Alumnus wins ’20 under 20′ Thiel fellowship

By David Lim

Charlie Stigler ’11 won the “20 under 20” Thiel Fellowship and will use his $100,000 grant to develop new digital platforms for education over the next two years.

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the founder of Pay-Pal and an early investor in Facebook, created the fellowship in his name to encourage students to drop out of college and pursue their own projects. Thiel believes that a traditional college education, seen as a prerequisite to most careers, stifles innovation, noting many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who never completed college.

During the two years in which he will receive a monthly stipend, Stigler will have access to a network of mentors in business and industry via the Thiel Foundation. He also decided to move to the Bay Area to be closer to the Foundation’s resources.

A current freshman at Columbia University, Stigler will work in adapting technology for the classroom.

“Imagine, as an example, textbooks with contents that change based on how [students] learn best,” Stigler said. “My current project is a platform for creating interactive web experiences using video. I want to start by using this platform to help teachers gather feedback on their classroom instruction and help them improve their teaching effectiveness.”

Stigler heard about the fellowship from a friend a day or two before the deadline.

“I didn’t think I’d be selected, and besides I wasn’t sure whether I actually wanted to drop out of college and take it even if I was selected,” he said. “At the last minute I decided I should probably play it safe and toss in a throwaway application just in case. It turned out to be a good idea.”

Stigler added that he considers his high school education to have been a step above of his classmates at Columbia.

“Almost all my teachers actually helped me learn, which might sound pretty standard but is actually surprisingly rare when I talk to students from other schools,” Stigler said. “I want to make that Harvard-Westlake quality learning available to more people.”