Chief executive officer
We change people's perceptions of what is possible in public education.
Yasmin Bhatia may not have been born in the same place or circumstances as her father, but she carries the lessons of his childhood as if she had. She and her sister were raised thousands of miles from the three-room apartment in Mumbai, India, where her father grew up with his parents and three siblings. He was the first in his family to attend college, opening up an avenue to greater opportunity in the United States.
Like many immigrant parents, Yasmin’s stressed the importance of education, hard work and perseverance. “Education was incredibly valued and we were encouraged to maximize our opportunities,” Yasmin says. “My father knew where he was in life was completely based on his education.” Her parents set high standards for her and her sister, and Yasmin didn’t disappoint. After graduating from business school, Yasmin moved to Dallas, Texas, to work at a top consulting firm. Her parents’ exhortations to persevere motivated her to work diligently in a hard-driving industry, but it was their lessons in compassion that helped her excel and, ultimately, find her career path.
When a consultant is assigned to a project, she must immerse herself in an organization that may be completely unfamiliar. Consultants work side-by-side with clients for just months at a time, so it’s imperative that they earn their clients’ trust quickly. Yasmin’s ability to listen to her clients, empathize with them and identify real-world solutions to their challenges helped her gain their confidence and achieve more with each assignment.
That same sense of empathy drew her to her firm’s pro bono projects. “I always had a passion for giving back to the community. Any time a pro-bono project came up, I was the person who raised my hand,” she says.
On the cusp of becoming a partner in the firm, she decided that the pro-bono work for which she kept volunteering was what she wanted to do full-time. “At the end of the day, I wanted to make a bigger impact on my community. I didn’t want to be one step removed, spread out among clients. I wanted to focus on one organization and have a direct way to help children.”
At the same time, the founder of Uplift Education was searching for a new CEO, one who could spearhead the expansion of one of the state’s highest performing public charter networks. The two women met, and the more Yasmin learned about Uplift schools, the more she knew she was the right person to lead them.
She hadn’t been a professional educator, but Yasmin was confident that “my skills translated to what Uplift needed to grow in a sustainable way.” As she recalled, “the board respected my strong sense for systems and process, along with my focus on talent being an important driver to an organization’s success.” In 2009, Yasmin was named CEO of Uplift.
Today, Uplift manages 34 schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, preparing 14,000 scholars not just to apply to college, but to graduate and become productive, responsible leaders. The idea that all students will attend college is so central to Uplift’s mission that it’s discussed from the time families enroll in kindergarten, and each classroom is identified by the mascot of the college from which the teacher graduated. All students — whether they are Aggies, Longhorns, Horned Frogs or Red Raiders — must be accepted to a two- or four-year college to earn a high school diploma. By stressing the importance of college, Uplift does more than “expand our students’ horizons,” said Yasmin. “We change people’s perceptions of what is possible in public education.”
What’s possible is Uplift high schools being named to multiple lists of best high schools, not just in Texas, but across the U.S. Uplift scholars outperform state and national averages in reading and mathematics, and their gains grow the longer they attend Uplift schools.
More than 75 percent of Uplift’s graduating seniors are the first in their family to go to college. Ninety percent of their students are young people of color and three-fourths come from low-income families. As Yasmin puts it, “We are all about making college accessible for students who don’t come from a family where that has been part of their history.”
Yasmin herself, ever the honors student, has continued to rack up accolades as well. Two years after becoming CEO of Uplift, Yasmin was named one of Dallas Business Journal’s “40 Under 40.” In 2015, she was named to the inaugural class of Presidential Leadership Scholars.
But she’s proudest of how well she’s learned the ropes at Uplift. “One of the greatest compliments I’ve gotten is when someone doesn’t know my background and they ask me, ‘What did you teach, Yasmin?’”
Began her career as a consultant with McKinsey & Company
Chief executive officer of Uplift Education
Non-profit public charter network established in 1997 in the Dallas-Fort Worth region
Serves 14,000 students in 34 schools
Roughly 75 percent of enrolled students are from low-income families
One hundred percent of graduates earn college acceptance; more than 75 percent of graduates are first in their families to go to college