Elisa Villanueva Beard: The Teach For America Journey

CASE in Point is a podcast from CASE at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In this episode, we talk to Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America.  Teach For America is a national organization that promotes education reform by hiring recent college graduates to teach in under-served communities for at least 2 years.

About this Episode

In this episode, Elisa shares how her personal story of growing up as a Latin American in southern Texas shaped her passion for education reform. During her career at Teach For America, she has used her passion to help guide the organization through a number of challenges on the path to scale.  She shares in detail about the challenges the leadership team faced and how they got over these speed bumps.

Elisa’s Story

Growing up, it was understood in Elisa’s house that education was important and college was a non-negotiable. After graduating from high school with the highest marks, Elisa went to further her education DePauw University. Coming from a mostly Latino community, her move to Indiana introduced her to a part of America she had never experienced. Struggling during her first semester in college, she began to doubt her abilities–and thought maybe people like her didn’t belong in college. But after a conversation with her mother, she doubled down on her efforts and found a better path to success.

Elisa came to realize that her high school had not prepared her for college in the same way that her college peers were prepared. She realized that not all education pathways are equal.  It was through this realization that she decided to apply to join the Teach For America corps.

The Teach For America Story: Metrics, Diversity, and More

During the last two decades Teach For America has seen tremendous growth.  But with growth comes increased complexity. Elisa describes how Teach for America hit a road bump during a period of growth, focusing on some targets (e.g., enrollment) to the detriment of others.  She shares how the organization went through a period of rediscovery to get back on track–specifically to adjust to the new recruitment landscape.

Elisa also speaks to diversity within Teach for America, and the organization’s early realization that its teachers and leadership needed to reflect the diverse community it serves.  She describes their efforts to focus on diversity within their staff—as well as their current efforts to achieve inclusiveness.


Show host: Erin Worsham
Producer: Josh Dixon
Audio Editor: Jason Van Sant
Copy Editor: Kim Langsam