Well, not every part. Young people may spend much of their free time with video games and Facebook, but the schools that teach them have remained firmly in the 20th century.
Cheryl Vedoe ’74 is working to change that.
“When you look at education—and K–12 education in particular—largely what goes on in the classroom is no different than when I was in elementary school, middle school or high school,” she said. “So the reality is that technology has not had much impact on the way teaching and learning occur.”
Since 2002, Vedoe has been CEO of Apex Learning, a Seattle company that offers computer-based courses for high school students. More than 1 million students have taken one of Apex’s classes, which were first developed for distance learning, but are now used in traditional classrooms, too.
President and CEO, Apex Learning
Wheaton College Trustee, chair of the board’s audit committee and a member of the executive committee
Supporter of the Mars Center for Science and Technology and Project Scholarship
The company’s products are especially popular with districts trying to reach learners at opposite ends of the spectrum: advanced students who move more quickly than peers, and at-risk students who aren’t succeeding with traditional methods.
Vedoe was a bright student herself. The central Massachusetts native was only 16 when she graduated from high school and enrolled at Wheaton. A math major, she said she thrived in Wheaton’s small, all-female classes in a way she might not have at a larger institution.
“I think Wheaton helped me to develop a good deal of self-confidence that helped me as I went out into the workplace,” said Vedoe, who has an M.B.A. from Northeastern University.
That good experience motivates her service to Wheaton as a member of the Board of Trustees and her philanthropic support for the college. “My Wheaton experience had a definite impact on who I am today, and I want to help make it possible for others to have similar opportunities,” she said.
Her career has given her a front-row seat for the IT revolution of the past few decades; her résumé lists past and present tech giants, including Digital Equipment Corp., Apollo Computer, and Sun Microsystems.
“I’d like to say I planned it all that way,” she laughed. “I really feel I’ve been fortunate.”
Vedoe joined Apple Computer in 1992 as vice president of its $1 billion education division, which marked the start of her focus on technology in the classroom. She left after two years amid the early days of the dot-com boom, leading first a different e-learning company and then an e-mail marketing firm.
She returned to Apple in 2000 as its top education executive, reporting directly to Steve Jobs himself, who praised her at the time as “a strong addition” to his team. She recalled the legendary CEO as “a brilliant man” and, she said, after a bit of prodding, sometimes “a tough boss.”
After two years at Apple, Vedoe moved to Apex Learning, which had been founded in 1997 by another technology icon, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. She was recruited to expand the company’s product offerings and boost its sales, two goals achieved under her leadership. “What we believe we offer is a really powerful model for individualized instruction, which assists teachers in helping more students be successful,” she said.
Vedoe’s passion for education is also one of the reasons she has remained involved with Wheaton. “One of the things I think Wheaton has done well and really paid a lot of attention to is trying to retain some of what made Wheaton ‘Wheaton’ when it was all-female, even as it has become a coeducational institution,” she said. “That’s one thing that certainly was important to me.”