Phila. teacher seeking online contributions to his education fund

Zac Chase, an English teacher at the Science Leadership Academy, is asking people for money for his education.
Zac Chase, an English teacher at the Science Leadership Academy, is asking people for money for his education.
Posted: April 05, 2011

The good news for Philadelphia teacher Zac Chase is that he's been accepted at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The bad news is that he has no money to pay for it.

But Chase, 30, thinks he may have found a solution: You pay for it.

The Science Leadership Academy instructor has set up a website where he's actively and good-naturedly accepting donations, making the case for why others should help him fund his education.

He needs $40,000. So far, he's raised $1,360.

That's about 3 percent of the total. The deadline is April 14, which means fund-raising needs to pick up, and fast, or Chase is not going to be in the grandstands cheering for the Crimson this fall.

Chase, who teaches English, doesn't want you to think of yourself as a mere contributor, emptying your pockets for his benefit. Think of yourself, he said, as an investor.

Because if you donate to the effort, which he's christened "Chasing Harvard," you'll get something out of the deal: access to Chase's daily blog posts from Cambridge, Mass., in which he'll take readers inside Harvard, presenting the behind-the-scenes scoop on education at one of the world's top universities. In addition, whenever college policy permits, he'll post his academic papers, notes, and projects on the Internet for all to see.

So, in a way, you'll get to go to Harvard, too.

"It's kind of an experiment," Chase said. "I'm asking people to invest in me."

That's a common goal of "crowd-funding" - the concept of using the Internet to connect people who, by pooling small amounts of money, can provide sufficient funding for causes big and small, from personal get-well gifts to documentary films or disaster relief.

For instance, Sellaband and Artistshare encourage music fans to support unsigned or little-known bands. Catwalk Genius is a fashion site.

On Donorschoose, teachers from all over post proposals for school projects. The site organizes the collection of money and delivery of materials - if the funding goal is reached. Later, students and teachers post thank-you notes and pictures, so donors can see where their money went.

Chase joined the staff at Sciences Leadership Academy four years ago, attracted to the tech-and-math focus of the Center City high school, a partnership between the Philadelphia School District and the Franklin Institute. He's become heavily involved in the Freedom Writers Foundation, and travels to Africa in the summers to work with teachers there.

He was born in Springfield, Ill., and grew up near there, completing his undergraduate work at Illinois State University. Chase now lives in the city's Fairmount section.

If he can beg his way to Harvard, where he plans to obtain a master's in education policy and management, he'll likely leave SLA to take a leadership role elsewhere.

"Zac is an amazing, amazing teacher," said SLA principal Chris Lehmann, who has donated to the cause. "He knows that we would hate to lose him, but at the same time I'm proud of him for following his dream."

If Harvard happens, "we'll gain a powerful voice for students in education policy," Lehmann said.

The college-preparatory curriculum at SLA includes emphasis on entrepreneurship and social media, both topics that were much on Chase's mind when the offer from Harvard arrived in March.

"We talk all the time about the power of social tools and social media," he said. "What if it can be powerful in a new and different way?"

To spread the word for donations, Chase has been tweeting like mad, sending e-mails, posting on Facebook, writing posts to his blog and, yes, talking to newspaper reporters to publicize his website, http://chasingharvard.chipin.com

Twenty-four people have donated money. A teacher friend in the Netherlands gave. So did someone in Canada. And a guy in Finland contributed $50.

Chase estimates the price tag of Harvard tuition, room and board at $60,000. He had hoped to pay the cost with a merit scholarship, but it didn't come through. He's taking out loans and intends to live as cheaply as possible, but figures he's still about $40,000 short.

"I do have shame, but I haven't found it yet," he laughed, then turned serious:

"I think it would be a much more difficult ask if there wasn't something I would be doing on the other side of it, if there wasn't some accountability on my end, something I would produce. I see it more as pieces of a partnership."


Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415 or jgammage@phillynews.com.

 

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