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OLIVER SICAT ’01
By Jasmine Ako

While walking through campus as an undergraduate, Oliver Sicat ’01 stumbled upon the Joint Education Project (JEP) house, where students find unique opportunities to combine academic coursework with hands-on volunteer experience in the local community. As fate would have it, the university’s service-learning program was looking for someone to organize and run a group of economics-business volunteers.

Looking to lend a helping hand, Sicat began promoting the program to economics professors and evaluating student reflection papers.

“It was a great way to connect what I was interested in from an academic standpoint to service, and something just clicked,” he recalls.

That fateful experience would be his first brush with education. Fast-forward over a decade, and Sicat has developed a reputation for positive change and innovation in the education space, with a career spanning mentorship, teaching, administration and district leadership. Today, he serves as the CEO of Ednovate, the charter management organization that

 

runs USC Hybrid High and partners with the university to apply the latest educational advances and models in the classroom.

Reflecting on his overall time at USC, Sicat says, “It helped me to find what I was passionate about, and gave me the space and time to think about that.”

In his current role, Sicat is tasked with starting and leading schools that enable students to be changemakers, and also helping USC Hybrid High improve its innovative, personalized blended-learning model. On a broader level, he hopes to influence education on a greater scale.

Entrepreneurship and Education

No stranger to starting and leading new initiatives and organizations, Sicat started his very first business as a USC undergraduate. In addition to his involvement with JEP, Sicat cites his experience co-founding an antennae ball business as particularly influential, since it taught him the essentials of entrepreneurship. Together with a friend, Sicat created antennae balls in the shape of USC footballs and secured the USC Bookstore as their first client. Eventually, their business expanded to manufacture products for other colleges, high schools, conferences and businesses.

“Starting my first business [at USC] was really instrumental in what I ended up doing in my career, since I was an entrepreneur ever since,” he says. “It gave me the confidence to believe in myself, that I could have a vision, start it, execute it, and be successful in it,” he shares. “I left with a better sense of self.”

After leaving USC, Sicat continued to pursue many entrepreneurial endeavors, but ultimately traded business for education. While enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he received $100,000 in seed funds from a professor to found a nonprofit, Emagine, which focused on preparing first-generation college students for college acceptance and readiness.

“I wanted to start an after school program to help students figure out what their passions were so that they could have fulfilling careers, and also as a first generation college student, I wanted to help first generation college students figure out what they’re passionate about,” explains Sicat.

After finishing up at Harvard, Sicat continued to lead his nonprofit while beginning his career as a high school math teacher. After several years of teaching, he moved to Chicago where he served as the founding principal of UIC College Prep, part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which went on to become the top non-selective school in Chicago.

 

 

“I had a goal to be principal before 30,” Sicat says. “After that, it’s been [about] being successful and curious at each level.”

Impressed by Sicat’s leadership and the success of UIC College Prep, Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, invited him to join his cabinet working on policy as chief portfolio officer. In this role, Sicat oversaw the overall expansion and improvement of schools across Chicago.

“When I was doing policy work in Chicago, we were trying to find better high school options,” explains Sicat. “I realized there was a supply side problem, so I wanted to come back home, to be a part of the solution on the supply side. Now I feel like I have a great 360 perspective of the whole education sector.”

Coming Full Circle

Sicat is now faced with the challenge of ensuring that USC Hybrid High’s educational model, which incorporates technology and personalization with student learning in completely new ways, is translated effectively to the classroom—and ultimately into student achievement. He mentions that exciting university partnerships are also under way, such as training

 

teachers on these new educational models, and collaborating with other schools, such as the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Based on his prior experiences, Sicat is no stranger to challenges and is enthusiastic about what lies ahead in his current role.

“I helped start a network of charter schools that was very similar in Chicago, so I learned a lot about charter 1.0,” he says. “I want to continue to move the reform efforts forward by rethinking how we do high school education.”

Working in partnership with his alma mater, Sicat is passionate about continuing to make a difference and instilling that same sense of purpose in students.

“This whole partnership with USC comes back now, they launched my career,” he says. “[This is] getting kids to college, graduating from college, and they can create multi-generational change in their families, or the communities, or the world.”

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