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30 Under 30: As Told by Former Honorees

By Alina O'Donnell
 | Sep 15, 2017

30 Under 30 HonoreesThrough our 30 Under 30 list, ILA recognizes young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. Beyond visibility, 30 Under 30 honorees gain confidence, professional development opportunities, and new and expanded networks. Here’s what some of our former honorees have to say about the experience, in their own words:

“The ILA 30 Under 30 award is more than a global tag/title or recognition. It has provided me a platform upon which a lot of contemporary programs and reforms can be replicated to Liberia. As ILA members, we now have a pool of resources to ensure our programs are meeting the evolving literacy needs of the people we serve. Our participation as the only exhibitor from Africa at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA, provided us with important contacts that we continue to leverage as we seek to expand our scale and impact in Liberia.” 

Benjamin Freeman, 2015 30 Under 30 honoree and executive director of the Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE)

“For the first time, I attended and presented at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, where I had the opportunity to meet some of my 30 Under 30 colleagues and other ILA leaders. Being able to meet the people behind so many of ILA’s impactful initiatives was empowering. Another life-changing moment occurred for me when Katie Wood Ray reached out to me about visiting my school! She had read the 30 Under 30 article, and she wanted to see our work with English learners and family engagement in action. As a literacy coach, sharing an opportunity with my staff to talk with one of the giants in elementary literacy was a truly incredible experience.

Being a 30 Under 30 honoree reminded me that age does not define our contributions to community and society. We all have something to share and learn from each other—no matter our ages, our geographic locations, or the nature of our careers in education. We all have something to contribute. We can all be literacy leaders, if we take the time to listen and to act.”

Melissa Wells, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and assistant professor for the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia

“After receiving the award, I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the Closing General Session [at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits] and spent the subsequent months in a constant state of panic as I prepared to speak in front of a room of highly respected literacy advocates. The entire ILA team was extremely supportive and encouraging to me on the days that led to my speaking. They were so encouraging, in fact, that I felt confident enough to overcome my fear of public speaking. After I finished my session and returned backstage I was met with hugs and cheers.

There’s a sense of family at the conference. Imagine a convention center full of individuals who share your same heart for empowering students through literacy. The feeling is indescribable and truly inspiring. I was able to connect with other 30 Under 30 honorees and hear their literacy success stories. It’s calming to know that the world is filled with other teachers whose life passion is the same as mine: literacy for all. I am still in contact with my fellow honorees and love seeing what they’re doing in their classrooms. I left conference feeling empowered and truly inspired to continue my work.”

Katie Lett, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and elementary teacher of English learners at Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan

If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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