Alumni-Founded Company Is First of a New Generation of Lab Sponsors
CEO Howard Lerman, TJ ’98, Challenges Grads to Invest in TJ’s Future
TJ was founded in 1985 with the understanding that the school would partner with industry to launch and maintain its research infrastructure. Corporate gifts would not only be needed for the research labs’ initial funding but also to keep them outfitted so that they could function as an early training ground for Northern Virginia’s most capable high school students. Moreover, these were to be true partnerships, with industry experts advising TJ faculty and administration and offering internships to students.
The Campaign for TJ, which aims to prepare the newly renovated school for another 30 years of excellence, has strengthened existing relationships with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, TJ’s first Jefferson Founding Partners, and led to new ones, notably with Cisco Systems. Parent-founded companies have also been an important new source of both funding for TJ labs and opportunities for TJ students, though none has given at the Lab sponsorship level. With its cash and in-kind gift of $250,000, an alumni-founded company has become the first in a new generation of supporters of TJ research.
TJ’s latest Jefferson Founding Partner is Yext, a New York-based tech company started by five 1998 TJ graduates: Howard Lerman (Co-founder & CEO), Sean MacIsaac (CTO), Alok Bhushan (Exec.VP, Finance), Tom Dixon (COO), and Brent Metz (Co-Founder; formed Felix, a Yext spin-out, sold in 2012). Yext is the leading provider of location data management software and helps brands update their business listing information in order to drive more customers to their brick-and-mortar locations (see Nov 2013 issue). Because its founders and leaders got their start in TJ’s Computer Systems (CS) Lab, the company’s gift will sponsor that Lab.
Yext’s gift will fund research and technology priorities, including one that benefits the entire school and the CS Lab in particular. The school hopes to obtain a carbon flywheel uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to replace the current source of emergency standby power for all school systems, lead acid batteries, which can leak or explode and are harmful to the environment. TJ’s systems include one unique to the school, the TJ Intranet, which was developed in 1998 as a senior research project by, among others, Yext Co-Founder Brent Metz and which remains student-run. The remainder of the cash gift will fund technology purchases that benefit science and humanities classrooms.
Yext’s relationship with TJ did not begin with this gift, and the in-kind portion of the gift represents the company’s commitment to continue its close involvement with the school: Yext has hosted alumni events at its New York office (see March 2016 issue) and plans to host future events and assist with alumni outreach; the company participated in the TJPF’s inaugural Internship Fair (see March 2016 issue) and intends to continue participating and to recruit additional companies to the Fair; Yext sponsored HackTJ two years in a row (see June 2015 and March 2016 issues), sending employees — including CTO Sean MacIsaac — to serve as mentors at HackTJ 2016, and is committed to increasing its sponsorship of and involvement with student events. Yext employees have also provided technical consulting support for the school.
On Wednesday, May 4th, Lerman, MacIsaac, Bhushan, Dixon, and Principal Software Engineer Kevin Caffrey, TJ ’02, visited TJ to announce their company’s gift and celebrate its partnership. Led by Assistant Principal Shawn Frank and CS Lab Director Dr. Shane Torbert, and accompanied by retired CS Lab Director Don Hyatt and retired CS teacher Phyllis Rittman, the Yext team toured the new TJ, stopping into the new research Labs along the way. Principal Dr. Evan Glazer and CS teacher Ria Galanos (faculty sponsor of Coding Lady Colonials/HackTJ) joined the group as they arrived at the CS Lab, where they were greeted by CS Lab Directors Dr. Peter Gabor and Dr. John Zacharias as well as 3rd period CS research and Artificial Intelligence students. After Lerman unveiled the CS sponsorship plaque and cut a ribbon outside the newly sponsored Lab, everyone donned Yext/CS Lab t-shirts and enjoyed logo cupcakes, courtesy of the TJ Partnership Fund.
Naturally, the occasion prompted a few remarks. Half-jokingly, Principal Glazer introduced Yext CEO Howard Lerman and his colleagues to the research lab students as “your forefathers.” Dr. Glazer went on to explain that through Yext’s gift the ’98 alums are not only contributing to the future of TJ, but are “connecting with you to serve as your unofficial mentors,” and “telling you that all you have to do is put TJ on your resume in order to grab their attention.” The alumni came here from their office in New York – Yext has a Tysons’ office, but its leadership is based in New York – to, in Dr. Glazer’s words, “return to the lab that was the foundation of their work [as living proof that] hard work at TJ yields extraordinary results.”
Lerman then asked the seniors, “How many of you are thinking about college?” All hands went up. He then told them that he was meeting recently with the heads of the billion-dollar endowments of Princeton, MIT, and Yale, who were pleased to hear how many graduates of each school he employed. When he told them that he had 15 employees who were graduates of TJ, they were even more impressed, as all were familiar with the TJ name.
“Why shouldn’t TJ have that?” Lerman asked, referring to the universities’ sizable endowments. “TJ gave me everything – friends, co-founders, 8th period, the ability to be OK, to be a little different. I have an assignment for you. Look to your left and to your right. The greatest school you will ever go to is the school you’re at right now. Your assignment is to stay in touch with your classmates, to start a company with them, and someday to give back. If all the best universities in the world have multi-billion dollar endowments, why can’t TJ have one? That is what TJ alums are going to make happen.”