The national treasure we don’t talk about

It’s just a couple of days shy of three years since I had the opportunity to share my story from the White House about my route to becoming the U. S. Chief Data Scientist. To the surprise of many, I wasn’t the kid that raced through school with great grades to a top tier university. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was a terrible student for a whole slew of reasons. But, what I did have going for me is an amazing community college in my town.

To this day, I’m grateful to DeAnza Community College and all of the instructors who set me up for success. They taught me how to write and see the beauty in math. My experience with community colleges didn’t stop there. After I received my doctorate in math, I was able to return to Montgomery Community College to take something that I’ve wanted to take since high school: automotive repair and engineering. And it was awesome.

I’m not the only one, my dad a decade earlier took Japanese classes at night as he was starting his company and was visiting Japan regularly. My friends who were way ahead of the curve took college classes at their local community college. That’s the amazing thing about our community colleges, there are there to support you at every step of your career.

Now I get my chance to come back home and support De Anza College on their 50th Anniversary on Monday May 7th and they’ll be live streaming it too.

Most of all, I hope is that you’ll do two things. First, take a class at your local community college. Nervous? No problem, take a class with some friends or even better make new ones in class! Continued learning is critical in our rapidly changing economy. Second, let’s make sure we keep our community colleges awesome. How? Let’s push for two years free for everyone. Call your Congressional representative and tell them to make it happen! I know there’s many more of you out there that got a boost from a community college and we need to make sure everyone knows about this crown jewel of our nation.

-dj

Here’s the original letter I wrote:

I’m the U.S. Chief Data Scientist — and I got my start in community college.

Yes, I’ve got a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, have been fortunate to help build amazing companies, and have been at the forefront of the data science movement. But the critical first step in that journey started at De Anza Jr. College in Cupertino, California.

I think more Americans should be able to have that opportunity.

If you agree, share where community college took you, or why you think it should be available to more Americans.

Community college gave me three great gifts that I’ll be forever grateful for.

The first is my love for mathematics. All through high school, I was a mediocre math student (and that’s putting it kindly). But then I took a calculus class — and it rocked my world. The lecturer really took the time to explain deep concepts and helped me see the intrinsic beauty. Today, when I explain some of the concepts I learned back then, I still call upon the way it was explained to me all those years ago.

Second, community college taught me how to write. My fellow students in my writing/literature classes came from all different walks of life. These were people I’d never had the chance to interact with, and that made the material come alive in a whole new way.

Poetry had a new dimension. Narrative had a deeper meaning. And most of all, it was hard. Really hard. For those that think community college is easy, this was no easy ride. I spent days working on each essay. Writing, rewriting, getting feedback — until I learned what it was to be proud of something I’d created.

Which leads me to the third and most critical thing community college taught me: confidence. If I’m brutally honest about it, I wasn’t ready to go to college. I wasn’t mature enough and I certainly didn’t have the academic skills. When I look back at the quality of education I received for the price I paid, it’s stunning the value I received. I’m walking proof.

So when I heard the President announce his plan to give everyone access to community college, it only increased my excitement that I might be part of this team. Some of my closest friends all went to community college, as well — and I’ve seen firsthand the impact it’s had on their lives.

I’m fundamentally convinced that if everyone had this chance, we’d throw open the doors for a whole new world of economic improvement, which would benefit all Americans.

Do you agree? Then join me and share what community college has meant for you, or why more Americans should have access to it.

Thanks,

DJ Patil

U.S. Chief Data Scientist

The White House

P.S. — If you want to learn more about what exactly it is a Chief Data Scientist does,read the memo I wrote to the American people when I took this position.

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