is the fourth I Have a Dream program in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is affiliated with the Bay Area chapter of the I Have a Dream Foundation, which is part of a national network that operates 152 programs with more than 10,000 pupils.

The Flood School program grew out of an idea David Michael, MBA ‘92, had during a bus trip in China. “As I was riding through the countryside, I was struck by how many young minds are wasted in the world,” says Michael, who taught English at Zengcheng Dianshi University before coming to Stanford GSB. Michael recalled seeing a television report about Lang’s program. “I wanted to make a difference for a group of kids, but I didn’t want to wait until I was a retired millionaire,” he says.

In 1990, Michael broached the idea to classmates Peter Dumanian and Nick Folger. They, with a core group of 20 students, refined the plan, raised money, and decided to tie the I Have a Dream program to an existing tutoring and enrichment program at Flood School begun in 1988 by Jesse Hermann, MBA ‘88, and Julie Keenan, MBA ‘89. Both Dumanian and Folger had been involved with programs for minority children before coming to Stanford. They were drawn to the Dream program because it focuses resources on a small group of youngsters, offering a better chance to make a difference.

I believe that everybody should have an opportunity to make what they will of their lives,” says Folger. “I think recent events have shown that there are major portions of our country that don’t share in those opportunities. I know that this program is just a dent, a very small contribution to solving an enormous problem, but the feeling that we could band together and make even a small contribution is inspiring.”

After the Los Angeles riots in April, MBA students filled Stanford GSB’s auditorium to explore their thoughts on the situation. “A lot of us felt an overwhelming sense of despair,” recalls Nancy Katz, a volunteer tutor at Flood School who will cochair the program in 1992-93. “People wanted to know what they could do. This is one way we can get people to interact who wouldn’t normally do so.”

These kids tell me incredible things when I’m tutoring. It’s amazing what 10 year-olds know and what they deal with every day on the streets,” she said.

Although they may face serious problems, you see the intelligence and capabilities in these kids’ eyes,” says Folger. “It’s imperative that that part of them is nurtured. If they’re allowed to develop, they’re going to make some great contributions.”

One of the goals of the Stanford program is to inspire other business and professional schools to launch similar efforts.

“We’ve used the ideas we learn at the business school,” says Michael, “how to conceive of and market an idea, how to design an organization, and how to motivate people to go out and kill themselves to make something like this happen.”

The MBA Dream-makers already have been approached for advice by students from the Yale Divinity School. They are now developing a handbook titled How to Establish a Student-Initiated Dream Program. A few days after the program was announced to the Flood School children, Folger, Michael, Dumanian, Tracey Griffin, Tony Miller, and Thad Whalen, all MBA Class of 1992, received Stanford’s James W. Lyons Award for Service “for their bold plan to make college a realistic dream for 56 elementary school youths.”