Michael W. Tipton has been a student at Louisiana State University his entire life — literally.
In fact, he was a Tiger before he even learned how to read. The 28-year-old Baton Rouge native attended LSU Child Development Laboratory Preschool, and then the K-12 University Laboratory School before finally enrolling at LSU, where he graduated summa cum laude with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and history.
“I largely spent twenty-two years in and around LSU’s campus,” he said. “And LSU is where my passion for the work I’m doing came from.”
Tipton is currently serving as Executive Director of the South Louisiana Office of Teach For America (TFA), a national corps of recent college graduates of all academic majors and career interests who commit two years to teach in public schools.
TFA’s mission is to help eliminate the educational achievement gap — something that Tipton has felt very strongly about ever since a volunteer experience in college changed the course of his life.
Through the Honors College, which strongly emphasizes community involvement and service, Tipton became involved with the local organization Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS). As part of the VIPS EveryBody Reads program, Tipton became a Reading Friend at Highland Elementary, where he witnessed educational inequity firsthand.
“I was helping a third-grader who was really struggling to read, and I remember comparing that to my experience as a third grade student reading small chapter books,” he said. “And I thought, there is no reason this should be happening in our country. Children should absolutely be able to get a good education regardless of where they are in Baton Rouge.”
Although he had originally aspired to pursue a career in politics, Tipton decided to apply for Teach for America.
“My plan was to be a lawyer,” he said. “I was going to go into law in Louisiana and it was only when Teach for America recruited me that I really thought about the opportunity to use that passion for improving our state through the lens of education.”
Wanting to see another side of the world, Tipton became a high school history teacher in New York. There, he helped to found Mott Hall Bronx High School on the sixth floor of a pre-World War II building with no air conditioning.
When he first assessed his group of 110 students, only two had the skills to pass the New York State Regents Exams; after just two years, Tipton helped bring that number to eighty.
The school’s incredible success led to a $52 million new building — and a new job offer that enticed Tipton to return to his Southern roots. At only 24 years old, he became one of the youngest TFA directors in the country.
Tipton credits his success to the support of his family and friends, faith, hard work, and the Honors College, which ultimately led him to where he is today.
“The Honors College taught me ways of thinking critically about history and the world … and it deepened my understanding of what I was passionate about,” he said. “I quickly realized that I was doing things that my friends at Ivy League schools were doing. That gave me the confidence to tackle challenges, since we had similar preparation — but I’d had it in a setting that was very much near and dear to my heart.”
According to Tipton, being a teacher has been the most meaningful experience in his life so far, and he hopes to continue to spread his passion for improving Louisiana education.
“I believe that Louisiana can be a place that has all the things we already love — the quality of life, wonderful food, great music, culture — and also be a place known for wonderful education, [which is] the basis of what we’ll be able to do as a state in years to come,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to make sure that every kid gets a great education, and as a result of that, a great shot at life.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831