School programs innovator

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Jessica Torres oversees the Education Department’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

Jessica Torres

Office of Innovation and Improvement, Department of Education

Jessica Torres, a program specialist since July 2013, helps oversee one of the Education Department’s smaller but more competitive grants, called the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

She has a portfolio of about 10 grants given to schools and nonprofits that aim to do everything from helping high-need students get apprenticeships in STEM fields to adapting technology for the classroom, and she conducts site visits as well to see the grants in action. One of the grants is for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, based in Washington, to transition its simulation technology to fifth-grade science classrooms in Virginia.

Torres, who did Teach for America in Washington, said she enjoys developing relationships with her grantees.

“In the end, we want our grantees to trust us,” she said. “We want them to be successful and build a level of trust where the grantee can be honest with us, because whenever there are issues, we can connect them to the right people.”

Education also has a special significance to the California native. Born to a Salvadoran father and Nicaraguan mother, Torres and her brother and sister are the first in their family to go to college.

“For my dad, he’s really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said. “He even told me that when I graduated, he felt like he was graduating college.”

Corinne Lestch