Patrick O'Donnell holding microphone and speaking in front of people looking towards him at event

Making Waves CEO Patrick O’Donnell Selected for Pahara Institute’s Fellowship Program

by Making Waves Education Foundation

Making Waves Education Foundation » News Stories » Making Waves CEO Patrick O’Donnell Selected for Pahara Institute’s Fellowship Program

O’Donnell joins a diverse fellowship community of values-driven leaders who are transforming education

Headshot of Patrick O'Donnell
CEO Patrick O’Donnell

On February 15, 2024, Making Waves Education Foundation CEO Patrick O’Donnell joined the Pahara Institute’s Pahara Fellowship.

The highly selective program identifies exceptional, values-driven leaders and provides them with leadership development opportunities so they can further transform the education system, especially for students from low-income backgrounds.

During the one-year program, O’Donnell will be a part of a 24-person cohort of creative, empathetic, and entrepreneurial leaders who will reflect on leadership, identity, and equity with the support of expert moderators.

The program brings together leaders who have strong experience partnering with students and communities – yet are on a journey to understand how their identity shapes their leadership are open to learning from and bridging gaps across different perspectives.

“I’m thrilled to be part of Pahara,” O’Donnell shared. “What an incredible opportunity for me to take my learning, leadership, and impact to the next level! I have so much belief in students – their empathy, vision, creativity, and leadership – and I believe in our country’s infinite potential to tackle the systemic injustices of our education system and to create opportunities so all students can thrive.”

“Participating in Pahara will help me learn and grow so I can be the best leader for Making Waves and work with our amazing team to innovate and unlock breakthroughs that advance educational opportunity and economic mobility for students,” he shared.

O’Donnell has been the CEO of Making Waves Education Foundation since 2019. The Bay Area nonprofit is focused on educational equity and offers programs that support historically underserved and underrepresented middle school, high school, and college students on their college and career paths.

Before Making Waves, O’Donnell spent nine years at Teach For America holding a variety of leadership roles, including executive director of Teach For America’s Indianapolis region and vice president of national development. He also taught middle school for four years, first with Teach For America in Los Angeles and again later in his career at The American School Foundation of Guadalajara. He earned his MBA and MA of public policy from Georgetown University, MA in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University, and BA in English from Boston College. 

“The fellows in my Pahara cohort and in the Pahara network are so inspiring. I can’t wait to get to know them and learn from them. Taking time to collaborate, reflect, be challenged, and explore new ideas and perspectives will help me make the biggest leaps in my leadership development and impact,” O’Donnell shared.

At the conclusion of the year of programming, O’Donnell will receive continued opportunities as a part of the Pahara Fellowship community. The network includes leaders from public school districts and public charter networks, state departments of education, education nonprofits and advocacy organizations, think tanks, and philanthropy organizations located around the United States. Making Waves Academy CEO Alton Nelson, Jr. also participated in the Pahara Fellowship in 2015-16.

About Making Waves Education Foundation

At Making Waves, we are committed to educational equity. Making Waves Education Foundation is a Bay Area nonprofit that supports Making Waves Academy – a public charter school with more than 1,100 5th through 12th grade students – and leads college and career programming with more than 430 college students. Knowing the opportunities that come with a college degree, we partner with historically underrepresented and underserved students to help make college affordable and graduation attainable. Centering the journeys of our students, our personalized approach includes college and career coaching, scholarships, and financial planning. Our alumni network includes more than 730 college graduates, who earn their degrees and land jobs at more than twice the rate of their first-generation, low-income peers, with 85% graduating debt-free.

About the Pahara Institute

The Pahara Institute seeks to strengthen the movement for educational excellence and equity by developing and sustaining values-driven leaders. The guiding principle of the Pahara Institute is that bold improvements are needed in our public schools so that every child in America is prepared to lead a free and fulfilling life. Pahara’s programs are designed to identify leaders in education innovation, and through a time-tested dialogue approach, strengthen and sustain their efforts to bring about critical improvements to our public schools. For more information, please visit

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