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Catherine Bittar ’09, Education Reform

Catherine Bittar ‘09 knew when she started her college search process that she wanted an academically rigorous school where she could continue her dance career. As a student at Duke University, Bittar found her niche as a public policy major with a focus in education reform. After graduating, Bittar worked first with CEOs for Cities before moving to the KIPP Foundation. Outside of work she puts her dance training to good use as a volunteer “Dancing Star” for the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Ball.

I have been an avid dancer since I was very young. I believe that dance teaches important skills of discipline and time management while cultivating personal expression, creativity, and offering a therapeutic outlet. When choosing a college, I wanted a place where I could explore my interests in social justice and policy but that also had an established dance program. Duke University was able to meet both of these requirements.

My interest in education reform took hold during my junior year in college, when I interned for the Intramural Education Project, an NGO in Cape Town, South Africa. I assisted with an after school dance program in a township high school and conducted independent research on Cape Town’s schools. That summer, I began working with CEOs for Cities, a national nonprofit that facilitates cross-sector partnerships to tackle urban issues. I gained incredible exposure to the non-profit sector and national education efforts. However, I wanted to work more on education policy and reform. As the School Summit Program Associate at KIPP, I support the Knowledge Sharing Team, which provides professional development for KIPP teachers.

Working at KIPP, it has been eye opening to learn about the lack of educational opportunities for students in many of the nation’s underserved communities. I am humbled by the work being done in KIPP schools and the optimism embodied by KIPP teachers and leaders. Everyone working at KIPP—either at the school, regional, or foundation level—believes that every student has the right to a quality education and that every student can succeed.

I remember Bryn Mawr as being a truly accepting and supportive place where students are encouraged to broach difficult topics and are challenged to be the change they want to see in the world. One of the ways that I do that is by raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, and it has affected both of my grandmothers. I’m using my background in dance to compete in a contest modeled on “Dancing with the Stars” at the annual Memory Ball. My goal is to raise $25,000, all of which will go directly to research, support and care for Alzheimer’s patients.

Bryn Mawr provided me with atop-notch education and instilled in me a belief in the importance of effecting positive change in the world. I am pursuing a career in education reform because I have seen how important and impactful education can be, and I believe that all children, regardless of their background, should have access to exceptional educational opportunities. I believe education has the power to transform an individual, and I believe access to quality education is a fundamental right for every child.