At The Spike Lab we work tirelessly to build a team of world-class coaches. This is part of a series of blogs introducing them to you.
Sara has mentored high school students for 10+ years. An idealist at heart, she has spent her career committed to schools and nonprofits that go beyond the status quo and offer a truly different way to learn. From an all-girls boarding school in the US to a co-ed secondary school in rural Tanzania, to a sports-based, youth development nonprofit, Sara’s expertise lies in scaling operations and building curriculums to support students.
Sara was the first employee hired by two EdTech companies, one with $1 million investor backing and one bootstrapped through a startup accelerator program. Her first company, Ellie Glad, launched while she was volunteering in Tanzania, sold consumer goods with a 1-1 model. Currently, Sara runs The Mindful Applicant, a program for students that teaches wellness and social-emotional skills.
Born and raised in a small town in Maryland, Sara now lives in Boston with her husband.
1) Why did you become a coach with The Spike Lab?
I believe that the college process is more than the transition between high school and college; it is a rite of passage. The Spike Lab’s curriculum truly helps students understand their purpose and build essential skills as they make the leap from a state of dependence within their family to a state of independence in the world. Finding our purpose is surprisingly hard. I wanted to be a Spike Lab coach because I think that focusing on an innovative spike is a way to uncover it.
I’ve been lucky in my career to work at a school, at an international NGO, for a grassroots nonprofit, and for early stage startups. Though the models have been different, the purpose has been the same. All have been on a mission to deliver excellent education that went above and beyond the status quo. The Spike Lab too provides students with an exceptional learning experience, and I wanted to be a part of that.
I’m currently in the early stages of launching my own EdTech company, The Mindful Applicant. Where The Spike Lab leverages the college process to teach students innovation skills and help them launch a unique entrepreneurial project, The Mindful Applicant similarly leverages the college application process to teach social-emotional skills. Generation Z (students who are in high school and college now) make up the most anxious generation that the world has ever seen. The Mindful Applicant will amplify student wellbeing during this particularly stressful time of life.
2) How did you choose Williams for undergrad?
I was a good lacrosse player in high school. I played all the time. My family made significant investments and sacrifices so that I could tryout for and play on the best teams possible. I joined a club team, won tournaments and state championships, and was honored as a High School All-American. I wanted to play in college.
This desire, in many ways, was well founded. I loved and still love sports. I took great pride and pleasure in training my mind and body to be better at my craft. To this day, I like experimenting with and pushing the limits of my physical ability.
That said, my keen pursuit to play the game at the next level was also disingenuous. I can’t pinpoint when it started, but very early in my high school lacrosse career (if I’m honest, probably well before that), I came to believe that playing was my “ticket” to college. And this mindset, this view of something I loved, as a means to an end, rather than a passion for passion’s sake was a poison on my college process.
My high school was what you might call a “pressure cooker”. It was a great private school and therefore filled with high achieving students who were setting their sights on the top ranked colleges and universities across the country. Taking my cues from this environment, I became convinced that I too had to apply to and attend a top ranked school. Anything less would be a failure.
These two truths that I held, that lacrosse was my “ticket” and that I was obligated to go to a top ranked school, created an almost feelingless formula that I followed. I would find the best school that I could where I could be an “impact player” (that’s the admissions lingo used to describe athletes that will be shown preferable treatment in the admissions process) and that would seal the deal.
From a logistical standpoint, this methodology was flawless. I applied early-decision to Williams and was accepted. From an emotional standpoint, this methodology was borderline insanity. First, I undermined my belief in myself by thinking that lacrosse was the only reason a school would accept me. I did a disservice to my identity as a student, a community member, a leader, a human. Secondly, my formula allowed me to bypass seriously important work to understand myself and what I actually wanted from my college experience. Who did I want to become through college, what was I seeking, and where would the experience land me in 5, 10, even 15 years? As if this wasn’t enough, it also made me a worse lacrosse player. The exuberance that I once had for competition, for just playing, was pushed aside by self-inflicted pressure.
In the end I don’t regret going to Williams. I made great friends, I took interesting classes and learned from thoughtful professors. I received a truly phenomenal education. I do regret that my path to Williams was so strategic that it was devoid of emotional intentionality. Though I benefitted from my time at Williams, I would have benefited a great deal more had I arrived on campus having done the emotional labor to truly believe in myself and know, beyond getting playing time on the lacrosse field, what I wanted from the experience.
I share this story not as an example for students to follow, but rather as a cautionary tale. I think the best laid college plans come from really developing emotional fortitude and self-awareness. I was short-sighted and insecure in my decision making and consequently did neither of these things.
3) What is your proudest professional achievement?
In 2013 I left a corporate job in Washington, DC to volunteer at a startup school in rural Tanzania. I went from a world of high heels, business suits, and taxis (Uber wasn’t big yet) to sensible walking shoes, skirts that covered my knees, and ancient safari vehicles. To many around me, this decision was impossible to understand. It was crazy for me to leave a nice city, a nice apartment, and a nice paycheck for a remote village where I would be obviously foreign, live in a home with an outdoor bathroom, and work in a job that was going to be highly uncertain. While they shook their heads, I found my purpose. In its 4th year of operation, the school needed volunteers who could help take it from a scrappy, idealistic operation held together by a shoestring to a well running, sustainable NGO. It turns out that I not only love doing that, I’m good at it. If I had listened to the voices around me, rather than the one inside of me, I’d still be toiling away at a job that was meaningless to me.
I was a world-class procrastinator in high school. I saved every paper, every project, every problem set for the last minute. I thought this meant that I wasn’t interested in the work, that my work ethic needed sharpening. What I understand now is that I procrastinated not because of a lack of interest or determination, but because something deeper was going on. My procrastination was a messenger for my fatigue, my fear, and my stress. Until I addressed the deeper issues, the procrastination continued, regardless of how hard I or anyone else tried to whip some discipline into me.
My advice to highschool-Sara: ask “Why?” If you have a bad habit that you can’t seem to kick, don’t punish yourself for it, uncover its root cause and address that. Now I’ve learned that I procrastinate when I’m overly tired. If I rest, that helps. I procrastinate when I fear that I’m not up to the task. If I reframe it, listen to a pump-up song, or go on a run to reclaim my mental toughness, that helps. I procrastinate when I’m stressed out. If I relax and meditate, that helps. I felt guilty in high school for my bad habit. I knew it impacted the quality of my work and of my relationships, but I never wondered why it was happening. Instead I tried to strap myself to a desk, dial up my caffeine intake, and keep going. I can’t tell you how much I now value the question “Why?”