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Q&A: Dr. James Edge ON SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Q: What was your educational and career path to working at Providence Day?

I went to the University of Georgia for my undergraduate degree and master’s degree and then switched over to do a Ph.D. at University of South Carolina. All three of my degrees are in English. I was pretty sure I was going to pursue that academic route and teach in college, but the more I did it – including working as an adjunct at different colleges and then moving to Charlotte – it became apparent to me that I was not enjoying only getting to interact with students for two hours a week. 

Once we moved to Charlotte, my wife encouraged me to start thinking more about working in high schools so that I could have more opportunities to coach and see students every day of the week (before the global pandemic when it was feasible). I reached out through searches online and Upper School English Department Head Dr. Clint Crumley was one of the first people, within a day or two of me emailing him, who offered to meet up with me.

Q: What roles have you had at Providence Day?

I started as a contracted long-term substitute. Upper School Head Eric Hedinger has continued to get me integrated on campus and involved in whatever ways he can. Teaching Social Entrepreneurship is a great way to do that.

I have enjoyed the Social Entrepreneurship Class. A week after I accepted the long-term subbing offer, Eric Hedinger asked me if I’d be willing to take on a slightly different responsibility. He laid out the idea for the course, sent me the materials for how it had been taught previously, and asked if I’d be open to teaching two sections of it. I’m not good at hiding my reactions! Even during that conversation, I remember Eric saying, “it sounds like you are open to this possibility” and kind of laughing in the background. I was already thinking about texts and approaches to teaching the class, along with guest speakers to try to pull into the class. 

A lot of my friends went into the business world, so I was thinking about ways I could leverage those friendships and how to incorporate them into the class. More voices, especially in a class like this, could allow students to think about a slightly different way of viewing the idea of going into business. 

Instead of thinking about it abstractly, like, “I want to go into accounting because accounting makes money,” I preferred to attach people’s stories to their faces and think about all of the different ways you can impact somebody’s life and generate profit in the process. That may expand their horizons and make them a little more ambitious or make them move the yard post on what they want to achieve out of class or out of life. It might just refocus what they want to do.

A lot of students since taking this class think, “I have this skill or this interest. How can I monetize it, or how can I monetize it and turn a certain amount of those proceeds back into a cause or an avenue I am really invested in that could profit the Charlotte area or the nation?” It’s helped a lot of students think about how they can change their environment. If you think about ways you can immediately fix things in your neighborhood with people you know, you can take a bite out of that issue. Once you have begun to address it at the local level you can begin to scale it.

Much of the class is getting students to reconsider the motivations they already have and putting new materials and ways of doing things in front of them. At least one day a week we focus on contemporary issues found through MSNBC or Forbes or Harvard Business Review. It’s pushing students to think more about current events and views – how it relates to the ways money moves, who gets that money, how can it reach better causes than just sitting in people’s pockets and not addressing social problems. 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve made a lot of good contacts in the community by bringing in guest speakers for the class. I’ve had so many that I reached out to who couldn’t join the class this semester but have voiced excitement about joining us the next time the class is offered. The remote nature of how we’ve been conducting class has actually helped our class in a way because it’s freed up some time for speakers who would have previously had other engagements or been traveling.

Q: How has Providence Day impacted you?

PD has fulfilled me in the ways that I hoped it would and it has really become a second home for me. I get to campus pretty early in the day and I really look forward to being here. Speaking with colleagues here often leads to a really invigorating and stimulating conversation. Many of the conversations I have with coworkers and even students are enjoyably rigorous.

I also think it’s great to be around students. Students here seem very mature. The young men and women who are here seem like they are not just on college tracks but that they are already doing work similar to what students in college are doing, and they manage their studying and time commitments in a very similar way. 

For me, it’s like having that academic push like I had when I was teaching in college with the benefit of spending time with high school students where you can see them throughout the week multiple times. It’s been an incredibly positive experience and I would not trade it to teach elsewhere.

Q: Where do you see PD in five years? 25 years? 50 years?

