For Kerry James, SB ’95, MBA ’01, innovating through education and making such advances widely available is of great importance. This is why she currently serves in leadership roles at national, regional, and local nonprofits like uAspire, Custom Collaborative, and the Boston Arts Academy Foundation—where she recently joined the investment committee.
James credits her motivation to improve education for all to her grandmother, her high school teachers, and the MIT and MIT Sloan faculty who encouraged her to expand her knowledge. As such, she looks forward to the opportunity to reconnect with her classmates and other fellow Sloanies at MIT Sloan Reunion 2021.
What drives or inspires you?
I was one of the first people from my town to go to MIT and it completely changed the trajectory of my life. People need roads, avenues, and ways to get from where they are to where they want to be. We have to do more as a society to create those pathways because it’s better for everybody. I’m a big believer in education and so was my grandmother. She was always talking about "when you go to college, not if," so there was never a doubt about any one of us going to college. I have always had fun learning new things. I’m curious by nature. And this is what drives me: I want people to have the same educational opportunities I did.
How has the MIT Sloan community influenced you?
I think of it as a source of business ideas. For example, when one of my classmates started a business, they wanted to gain access to a venture capital fund I know. Through our network, I was able to foster a conversation between them. People are always doing startups and they need investors. They want people they know to help them. Because of these kinds of back-and-forths, I started getting involved in the angel investing clubs at MIT Sloan. Now I’m on the investment committee for Castor Ventures, which is the MIT alumni ventures group. These experiences have provided me with opportunities to learn about new things that are happening in the world—like artificial intelligence and big data—and my MIT Sloan connections have put me squarely in line to experience these things.
What’s the biggest idea you are working on now?
One thing that excites me is figuring out how to improve education so that more people have better access to more things. This is a big part of what we’re doing at the Boston Arts Academy Foundation—thinking about how to teach math in practical terms for lighting a stage, how sound waves work, and different kinds of applicable learning experiences for getting the same bits of algebra and geometry. When I went to high school, I finished my math classes early so I took an advanced math class that was taught via satellite by a teacher who dialed in from somewhere else in the country. The school didn’t have any more math to teach me and we needed to be able to keep learning. They wanted to be able to offer something more advanced for those of us who were that far along. Now I’m thinking about how we can broaden the educational experience so that more kids can have quality education and get what they need. We should be able to give students the opportunity to do anything they want to do. I think we will be better off as a society if we can accomplish this because learning is amazing. As a student, I loved math and science and physics, and when I went to MIT, I lit up because I had so many great teachers who encouraged me. But what if you’re in a school that doesn’t have great teachers? Maybe online education is a solution to this problem, or maybe there’s another way we can get more students to be excited about learning. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be about learning calculus and differential equations. It can be about learning music, a craft, a skill, or a trade. I want to help people become excited about learning. I think it would make the world a better place.
Why is it important to reconnect and exchange ideas with fellow Sloanies?
Many women from my class are in a WhatsApp thread and it was lighting up yesterday. I love that circle of friends. Whenever something work-related or in life happens, I always have someone from MIT Sloan I can call. We are a community like that. Because when you become more senior in your organizations—particularly in male-dominated organizations—it can be lonely when you don’t have a group of people like this. That sense of community is really important. I may not be working in technology like some of my classmates, but we’re all dealing with the same leadership and management issues, and having them as a sounding board has been invaluable to me. I didn’t recognize it at first, but the beauty of serving on the MIT Sloan Alumni and Executive Boards was that I met people from so many other classes with different experiences. They’re such great people to know, who are doing all kinds of amazing things, and it’s so wonderful to be able to have such a broad global network. It offers you the chance to interact with and learn from so many people and to broaden your horizons. These people and experiences have changed my life because when you tap into a network like this it becomes an amazing source of personal power.
What excites you most about MIT Sloan Reunion 2021?
My favorite part is that we pick up where we left off. The special friendships, the laughs, the support, and the feeling of community return the second we are back together. I am lucky enough to be able to see many of my classmates during a normal year. I interact with them pretty regularly, but whenever we are able to reunite with the broader group, it’s like we were together the previous month. It’s like coming home to your community. Everyone shares their experiences and it’s energizing in a way I can’t really describe.