Alumni Spotlights

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Salman Khan, Founder, Khan Academy

The University of New Orleans has long prided itself on providing affordable, high-quality educational opportunities not only for those who fit the classic college student profile, but also those with less traditional backgrounds. Now, Sal Khan, an alum who took upper-level mathematics courses at UNO as a high school student before attending MIT and Harvard, is making his own mark on the world of (very) public education. 

It started in 2004. Khan, who was living in Boston and working as a hedge fund manager, learned that his cousin Nadia, a seventh grader back in his native New Orleans, was having trouble in math class. He tutored her remotely using Yahoo Doodle software and the phone, and she ended up taking to his instruction so well that he began tutoring her brothers, Ali and Arman, as well. Word spread to other relatives and friends, and the demand became overwhelming. "I started to record videos on YouTube for them to watch at their own pace," Khan told CNN. Pretty soon, it became apparent from the rapidly growing view count that it wasn’t only his cousins who were watching.

Khan’s collection of what has grown to thousands of lessons is available online – for free – at khanacademy.org. The lectures cover topics from pre-algebra to post-colonial art history. He started out recording all of the videos himself in a converted closet in the Silicon Valley home he shares with his wife and two children, reaching out to professionals when tackling subjects his three MIT degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering and computer science and his MBA from Harvard hadn’t made him an expert in. He has since quit his job to focus solely on Khan Academy, working out of a small office with a staff of about 30, including programmer Craig Silverstein, Google's first hired employee.   

Venture capitalists like John Doerr and his wife Ann support the endeavor, but it was Bill Gates, who announced at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival that he’d been watching Kahn’s videos with his own children, who brought Khan Academy the kind of widespread exposure it has come to see. Monthly site traffic is in the millions and some California schools have even “flipped” their curricula, having students study Khan videos by night and do homework and enrichment with classroom teachers by day.

Beyond guiding traditional students, Khan makes appealingly-presented information available to everyone in a way that is unprecedented. "When I started, you wouldn't have imagined that some crazy dude in a closet making videos would help lead this charge,” he told USA Today. “But my mission is to have every precocious 13-year-old in the world have access to every bit of information they could ever want." Khan’s intense commitment to spreading knowledge has the power to change the lives of not only the New Orleans public schoolers he mentored while enrolled at Grace King High School, or the gifted students he taught in Brookline while at MIT, but of anyone with an internet connection and the unquenchable desire to learn. The fight to remove the barriers between a high quality education and those who seek it is echoed in the very purpose of UNO, one of Khan's early alma maters and one we're which surely inspired him in his pursuit to provide access to others.

Excerpts from the following:  
Sal Khan's 'Academy' Sparks a Tech Revolution in Education, by Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY, May 30, 2012
Bill Gates' Favorite Teacher, By David A. Kaplan, contributor, Fortune, CNN Online, August 24, 2010, 

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