From Engineer to Educator
Ashanti Branch (v) never expected to be an educator. While in high school in Oakland, California, he took an interest in the mechanics of building things.
After two of his classmates applied to Cal Poly, he decided to take a tour. That’s when he knew he wanted to be a Mustang. By graduation a few years later, he was ready to hit the ground running as an engineer, having already racked up real-world experience with a handful of internships and a competitive co-op with Walt Disney Imagineering. But after five years working in construction as an engineering project manager, Branch discovered a new calling. A Saturday morning tutoring job soon became his passion when he saw the impact that he was having on underserved youths through mathematics. In 2002, he decided to give teaching a try, with the plan of eventually coming back to engineering. Eighteen years later, he hasn’t looked back.
The Learn by Doing spirit is deeply ingrained in me. I like to jump in and get my hands dirty.
Ashanti BranchCivil Engineering, ’98
“The Learn by Doing spirit is deeply ingrained in me,” Branch said. “I like to jump in and get my hands dirty. As an engineer, I was trained to solve problems. As a teacher, I saw that so many young men of color in my classes were failing, but no one was doing anything to help them. I was not willing to sit by and watch that happen. These kids came from the same community I grew up in, where being smart isn't always considered cool. I saw myself in those young men and realized I could help push them to succeed.”
Branch spent 13 years as a secondary math teacher in public, private and charter schools, then three years as an administrator, one year as a high school dean, and two as a middle school assistant principal before getting admitted to an exclusive fellowship with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school). Today, he is the creator and executive director of The Ever Forward Club, a nonprofit youth development and mentoring organization focused on serving young men of color who are not reaching their level of potential. The club also serves and helps the educators who teach these youths. Branch’s work has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and the PBS Newshour. It has also been the subject of a TEDx talk and the 2015 documentary film “The Mask You Live In.” He has earned a Fulbright Exchange Fellowship to India, a Rotary Club Cultural Ambassadorial Fellowship to Mexico, and a 2010 Teacher of the Year Award from the Alameda-Contra Costa County Math Educators.
As a Cal Poly student, Branch was heavily involved on campus. He was a resident advisor in Fremont Hall, helping first-year students navigate the system, and was one of the first Cal Poly Engineering Ambassadors, giving campus tours to prospective students. He was also part of the Multicultural Center, which helped with his transition to campus.
“Being in a place that was not very diverse, I had to be clear about who I was. I had to figure out how to hold onto my own values in a space where I was a little bit out of my comfort zone and a place that looked so different from home,” Branch said.
Branch now brings young men to tour campus every year and has been featured as a keynote speaker for campus clubs. He credits Cal Poly for much of his success.
“College is an opportunity to grow up and transform and begin leading the life of who you dream of being in the world,” he said. “Cal Poly allows you to have the flexibility to be a lot of things. I want to make sure my students see how amazing it is.”
Despite all the accolades Branch has achieved as an educator, he has never forgotten his original calling.
“I will always be an engineer. I worked hard for that degree. I will always claim that,” he said.