Wyatt Bruton (China '09)

Wyatt Bruton is a 2011 UNC graduate teaching at Zhiying Middle School in Xiwei Village in Guangdong, China.

In this essay, he details how entrepreneurship shaped his Carolina experience.

I remember it like it was yesterday: moving into campus as an enthusiastic, eager freshman. I knew I was stepping into a place unlike any other, but there was no way I could have known how much my time at UNC would mold me as a person and shape my path.

I joined the Minor in Entrepreneurship my sophomore year and immediately found myself surrounded by some of the most influential professors and leaders of our time. They believe the impossible is possible, that innovation is the key to solving the world’s greatest problems. I was hooked.

Through the Minor in Entrepreneurship and Chancellor Thorp’s Innovate@Carolina initiative, I spent a summer in Beijing, China working at a start-up public relations firm. I experienced first-hand the power of innovation in a bustling economy. I also saw the serious issues present in a rapidly developing country. I spent every weekend teaching English in a migrant village on the outskirts of the city and experienced the educational inequity deeply affecting young children’s lives.

Through the Phillips Ambassadors program at UNC, I returned to Beijing in Summer 2010 to shoot a photo-documentary of life in the migrant village that I couldn’t get out of my mind.

As a senior, I knew I wanted to put my education to work at an entrepreneurial and innovative organization. I saw a flier for Teach For China in Carroll Hall. Three weeks after my May 2011 graduation, I moved to China, joining the global movement to end educational inequity.

Less than five percent of the 190 million students growing up in rural China will go to college. Teach For China, a member of the Teach For All network, aims to give every child a chance at an equal education by placing Chinese and American university graduates such as myself in low-income, rural, under-resourced schools.

Each morning, I walk down to my classroom and stand in front of 82 students in rural Guangdong province. My job: to invest them in the idea that anything is possible, that they can succeed, and that English is a valuable, global tool for their future.

I could have never fully predicted the challenges my students face every day. Many work in factories after school until midnight, and on weekends, to support their families. Many are disillusioned, burned out and bitter toward this educational system where only the strongest move on to high school. Due to the overwhelming amount of students and extremely fast pace at this school, many students are left behind. Some are even encouraged to drop out of school.

Several weeks ago, Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America, Teach For All and a friend of UNC Entrepreneur in Residence Buck Goldstein, observed my class and offered her perspective, wisdom and encouragement. She re-centered me on an ever-important question: given the challenges and all the circumstances outside of our control, what can we do to make a lasting impact in the lives of our kids?

I am amazed every day by how so many of my students face their challenges head-on with confidence, hope and determination. Their passion and drive are the fuel needed to change education in China, and on a much bigger scale, to change the world.

Every day, I think back on my time as a student at UNC. I treasure the honor to take all that I learned and apply it in this challenging context here in rural China as a new alumnus and join the movement to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems—educational inequity.

Follow Bruton's journey: wyattinasia.com