Profile picture and text: 50 FOR 50 STORIES: Story #46: Oliver SicatStory #46: Oliver Sicat

Before he was the CEO of Ednovate Charter Schools, Oliver Sicat was a freshman at USC, unsure of what he wanted to do with life.

“When I was a freshman at USC, I was probably a little too self-absorbed. I was worried about how I looked and what people thought of me.” Sicat said. “And then I remember reflecting in between my freshman and sophomore year, thinking that I wanted to change that.”

He decided that the change he needed was giving back to the community through volunteerism.

During his sophomore year, he joined JEP as a health and nutrition tutor to students at 32nd Street Elementary School. Later, he became the economics program assistant to go along with his studies as a business major.

However, by participating in JEP and interacting with the students, Sicat quickly realized that business was not the career path for him after all. He wanted to do something with a deeper sense of purpose, a mission even.

So, he dropped his business major and switched to a mathematics major with a minor in education.

As a first-generation student, a big motivation for Sicat switching his major was to help students like himself as well as the ones he taught through JEP. He witnessed first-hand how first-generation students often don’t have the same access, knowledge, and opportunities that their peers have.

“I remember very vividly many of the [JEP tutors] who wrote reflection papers and how their thoughts grew. And my thoughts were growing at the same time about the communities around us and the inequities that we see so starkly just by what we see [at USC] and right outside the gates of the university.”

After graduating from USC, Sicat attended Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked in the after school studies program to help create a college prep program for underprivileged students and first-generation students. He credits JEP with inspiring him to lead this initiative.

“JEP taught me to be more aware of the communities that we work within and our surroundings and the inequities in this world. JEP taught me about the challenges of public education, especially in urban areas.” Sicat added.

Above all, from his time as a tutor at JEP until now, Sicat’s favorite part of his job is working directly with students.

“What I love about working with students is that our students are optimistic. I think that they have unlimited potential. What I love about working with kids is that I think every student has a genius within them, and I love trying to help people discover that for themselves.” Sicat said. I think it’s up to us as a public education institution to help students uncover what makes them shine, what they are passionate about and how they can make this world a better place to develop skills and talents. I think that that’s going to create happiness. I get fired up about creating that opportunity for kids all the time.”

Even 25 years after his participation in the JEP program, he still credits the JEP family for getting him where he is today.

“They’re still supporting my career and the fact that we get to work together still, there’s something special about that. There’s something special about seeing Tina [Koneazny] and Susan [Harris] as a 19-year-old and now as a 43-year-old and we’re still doing this work together.” Sicat added.