WHF Profile: Ryan Tauriainen (2019-20)
Can you tell us about yourself and your work before the White House Fellowship?
I spent my entire career in public education, specifically working in under-resourced communities. I started as a Teach For America corps member in Hawaii, but the bulk of my career was in Washington, DC including being a teacher, principal, and district-leader.
How did you hear about the White House Fellows Program and what made you decide to apply
Teach For America alumni stay very connected to one-another. I was inspired to apply by 2016-2017 WHF Dr. Warren Morgan, who is now the CEO of Cleveland Public Schools. Warren met me at a TFA Alumni event, heard about my leadership story and awards I had won, and encouraged me to apply.
Where were you placed and what was the focus of your work?
I was placed at the Department of Education, and my focus was on elementary and secondary education policy. This work became critical in 2020 because I found myself working on important programs that were borne during COVID-19 through the CARES Act.
What was your fellowship class like?
My class is an incredible group of people, diverse in life-experiences, professions, and perspectives. And somehow, we gel together. My experience would have been less if any of my 14 ‘fellow Fellows’ were not with me that year. My class included 6 military officers, 4 physicians, a lawyer, a police officer, a business executive, a professor of electrical engineering, and myself, a PK-12 educational leader.
What did you do immediately after the Fellowship?
I became, and continue to be, the Executive Director of Teach For America in Washington, D.C.
How did the trajectory of your life and work change after the White House Fellowship?
I have always aspired to hold an influential role at the crossroads of government, policy, and education in the future, whether at the city-level in D.C. or the federal level at the US Department of Education. This seemed like simply a dream prior to the White House Fellowship, but now I know I have the tools, experience, and connections to make it possible.
What are you working on now?
My organization is being led by an audacious goal that twice as many students in the communities we serve will be proficient in reading by 2030 (compared to 2019). This goal inspires me and fuels my work, every day. Since 2010, my major focus has been on bringing opportunity to the students of D.C. who are furthest from it, and that continues to this day.
Could you reflect on a learning experience during your Fellowship experience?
Some of the most valuable leadership lessons came from working under Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan, who is a titan in US education. His constant example and unbelievable humility were formative for me. I am a better leader because of the time I spent learning from him.
Have you and your classmates remained close since your Fellowship year?
We are definitely a close bunch. We typically have over 50% participation in alumni trips and events from our class, and like other millennial classes, we have a years-long “group chat” that is still going strong.
What advice would you give to prospective applicants?
Do not give up if you do not become a Fellow on your first try. I went through the application process three times before becoming a Fellow. I am thankful for the timing because the class I joined and the years I served were meant to be.
Finally, if there is another question you would like to address that we haven’t asked, feel free to address it as well.
I received my BA from Middlebury College, my M.ED from Chaminade University of Honolulu, and my Ed.D from the University of Pennsylvania. I am the first/only graduate from both Middlebury College and Chaminade University to become a White House Fellow.