We’ve seen how much the school has put toward health & safety protocols during the pandemic to keep everyone happy and healthy. 

I think one of the more tangible changes we will see in the next five years is revamping the curriculum in the history department. I’ve been working closely with Mr. Ted Dickson developing new classes for the history department, one of which is moving along quite well, about decolonization. We are trying to get the representation we see in the student body also reflected in some of the key works and historical events that we are studying in class. 

In the next five years, I really want to get at least one Nobel Prize winner as a guest speaker for the Social Entrepreneurship class. A lot of people want to share their insights with young people because those are the ones we can most easily affect. We came really close this year with Professor Muhammad Yunus, who is a Bangladeshi economist and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for his work in microfinance. I have been reading about him for years, and I think he’s a genius. The amount of change he’s brought to emerging nations in Africa and Southeast Asia has been incredible. 

I also help out coaching tennis during the offseason, and I’m the JV tennis coach here. One of the ways I’ve been thinking about that with improvements to campus is having lights on the tennis courts. It’s one of the few outdoor arenas where the flexibility to have competition after the sun goes down doesn’t exist now. 

Twenty-five years is a little more ambitious since there’s no way to know what will happen, but I will hope the pandemic comes to a swift conclusion with the use of vaccines. I would like to see greater diversity among all of the faculty and administration in all departments. As far as campus expansion, it’s hard to think about the school expanding horizontally or outward, but it’s much more realistic to expand vertically. Incorporating solar panels would be a nice touch. It will require a significant outlay but would pay back dividends economically and send a message that PD is a local leader in environmental sustainability. You also hear the lingering rumor of an aquatic center. If you have a building that went vertical and you were able to stack classroom space on top of it, it would make sense to have it as the basement level or first-floor level of the building. 

In 50 years, I would predict flying cars, right? The Jetsons was set in 2062 and was an innovative series my parents grew up watching; maybe an innovative PD student can be the one to do it. Our students certainly have the ambition to do so, and I don’t think that’s impossible. Personally, during the next 50 years, I would like to get a tennis match against Dr. Cowlishaw. He’s an extremely busy guy, but maybe in the next 50 years, he might have the time.

Q: What are some of your most memorable moments as a teacher?

I’ve really enjoyed writing recommendation letters for students. Not just for college applications but for summer activities like Governor’s School that students really want to take part in. Helping them sculpt their essays and finding out what they genuinely care about outside of the materials we are covering in class is really rewarding because we can talk about some of their real interests and real goals. 

Q: What is unique about the students and the community you interact with at PD?

A: The two that stand out to me most are maturity and empathy for other students. I know when I was in high school I was a terrible student and I didn’t volunteer unless I absolutely had to.

So many of our students act like they are already in college and have extracurriculars that they are involved in that they juggle really well. On top of that, almost all of them take part in volunteering or some altruistic pursuit and it doesn’t seem to be compulsory or mandatory in any way. It seems like such an ingrained part of the PD DNA, even at a young age.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of PD?

I really enjoy playing tennis although I don’t really get to do it as much casually. I really enjoy watching club soccer and international soccer – Dr. Cowlishaw is probably going to roast me again – and I’m a big Liverpool fan. I became a fan when they weren’t as good as they are now. I also spend a lot of time in the yard either gardening or trimming up plants to make a relaxing space. My grandmother is a master gardener, so I grew up around plants and that relaxes me a lot. 

My wife and I just got a new vegetarian cookbook, so that was a nice treat for both of us. We have three pets now, two dogs and a cat, including a puppy we adopted. 

I try to stay busy – I don’t like sitting still. I try to have some sort of task to look forward to.

I’m just really happy to be here. I’m always looking for new ways to add to the hats I get to wear on campus, whether it’s chaperoning a Model UN event or helping someone with a position paper for Model UN or helping the Charger Asset Management Board, I’m just looking for ways that I can contribute to PD’s community. They’ve been really good to me, and I really enjoy contributing to this community.  

  • Q&A