Duke Welcomes Elisa Villanueva Beard for Distinguished Speaker Series

We were delighted to welcome Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America, back to Fuqua on March 21st as a guest for Dean Bill Boulding’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Earlier in the day, a small group of CASE MBA students had the opportunity to meet with Elisa in a more intimate setting, discussing the nuances of Teach For America’s DEI journey, the opportunities for innovation in the education sector, and reflections on leading through crisis. The participating students represented a new generation of leaders in the education sector and brought to bear their past experiences and insights as alumni of Teach For America and Teach For All (India, China), plus other education and edtech sector positions and internships.

Elisa Villanueva Beard with Fuqua Students

We asked students and staff to share their own highlights from Elisa’s visit:

I was so inspired hearing about Elisa’s 25-year journey with Teach For America. I was impressed that she has not only stayed with the organization, but also the greater mission of improving educational access and outcomes for all children. I admire how she has devoted her career and life to this work, and I hope many Fuquans were inspired to do the same with their respective causes.

Thomas Cheng, MBA ’24; Alumnus, Teach for China

One thing that Elisa said that is applicable across many contexts that we’ll all face as future leaders is that “people work, systems don’t”. She was speaking in the context of the education system and teachers and students having inherent capabilities, but not necessarily having the tools or being in structures where they can thrive. I think this is a framework that can be applied to many different industries and sectors and get us to rethink how we can change systems wherever we work to better support people.

Raiven Greenberg, MBA ’24

I took this piece of advice from Elisa:

“In life we need discipline, resilience and self-knowledge. Discipline to keep on track for our goals. resilience to navigate with uncertainty. Self-knowledge to understand our own limitations and look for support.”

Mateo Sáenz Hinojosa, MBA ’23

The advice Elisa shared about leading through crisis really resonated with me. When leading through crisis, we must tap into our resilience and develop a deep and profound relationship with learning. If we truly believe in ourselves, our vision, and the people around us, fear and big challenges will not deter us from facing the problem head and engaging in bold experimentation. All we have to do is learn from the experience of the experiment with confidence and grace, and continue to earn the confidence of the people you work with and for.

Stephen Ezekoye, MBA ’24

Dean Boulding commented several times on Elisa’s long tenure at Teach for America; she has been part of the organization for over two decades, moving up from Corps member to regional executive director, then from COO to CEO.  Her tenure is notable for how rare it is in today’s business environment where people rapidly shift from one organization to another – and is the basis for a piece of advice she provided to the MBA audience that really resonated with me (10 years at CASE & counting!): “Stick with things long enough to learn them.”  She noted that today’s professional often sees hard, uncomfortable times as a signal to leave – but that it’s exactly in those times when you have the opportunity learn and grow the most. So, lean into hard moments, run toward the fire, and stick around – because that’s when courageous, impactful leaders really emerge.

Kimberly Bardy Langsam, Senior Program Director, CASE

We greatly appreciate Elisa’s inspiring leadership and the time she spent reflecting on her journey with us at Fuqua.