Alumni Spotlight

What is my mountain to climb? Alexandra Bernadotte, MA ’07

GSE mentors Debra Meyerson and Kim Smith posed this future founder a life-altering question

I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and when I was 3 months old, my parents immigrated to the United States in search of a better life for our family. They had big dreams for my sister and me, including earning a college degree, even though they had few resources and were unfamiliar with the U.S. education landscape.

“Remarkably, after high school I attended Dartmouth. I really struggled with the transition from high school to college. As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t prepared for the social and academic challenges I experienced. I was intimidated by fears that no one else seemed to be struggling, and that perhaps I did not belong there; however, four years later, I graduated. I was one of the lucky ones who overcame the shame of near-failure and carved out a path to success. 

“After graduating, I wanted to help other first-generation students bridge the gap between K-12 and higher education. I asked myself: What levers can I pull to achieve systemic change? 

“In 2006, I found my answer at Stanford, where I enrolled in the GSE’s Policy, Organization and Leadership Studies master’s program. I chose Stanford largely because it offered me a fellowship. That fellowship, plus a personal call from the POLS director, were signs that I belonged! 

“Most compelling of all, the GSE was where equity, policy and data superstars Milbrey McLaughlin and Mike Kirst were creating a powerful body of scholarly work on college persistence.

“Immersed in McLaughlin’s vision for deriving insight from big data, and inspired by Professors Debra Meyerson and Mike Smith, I was ready to answer the question: What is my mountain to climb? This exercise led me to found Beyond 12 in 2009. 

“Beyond 12 is a technology-based nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that every student who enrolls in college is prepared to handle the rigors of higher education through personalized coaching and student data tracking and analysis. 

“I left the Stanford GSE with more than a degree and a dream. I had received the tools and honed the habits of mind necessary to achieve my goal of moving the needle on educational equity. Thank you, GSE, and congratulations on this centennial celebration!”

Alexandra Bernadotte earned her M.A. in 2007 in Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies. She is founder and CEO of Beyond 12.