The Founder’s Story

Carmita Semaan is the founder of the Surge Institute. Carmita grew up with her mother, Wanda Burnette, in Birmingham, Alabama. Wanda was unfortunately disabled by a debilitating stroke shortly after Carmita’s birth, resulting in harrowing medical issues and life below the poverty line for this divorced mother and her child. This backdrop has greatly shaped who Carmita is, what she values and what she believes her life’s work is destined to be.

Through grit and assertive coaching by Wanda and a network of supportive adults, Carmita pursued the honors track at her public high school, graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Michigan and landed a position with Procter & Gamble. She later studied at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where she thrived as a student leader and was selected to study abroad at the London Business School. She then took a role with Danaher Corporation, where she engaged in global product management before deciding to connect her skills to her passions for urban education, eradicating poverty and revitalizing urban neighborhoods through the Broad Residency in Urban Education.

Through the Broad Residency, Carmita joined Chicago Public Schools (CPS) under the leadership of Arne Duncan, who became the US Secretary of Education under President Obama. Carmita served in a variety of roles, including launching the Office of Graduation Pathways and serving as the Chief of Staff for High Schools.

After four years at CPS, Carmita left to become the Chief Strategy Officer for America’s Promise Alliance, founded and led by General Colin and Mrs. Alma Powell. She returned from Washington, DC to Chicago to lead Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, known as CURE, in honor of her deceased mother who suffered from the disease.

In 2012, she left CURE and began to pursue her dream of creating an organization that assists often ignored and underrepresented education leaders of color in accelerating their impact and influence across the field of education.

As a participant in various fellowships, Carmita has seen the unique benefits of the cohort-based approach to development and has worked diligently to increase access to these tables for other leaders of color. The Surge Fellowship is born of her desire to ensure that leaders are appropriately prepared and networked to fill the pipeline of leadership in education that often falls woefully short of representing the populations of children and families served.