Mary Catherine Swanson

AVID Founder and Executive Director, San Diego, California
Nominee:  Eric J. Smith

Mary Catherine taught high school English for 20 years before she developed AVID, a secondary school program which prepares disadvantaged students for four-year college entry. Today more than 85,000 secondary students in 21 states and 15 countries are enrolled in AVID, and more than 95% of these students enroll in college.

Mary Catherine is a recipient of the 2001 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education for her commitment to closing the achievement gap. Swanson was also recently named “America’s Best Teacher” by Time Magazine and CNN, “for turning thousands of average students into college scholars.” Among other awards and recognition she has received are the A+ Award for Reaching the Goals of America 2000 from the U.S. Department of Education, EXCEL Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Salute to Excellence from the American Association for Higher Education.

She is listed in Who’s Who in America and was the commencement speaker at San Diego State University in 1992, and at the University of San Diego in 2002. She is the only public school teacher ever to have won the $50,000 award for Pioneering Achievement in Education from the Charles A. Dana Foundation in New York. In presenting that award the Foundation cited her for “heeding the teacher’s calling at the highest level of professional dedication in developing AVID, an imaginative restructuring of the school day that has given thousands of students the skills, support, and guidance that they need to fulfill their potential-far too tragically overlooked-to prepare for a college education.” Mary Catherine created the AVID Center in 1992. AVID was featured on 60 Minutes II in 2002.

The San Diego-based Swanson has long been recognized as a champion for students. A much-admired educator and innovator, Swanson has served as an inspiration and advisor to educational leaders across the nation.

She has been married for 36 years and is the mother of Tom Swanson, a graduate of Stanford University who teaches high school in Northern California and has begun AVID at his school. Tom’s decision to enter teaching is one of Mary Catherine’s proudest moments.

Nomination Portfolio