Allison Sailsbury (’10) takes on the world of education from all different perspectives

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“Have the courage to start, and the humility to change course when given better evidence or presented with better options” – Unknown Source

Right after hosting an event, Allison Sailsbury (’10) catches her breath to talk to Julia Relova (’18), a student member of the Davidson Innovation & Entrepreneurship team, about her current career and the amazing journey she took to get there.

In her undergrad years, Allison majored in psychology and helped create the Environmental Studies major that is now possible to pursue at Davidson College. She was involved in Davidson Outdoors (D.O.) and Davidson’s D1 Varsity Field Hockey team.

During her time at Davidson, Allison accredited Davidson Outdoors as her most meaningful entrepreneurial experience. Mike Goode, then Assistant Director of Davidson Outdoors, left an impression on Allison while she studied at Davidson. Beyond acting as Allison’s supervisor in D.O., Mike Goode taught a class that impacted her perception of what it means to be a leader. She developed skills related to working in groups, communication, facilitation, conflict management, and building and maintaining healthy communities. Goode’s course taught Allison how to build and run an organization that people love to work in.

In some ways, Allison felt Davidson failed to prepare her for her current position because her academic path was disconnected from her passion and interests. She had to find ways to force her academics to align with her interests. For her, there was not an easy way to do both at the same time, and it was a constant give and take. Many times Allison found herself taking classes just to check off the boxes, rather than learning about something she was truly passionate about. This made Davidson a challenge. Though it challenged Allison and introduced her to inspiring people, she found herself stretching herself in ways she did not always feel were necessary to accomplish her goals.

However, Davidson College did prepare Allison for her career in innovation and entrepreneurship because Davidson encourages students to take on co-curricular leadership positions, and for Allison those opportunities to lead were in Davidson Outdoors and sports. Co-curricular leadership positions push students to think about how to manage, brand, and set a goal and vision for an organization. Furthermore, it makes students think about how projects align with goals and how to evaluate if you are successful in achieving their goals.

Since graduating Davidson College, Allison’s journey includes distinct steps: 

  • Act as a Social Justice Educator that focused on community-based learning in rural Thailand
  • Run innovation efforts for President Carol Quillen at Davidson College focused on:
    • Sustainability Department
    • Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department
    • Edtech partnerships
    • College to career transitions
  • Work at Edsurge in San Francisco, CA
    • Storytelling and community building- K-12 education
    • Receive a multi-million grant from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation
    • Design and run the organization
  • Work for Entangled Studios in San Francisco, CA
    • Innovation strategy
    • Investment fund
    • Build companies and nonprofits
    • Education

In each of these steps in Allison’s career, there were people who inspired her and challenged her including Kristen Eshleman, Director of Digital Innovation, who she met while working in the office of Davidson College President, Carol Quillen. Eshleman became a supportive friend and partner that pushed Allison to think about the future of higher education and how liberal arts is contributing to blazing the way to the future. Sarah Phillips, General Counsel at Davidson College, and President Quillen were also immense inspirations to Allison. Both of these women were thoughtful leaders that demonstrated how to facilitate change and convince people to believe in new ideas.

When asked about her biggest difficulty she experienced during her entrepreneurial journey, Allison responded with a quiet laugh and “I don’t know if I’ve conquered anything”. The impetus of her entrepreneurial journey is that society is going through a huge transition right now where jobs and capabilities that used to be part of the status quo may not be needed in the near future. Something that worries Allison is that education has not caught-up pace with this quick moving transition. Higher education is a driver of inequality when it should be the opposite. Her entre/intrapreneur motivations are around how she can better design education programs, designs, pathways to make the post-secondary system more accessible and helpful for low income, first generation learners.

The most rewarding part of Allison’s entrepreneurial experience is partly due to the complexity of the social system she’s chosen to work in. Education includes so many different types of occupations and perspectives and gives Allison the opportunity to work with tech entrepreneurs, policy “wanks,” educators, philanthropists, and some of the largest foundations in the world, to name a few. She has the opportunity to work with all of these different types of people and mindsets in order to facilitate collaboration and connectivity.

Allison’s work provides a change of pace, with so many different perspectives discussing the problem of education and social change, verses when people think alone or limit conversations to people who think the way that they do. For Allison, the Education sector is like the parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” Like the blind men, who all touch different parts of an elephant and assume they are touching three separate objects instead of one animal, a lot of people in Education are working on part of the sector but only from one perspective. Allison has had the privilege to help bridge these different perspectives and start to make progress in the education field.

Advice for students:

  1. One of the most important things, even before Davidson, is to constantly have questions about the world that you are passionate about answering. They don’t have to be based on anything– a job, a career path– just cross-cutting questions that push your curiosity and motivate you personally and intellectually. Write down those questions and figure out how you can use all your opportunities at Davidson (and beyond) to answer them, or reevaluate them.
  2. When selecting organizations you want to join or start, your success will depend on creating a team you believe in and trust based on the character of the people you are around. Pick the team and leader that most inspire you.
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