Turning Challenge to Change
Elaine Charpentier Philippi ’11 brings a lot of skills and talents to her new position as executive director of the Business Education Compact (BEC), a nonprofit organization that strives to put historically underserved students on a path to career success.
She also brings an insider’s perspective on plight of underserved students.
“For decades, poor students and students of color have been underperforming in our schools. They disproportionately struggle to connect what they are learning in school to life outside of it,” Charpentier Philippi said.
“I can personally relate to the challenges [many of these] students face, which have nothing to do with their intelligence, creativity or motivation to succeed.”
A native of Washington, Charpentier Philippi grew up in poverty and left home by the time she was 14. During high school, she struggled academically and managed to keep a roof over her head by “couch surfing.” A vice principal once told her that she would never amount to much, and she took those words to heart.
“I believed students ‘like me’ did not go to college and live successful lives,” she said. “That mindset became the platform upon which I would base all my decisions as a young adult. It was my largest barrier to living the life I was capable of.”
Fortunately, other people in her life would recognize her untapped potential.
By the early 2000s, Charpentier Philippi was a single mother of three working as head secretary to a high school principal. When her boss decided to retire, he encouraged her to continue her education, and she decided to take a shot at a “do-over” in life.
She landed a Ford Family Foundation Restart scholarship for adult students and enrolled at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Ore. Later, she transferred to Pacific, drawn to the university by the legacy of the late Claire Argow, an activist for prison reform and professor of sociology at Pacific.
“I loved that Claire Argow had dedicated her life to social work and was giving back to students in the way that she did. She was a spitfire,” said Charpentier Philippi, who went on to receive Pacific’s Claire Argow Scholarship.
Charpentier Philippi was 36 when she enrolled at Pacific, majoring in social work. Her leadership skills caught the attention of professors, and they gave her opportunities to test those skills.
“They saw me as a leader, someone who would go into administrative or policy work,” said Charpentier Philippi. “I got very excited about systems-level change.”
As a senior, she traveled to the Oregon Capitol, with her children in tow, to testify in favor of a bill urging the White House to revive its long-running Conference on Children and Youth.
After graduation, Charpentier Philippi joined the Business Education Compact, based in Beaverton, Ore., as a program specialist working with high school and college students in the organization’s internship program. She also continued her own education, earning a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University in 2014. (Pacific has since opened its own master of social work program in Eugene.)
For her practicum project, she launched BEC’s STEM Connect program, which helps underserved elementary and middle school students gain insight into the role math and science play in “the real world.” Today, more than 40 businesses and schools participate in the program.
Trained volunteers from BEC partner companies visit local schools, where they conduct hands-on learning activities. They also answer students’ questions about how they use math and science in their jobs.
STEM-related jobs are a major driver of job growth in Oregon and the rest of the country. By 2020, Oregon will add nearly 40,000 new STEM-related jobs per year.
“I have always been a convener of people,” said Charpentier Philippi, who has worked to increase board and community involvement at BEC and helped lead a year-long effort to redefine the organization’s mission and brand.
“One of my strengths is getting people in a room who are smarter and stronger and braver than I am to do great work,” she said.
In announcing her appointment to the position of executive director, BEC’s chairman, Grant Kimball, called her “the perfect example of what a person can accomplish given the opportunity.”
In many ways, Charpentier Philippi’s life has come full circle. In Spring 2017, her oldest child, Dylan Pine, graduated from Pacific with a bachelor’s in social work. She watched him present his capstone project in the same room where she presented hers in 2011.