Meet Rachel Young
Senior Director, IDEO
BT Sacramento student, Teaching Fellow alumna

Most of my career life traces back to sixth grade when I was accepted into a new program, then called Summerbridge Sacramento. The classes at Summerbridge were taught by high school and college students and had titles like Anatomy of a Frog and Utopia.

Before Summerbridge, I hadn’t met anyone who was in college. After Summerbridge, I knew that some of them wore Birkenstocks. They cared about things like literature and civics and asked me “why” when I shared my opinion. Some of them even lived on the east coast.

Before Summerbridge, I had never before been on a private school campus. Every detail that felt foreign is still emblazoned to memory. The water fountains not only worked, but they had these refrigerated units under them that hummed. The Art Room left the greatest impression.

It was, first of all, unlocked. It was blissfully air-conditioned, the ceilings were tall, and it was full of supplies that we could just use. We didn’t have to ask anyone. When I’d take a cap off a marker, I still remember it being predictably juicy rather than predictably dry, as I had come to expect at regular school.

Before Summerbridge, I hadn’t experienced feeling trusted in school. But at Summerbridge, I had creative and academic liberation for ten weeks.

I left altered. I couldn’t unsee that learning could feel so good. It was the curiosity, love, and possibility personified in those teachers that left me a little radicalized. After Summerbridge, I learned that the elementary school at which I’d just spent six years was one of the lowest performing in the city. I became enraged about educational opportunity gaps at a young age.

It wasn’t a straight path, but I eventually became the Birkenstock-wearing, east-coast dwelling college student who taught four consecutive summers on that same Summerbridge Sacramento campus. I was even promoted to “Art Director” — an entirely made up position that allowed me to spend my afternoons in the Art Room with students like me.

Breakthrough’s long-term impact

Since then, my life has been a woven tapestry of experiences in education, teaching, learning, leadership, equity, design, art, story, advocacy, and allyship.

I’ve been a middle school teacher and a community non-profit administrator. I’ve been in recruitment, talent, marketing, project management, graphic design, and event management within education non-profits. I’ve been a product manager in ed tech. By my 30’s, I’d spent a career dedicated to having direct and indirect impact for children in communities where investments were slim. When it was time for a change, I found it at IDEO —another sanctuary of freedom and predictably juicy markers.

The Learning Studio at IDEO breathed new purpose into my practice. I spread beyond K12, translating teaching and learning best practices to higher education and adult learning as well. I led the teams that designed numerous innovations and transformations for middle schools, community colleges, non-profits, large corporations, and the federal government. I steered some of IDEO’s most noteworthy client relationships in education toward positive impact for business, design, and equity. I did this all in a context that was new to be — a for-profit company. I also learned how to comfortably author and present six-figure proposals for potential clients — and win them. I’ve led change management processes, facilitated workshops in rooms of hundreds, coached teams through seemingly impossible situations, and I can still push my own pixels.

More recently, as a Senior Director of our Learning Studio, I turned design on IDEO itself — hiring, onboarding, and radically changing the color and shape of IDEO to be less white and male. I’ve done strategic planning, market analysis, and proactive business development that keeps our business profitable and rewarding. I’m also part of IDEO’s Inclusive Design Collective, a group of 100+ IDEO designers who challenge design practices to be more inclusive, ethical, and responsible.

The last six years have transformed the way I think about what is possible in education. People regularly tell me I have their dream job. It’s pretty incredible that I can trace that arc back to a summer I spent, in 1994, marveling at a world I didn’t previously know existed.