An interview with Jaime Casap, Google’s Chief Education Evangelist and a featured speaker at the upcoming CAP College Success Institute

When and why did you become interested in the education sector?

When I started my career, education wasn’t what I was focused on. I spent the majority of my career focused on technology.  I fell into education when we launched Google Apps for Education into the university space in 2006. I worked with a bunch of universities to get them using technology, and then I had this crazy idea of launching Google Apps for Education into the K-12 space. I started getting more interested in education because I saw how we could transform what was happening in education, especially for underrepresented students and schools. Then I started going to education conferences, and all these people were talking about what we needed to do for black and brown kids. I looked around the room, trying to raise my hand, saying “none of you are black or brown or poor.” That’s where it lit up for me, reflecting on how I grew up and how important education was for me. I decided to start telling my story and how crucial education was for me and what I’ve been able to accomplish.

What does your role as the Chief Education Evangelist at Google look like?

My role is to work across various teams focused on education. These teams have specialists who work with school districts and universities and serve as their point person—answering questions and providing resources. My job is to support those teams by being a subject matter expert, which I partly do by attending and speaking at events. Because of this role, and because I have been in front of educators, for the last 13 years I have had the chance to get in front of students. This year, I’ve already spoken to more than 1000 students! That’s my favorite part.

How does Google promote college success for first-generation and low-income students?

We have several programs at Google focused on trying to get the right people into the right situation as far as education is concerned. These programs include a coding institute and supporting underrepresented organizations in the engineering space. We just launched what people are calling Howard West at the Google campus in Mountain View, trying to get graduates from Howard University out to Google to take computer science classes.

More broadly, how can technology promote college success for first-generation and low-income students?

We completely underestimate the power of technology and the web. If you asked me when I was 11 years old what happened on December 7, 1941, I had to go look up that information in the encyclopedia at the library. It took some time. If I’m 11 years old today, I have access to all the world’s information at my fingertips. We don’t stop to think about how powerful that is and how much faster learning can happen because of technology. The second part is that because of the internet we have an opportunity to be passionate about anything we want to be passionate about and find an audience for it. The ability to connect with people is amazing—I don’t think we give it justice. This next generation takes it for granted even more than we do because that’s all they know.

When you’re talking to college students about the role technology can play in their lives, what advice do you give them?

When I was finishing graduate school and typed the last word on my last 60-page paper, I remember thinking “I am done learning.” What a foolish thought that was 25 years ago when I graduated from graduate school. Imagine how foolish it is today. For many college students, they have lived their whole lives seeing education as a process. The best advice I can give is that learning is not a process, it’s a mindset. Always be curious. Have the self-awareness to say, “I don’t know how to do X, let me go learn how to do it.”

When I speak to first-generation college students, I tell them this: what often happens their freshman year is that they feel like they are imposters, like somehow somebody made a mistake and they’re not like everybody else at this school. The more prestigious the school, the harder that realization is. I remind first-generation students that they do belong there, that their point of view is completely unique because of the circumstances that brought them to college, and that they should take advantage of it.

How would you like to see the college success dialogue change in the next 3-5 years?

We need to stop the rhetoric around “you don’t need to go to college” and “college isn’t for everyone.” That’s usually stated by people who have college degrees. The most important aspect we should all focus on is a recognition that just having a high school degree isn’t sufficient for the future we face. Whether it is a four-year degree or a certification program, continuing education beyond high school is non-negotiable. Until I start seeing the statistics change about what you make per year with a high school degree versus a college degree, I always want to push first-gen kids into college to get their degree—first, for the education, second, for the validation, and third, for the network. You remember who you went to college with, you keep that network going, and that helps you in your future.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to make sure we understand the difference between equality and equity. Oftentimes we think we’re talking about equity but we’re talking about equality. College should be available to all students—that’s equality. Underrepresented students should have the same access to college that everyone else has—that’s equality. Equity, on the other hand, is to understand that those students in underrepresented categories have a harder time when they get to college. They may be coming from schools that were less than ideal and have a bigger gap between what they should know and what they need to know. They may not have the financial backing that other students have. I didn’t have anything when I was in college, and I would find friends to eat off their meal plans at the end of the month. Equality is important and giving an opportunity to all students is necessary—but we also need to focus on equity, which is, what are the resources that these students need to succeed?

Interested in learning more about college success? Register for the first-ever College Success Institute, May 20-21 in the San Francisco Bay Area!