When the Curry School of Education and Darden School of Business came together to create a dual degree MBA/MEd in Innovation and Education Reform, Curry administrators knew they would also be creating a challenge—finding the right person to direct the education side of the program.
The search was on for a faculty member who could design an innovative curriculum to synthesize and leverage the unique strengths of each school. Ideally, this person would be deeply engaged in both education and entrepreneurship. They sought a specific individual whose rare combination of skills and talents were almost mythical—like a unicorn.
“When we wrote the job description, I said, ‘It doesn’t exist. This person does not exist,’” said Susan Mintz, associate professor of education.
Then she met Matthew Wheelock.
“Matthew is our unicorn,” said Mintz, who had been directing Curry’s side of the dual degree program prior to Wheelock’s appointment. The search committee agreed with Mintz’s assessment and the stars aligned.
And it’s easy to see why. As the new director of the MBA/MEd program, Wheelock brings to UVA a picture-perfect constellation of knowledge, passion, and vision.
The common thread of Wheelock’s life and career is a love of teaching and a bent for innovation.
He has a B.A. from Williams College, a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a J.D. from Stanford Law School, and a doctor of education degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his background in education, international studies, and law—and a c.v. heavy on educational and entrepreneurial accomplishments—the common thread of Wheelock’s life and career is a love of teaching and a bent for innovation.
He left a career in law to pursue teaching elementary school in Washington, D.C. What he soon discovered was that many lower-performing schools were not taking advantage of the enormous educational opportunities provided by the region’s museums and parks.
Inspired by the discovery, Wheelock founded Live It Learn It in 2005, a nonprofit that connects D.C. schools with the District’s cultural resources to create a city-wide learning accelerator. The start-up has since had a dramatic impact on student achievement and motivation for thousands of young people.
Now Wheelock is excited to bring his educational expertise and entrepreneurial mindset to his new role at UVA. Working with faculty from both schools, he’s ready to make moves to energize the MBA/MEd degree program.
“We envision Curry and UVA as a center for educational innovation,” he said, “UVA will move forward as an institution that schools and leading education-focused businesses will look to for research, ingenuity, and recruiting.”
Wheelock’s initial focus will be on identifying strategic points of synergy and collaboration between Curry and Darden.
“Social enterprise will be a sweet spot for us,” Wheelock said. The burgeoning field of social enterprise is the ideal common ground for the two schools to begin incubating tomorrow’s education innovators and change-makers.
Behind Wheelock’s appointment has been the visionary philanthropy of newly appointed Curry Foundation Board member and alumna Melanie Biermann (Curry ’90).
With deep roots in teaching and education, Biermann traces her success back to her time at Curry. “I learned to think deeply, to ask questions and to listen carefully,” she said. “I became a better teacher and I went on to jobs that I could not have imagined.”
A veteran educator and champion of effective teacher training, Biermann formerly was the vice president for state relations at the Teacher Education Accreditation Council in Washington, D.C.
Looking back over a celebrated career, Biermann felt it was time to make a significant gift to the Curry School. But like everything she does, she wanted the gift to be thoughtful, meaningful, and to have maximum impact. When she learned about the Curry-Darden MBA/MEd program, she knew she had found the perfect program to champion.
“I’ve always supported interdisciplinary and integrated approaches to teaching and learning,” she said. “I saw the program as a way to bring the best of Curry and Darden together in an innovative, creative, and evolving program that would have impact for years to come.”
She felt a gift for the MBA/MEd program would also be a perfect way to honor her family’s ties to UVA, which include her brother Jim Biermann (McIntire ’76, Darden ‘82) and parents, who instilled the value of education.
As a tribute to her parents, Biermann named her gift the Eileen M. and Harold G. Biermann Memorial Fund. And she is thrilled her gift has played a key role in attracting Wheelock to the Curry School and the new MBA/MEd program.
Biermann is grateful to have an ongoing role at Curry as a new board member and as a champion of educational reform through her gift, which is bringing to life bold new visions of what teachers like Wheelock and education can achieve.