Building a Career on Empathy
Story by Mary Sparacello
Laura White (LA ’12) is using what she learned at Tulane University to change how elementary school students are taught.
“You need to begin with empathy,” says White, whose work at Ashoka’s Empathy Initiative seeks to make this essential ingredient as important as reading, writing and arithmetic in our nation’s elementary schools. Ashoka is a Washington, D.C. nonprofit network of social entrepreneurs.
“Empathy is being able to understand the feelings and emotions of other people and then being able to act in the best way for both of you,” says White.
The foundation for this approach materialized recently when White was studying political economy as a Tulane undergraduate. She helped design Tulane’s new minor in social innovation and social entrepreneurship as well as a social innovation incubator program for students. A native of Johns Creek, Ga., White is the founder of Swim 4 Success, a program that provides free swimming lessons to children in low-income families. As a Tulane junior, White traveled to Denmark and the Netherlands to study innovative educational nonprofits. These efforts earned her Tulane’s top student outreach award last year, the Jim Runsdorf Excellence in Public Service Student Award.
Using her personal experiences, White wrote her thesis about the importance of perseverance, resourcefulness and self-control in early childhood. Research shows these non-academic skills are just as important as traditional testing subjects.
“At Tulane, I didn’t just stay in the classroom and learn,” White says. “I got out and designed and managed projects. That’s what I do in my job now.”
At Ashoka, White travels the country searching for new elementary schools to feature in the Ashoka Changemaker Schools Network. She manages 10 network schools that excel in teaching empathy, teamwork and problem solving.
White recently reflected on her Tulane experiences during a visit to campus in April. She was invited to speak to two introductory social entrepreneurship classes about post-Tulane career opportunities.
“I feel really lucky to have gone here,” White says. “There are so many opportunities for undergraduates to add this sort of perspective to their education.”