Why the Best Place for Your Education Career Might Be Memphis, TN


I heart Memphis
Photo Credit: Sean Davis

The place for you to launch a powerful education career just might come with a side order of music, festivals, and Elvis sightings. We’re talking Memphis, Tennessee. If you’re not thinking about Memphis already, this Q&A with EP Fellow Melissa Perry has a bunch of reasons why you should be.

1. What were you doing before you heard about EP?

Prior to the Fellowship, I was a Purchasing Specialist with Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America, using strategic data collection and tracking to uphold international trade compliance responsibilities for the company’s complex supply chain.

2. What made you decide to apply to EP and become an Analyst Fellow?

I chose to become an Education Pioneers Fellow because I wanted to grow my experience in analytics and information management to align systems toward better education outcomes in my community.

3. EP works in 20 cities across the country. Why did you decide to make your impact in Memphis?

First, I was told by EP that there was a position that matched my career interests in Memphis. Because I was set on developing a certain set of skills that were required by the project at my partner organization, I knew it would be a perfect fit.

Second, my purpose in education is to use my skills to bust barriers that cause the achievement and opportunity gaps between white and non-white students. Memphis presents incredible opportunity for growth in this area, perhaps even more so than other American cities. Articles like this one get at the unique challenges to the landscape in Memphis.

4. Were you nervous about moving for your Fellowship? How did you overcome that?

Of course; moving is a big step! My personal circumstances allowed me to prioritize the challenging opportunity ahead over the move. If I didn’t move, there was a possibility I wasn’t going to make the career switch that I desired, and I couldn’t let that happen.

5. What’s it like to work in education in Memphis?

To be brief, there’s never a dull moment. The education landscape in Memphis has challenged me to strategize beyond coming up with the most efficient technical solution. Here I’m inspired to learn about what motivates people to change their behavior toward more effective action; it’s a marathon, not a sprint, folks!

6. What’s it like to live in Memphis?

I love living in Memphis. The people are warm and inviting, and they love to talk. There’s always something going on—festivals, music, and food.

Memphis is also uniquely positioned in the country to be about 6 hours from many great locations in the South and Midwest (I’ve seen more of the country this year than I ever have before)—4.5 hours to St. Louis, 6 hours to many southern beach destinations, 6 hours to Atlanta or New Orleans, 8.5 hours to Houston. Maybe take a short trip next door to explore Arkansas and all it has to offer!

7. What are some of your favorite haunts (restaurants, bars, shops, etc.)?

  • The rooftop bar of the Madison Hotel—these people do amazing things with a cocktail and the views are breathtaking.
  • Aldo’s Pizza—if you don’t know what a garlic knot is, come here to find out.
  • The Saturday farmer’s market at the train station, 7am-1pm.
  • Overton Square—perfect one-stop entertainment spot. See a movie, get dinner, attend a festival, or visit a candy shop!
  • Bluff City Coffee—this is really close to my house and I usually run into someone I know here. Great coffee and baked goods. You won’t be displeased with the shortbread.
  • The Kroc Center—if you’re looking for a gym, check out the class schedule and amenities here. You can find me in spin class!
  • Overton Park (and Bark, if you have a puppy)—check out the free music show line-up at the Levitt Shell, and bring a picnic.
  • The Beale Street Music Festival (part of Memphis in May)—can you believe I walked 10 minutes to watch Lenny Kravitz perform “American Woman?” Great opportunity!

8. What would you say to someone thinking about relocating to Memphis? What do you wish you’d known before you moved?

Prepare for the climate change, but don’t let it worry you. Summer months will be hotter and stickier if you’re coming from the north, but other southern cities get far hotter and stickier.

The Memphis in May festival is a lot of fun. My mom instantly wanted to visit during the festival to attend the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. But we ended up canceling that visit, and here’s why: the general public is not permitted to try the barbecue prepared by the teams participating in the contest. (Instead, mainstream BBQ restaurants, like Corky’s, sell BBQ to these folks.) If you want to eat amateur BBQ, you’ll need to join a team or pay to be a taste tester. Start asking around about this when you arrive; someone will know someone so that you can secure your spot on a team and eat to your heart’s content! And if you’re on a team, you can generally invite guests to your tent.

9. Have you been to Graceland and/or had any Elvis sightings?

I have not visited Graceland, but there’s an entire week dedicated to Elvis (“Elvis Week”) where there are Elvis impersonators in bars and restaurants all around town!

10. Any final thoughts about Memphis?

Aziz Ansari was performing here last fall, and it was part of his act to mention, “Do not Google Memphis.” Trust me, don’t. Read a book about Memphis culture instead. Come see it for yourself, and connect with me before you get here. I’m happy to show you around. 

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