Over a quiet pizza dinner back in 2013, Monica Gray Logothetis (Col ’08, MPP ’09) and Annie Medaglia (MBA ’15) hatched an idea that is changing the way teachers can incorporate real-world experience into their classrooms.
Both graduates of the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Gray Logothetis and Medaglia are the co-founders of DreamWakers, a nonprofit organization that uses free videoconference technology to bring exceptional career speakers into public schools across America.
The women had jobs in Washington, D.C., at the time and were frustrated with the lack of volunteer opportunities — especially opportunities in schools — that were possible for working professionals.
“Public service was just a way of life at UVA,” Gray Logothetis said. “When we got into the working world, we longed for that same meaningful connection to our community.” They found few, if any, options for similar volunteer experience while working 9-to-5 days. Looking at their smartphones, they realized that the solution was right in their hands. They could use free technology like Skype and Google Hangout to help volunteer speakers step into the classroom without ever having to leave their desks.
Soon after their pizza-night revelation, Medaglia returned to UVA to earn her MBA from the Darden School of Business. While there, she discovered the University’s i.Lab Incubator for entrepreneurs. She and Gray Logothetis were accepted to the program in the summer of 2014 and quickly began using the i.Lab to cultivate their fledgling nonprofit. They created an online platform from scratch where teachers could request the kind of speakers they wanted for their classroom and volunteers could apply for “flashchats,” their term for 40-minute, videoconference discussions with students.
To date, DreamWakers has connected volunteer speakers with students in more than 50 communities nationwide.
The founders recently received a $50,000 Toyota Driving Solutions grant to grow their efforts. In conjunction with the grant, they were also named Toyota’s 2016 “Mothers of Invention” at the Women in the World Washington, D.C., Salon.
As they register for flashchats, teachers often will request speakers who have similar backgrounds to their class in terms of their hometown, race or socio-economic status so that students can see what they have the potential to become.
Past speakers have included Carlos Pascual, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Ukraine; broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien; and David Simas, deputy senior adviser to President Obama.
Moving forward, Medaglia and Gray Logothetis, who serves as CEO, are laying the groundwork for hosting sponsored flashchats connecting employees of major companies and small businesses alike with classrooms to share their work.
Public service was just a way of life at UVA.Gray Logothetis
“We want to highlight the incredible depth and breadth of opportunities available within a company — from recruiting and HR to marketing and communications to IT and the C-suite,” Gray Logothetis said. “We’ve found that students are often unaware of the variety of jobs that are out there and available to them.”
Gray Logothetis summed up their ultimate goals best when explaining that the name DreamWakers is based on the Aristotle quote, “Hope is a waking dream.”
“It succinctly encapsulates what we want to do, which is inspire students and awaken their future potential and dreams,” Gray Logothetis said.