Lisa Andrew: School is a Haven

By Neelanjana Gautam

Lisa Andrew, ’89 Natural Science, ’99 MA Educational Leadership, heads the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), the largest educational nonprofit in the Bay Area, but her own path to education has been rife with many challenges. “I definitely was not on any kind of track to go to college, or be where I am today,” she says.

Graduation day in Natural Science with her son in tow. She would take her son to her classes. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Andrew.

As the oldest of three siblings growing up in a dysfunctional home in East San José in the 70s, Andrew bounced from one school to the other—eventually passing through nine different elementary schools and two middle schools spread over Franklin-McKinley, Alum Rock and Evergreen school districts, and then finally pausing at Silver Creek High School for her graduation.

Despite facing a series of bumps in her personal life—Andrew’s parents moved frequently and lacked the discipline to stay focussed on the children—she always saw school as her refuge where people were caring and willing to give her that extra nudge to succeed. “Perhaps people saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” she says. With no career counseling available around the time she graduated high school, Andrew worked at Gemco and pondered a nursing career.

Andrew was also raising her two siblings whose education was hindered with all the moving around. As a result of working in their classrooms, she learned the education system quickly. On her husband’s advice at 18, she switched from a nursing assistant track at De Anza to a teaching track at SJSU. She remembers her husband saying: “’Why don’t you go into teaching? You’ll have a better schedule for the family.’ That’s when I transferred to San José State,” she says. Andrew had always wanted to make roots and foster the community she lived in. Enrolling at San José State brought her closer to that dream.

Lisa Andrew was the president of student CTA group at SJSU in 1989. Photo courtesy of Lisa Andrew.

At San José State, Andrew says, she felt challenged, supported and was able to see a clear path forward. She even earned her teaching credentials at SJSU. Andrew marvels at how she crossed the math and science hurdle—those being nowhere near her wheelhouse—to being at the helm of an organization that is driven by STEM. “I had excellent preparation you need to be a teacher. No matter what was going on in my personal life, the school allowed me to come and be present and thrive,” she says.

Andrew made sure she stayed within the community so she could come back someday and give her absolute best. Today, as the CEO of SVEF, she emboldens the Spartan East Side Promise by giving an extra bump to kids in East San José so they can land up at San José State. Andrew is fascinated with how these kids radiate hope and endless possibility even in the face of odds. Her ultimate goal is to serve the community so they can fill the local jobs and find economic mobility. “I get to help kids like me. How lucky am I?” she says.


Neelanjana Gautam

Neelanjana Gautam, '21 MS Mass Communication, is a graduate student writer on SJSU's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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