When I was at Stanford, I had a life-changing experience. I took a course on making. I tried to drop out after the first day of class because I was intimidated by the machines and by my classmates who were engineers who had been building since they were five years old, and I literally just played with Legos.
I felt like I didn’t belong there and I tried to drop out. My professor told me, “Look, if you’re a human being, you’re a maker. Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to where you are now and where you’ll be at the end of this class. It’s going to be a lot of work, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but if you stick with it, you’ll realize that you too can create things and it’s a pretty awesome thing.”
Luckily, I stayed in the course and it changed my life when I first built physical products and turned raw material into objects. It was this transformation of creation that wasn’t like producing the right answer or regurgitating a fact, it was building something. It also taught me that you can take problems in the world and see them as opportunities and create something to solve them.
While in grad school, I decided I wanted to start Dent Education. I met my co-founder Jackie Neumann there, who had taught high school in Baltimore City. When I talked to her about what I wanted to build, she told me Baltimore City has young people that have all of these innate qualities that embody what it means to be an innovator and entrepreneur, whether it’s resourcefulness, resilience, collaboration, or community.
Unfortunately, the outcomes for youth are not that great and that’s because the system is not matching their potential with real opportunity. I knew something like Dent could have a lot of impact in Baltimore. When I graduated, she and I moved to Baltimore City in 2017 and we were welcomed by the community here and have been able to build what I’d envisioned.