Education Advocacy Fellow, Florida

Education Advocacy Fellow 904 993 5301 @ArashWaiting

Arash was born in East Lansing, MI and lived with his family on the campus of Michigan State University, where his father pursued a Ph.D. in geography. They lived in an area filled with families from all over the world who were studying at the University, and education was the center and spirit of his community and family. Arash moved to Florida and received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. For now, he’s settled in Jacksonville, Florida with his excellent wife, smiley kid and crestfallen cat.

After spending several years as an account executive, Arash launched a small business, Solid Profile Media. He invested so much time with his client,, that he was brought in as a full partner of the news, policy, food and culture website.

Motivated by the desire to communicate and analyze policy proposals to his readership, Arash pursued a masters in public policy and was part of the first cohort in the first MPP program in the state of Florida. His most impactful course was in education policy, taught by the founding director of KIPP Jacksonville Schools. His time spent on education policy magnified the understanding and need for meaningful advocacy to instigate change.

I aspire to be like Abraham Lincoln or Jon Stewart. Here’s why:

My first elementary school report (and costumed presentation) was on Honest Abe. To me, he symbolizes how our governments have an explicit role in ending oppression and creating a society that mandates equality. Lincoln also demonstrates what can happen when powerful people who are financially dependent on oppression and inequality are challenged. It’s never pretty, but change is possible even in the most trying environments.

Jon Stewart may not be as lofty as Lincoln, but he redefined—for the mainstream media—how to establish credibility. He confronted societal ills in a way that the general public could easily understand. Stewart’s ability to confront our erroneous cultural memes through thoughtful, funny and persuasive monologues are worthy of emulation.

Effective communication combined with meaningful policy leadership is powerful, as Lincoln and Stewart demonstrate. I hope to embody their example.

Why I love my job:

I believe education is the most important challenge facing our country. It is a foundational issue, not just another problem on our list. The 50CAN fellowship is at the cross-section of my professional and educational experiences; specifically in regards to advocacy, policy and communication. The fellowship provides space to learn from passionate experts to ensure students have equal access to high-quality education.

My connection to public schools:

Initially, I attended an amazing developmental research elementary school located on the campus of Michigan State University. It was populated with children from dozens of nations. Diversity was celebrated, as it was foundational to the culture and curriculum of the school. In contrast, when we moved to a suburb of Lansing, the public school I attended had a scarce minority presence and the excitement simply was not there. I think the teachers did not view me, an Iranian-American, as someone who was as capable as my peers.

Following that experience, my family moved to Florida. In Florida, my parents transferred me from my mediocre neighborhood school to a one of the best college preparatory magnet schools in the state. I remember visiting what would have been my neighborhood school and was astonished at how vastly different that environment was. If my parents didn’t have school choice, I would have had a less than positive high school experience, and many of my opportunities would have vanished.

What I’m bad at:

I’m bad at answering questions about what I’m bad at, but I’ll try! I’d like to apply a “less is more” mantra in my life. Instead of having a long list of goals, I would like to work on fewer, more concise objectives that I pursue wholeheartedly.

The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:

The Broken Chair, located outside of Geneva, Switzerland, is a monument to banning landmines. For me, it is also the symbol that demonstrates our broken classrooms and how we ask children to sit in school chairs that cannot hold them. We are inflicting damage on the rest of their lives as a result. But there is also hope in the image—the chair is not beyond repair. It is fixable, as is our educational system.

Image source: Adrian Hu on Flickr, (cc)