Off-track students have new off-road Harvard Hero

Rothfuss and crew on Old Dublin Road, a dirt path along Mt. Monadock in Troy, New Hampshire. Courtesy of Cris Rothfuss

4 min read

Cris Rothfuss, Executive Director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) and 2016 Harvard Hero award winner, has launched a bold, new cycling event to raise money and awareness for off-track high school students. Slated to begin in Seattle, Washington in the summer of 2017, The REAL Ride is a 3-month, 5,000 mile, off-road cycling event ending in Boston.

“Many cyclists have ridden across the country,” says Rothfuss. “What makes this unique is how and why we are doing it. We’re taking the hard way across, on dirt and gravel tracks, avoiding pavement whenever possible, camping out and carrying most of what we need.”

The event, to include a team of five to eight riders, will benefit Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), a Roxbury high school that has pioneered innovative learning techniques to re-engage off-track students. For over 18 years, the school has served as the education stop of last resort for young adults who drop out of the traditional system. As they make their way across the country, the team will coordinate engagement opportunities with similar local high school students.

Says Alison Hramiec, Head of School at BDEA, “Most all of our students come to us struggling to finish high school because they are trying to learn in an ecosystem of multi-generational poverty, with its attendant risks of food and housing insecurity, mental and physical health concerns, violence, and other traumas. What inspires all of us at BDEA is that our students continue to rise despite these challenges. They are warriors. We feel lucky to play a role in their lives, helping them realize their potential.”

“It is so heartening when someone from outside education can come into our community and in a short period of time understand the impact our work is having on our young adults. When I shared with staff Cris’ goal for the REAL Ride, they were truly touched and amazed that someone was willing to take on this challenge for our students,” she continued.

“BDEA demonstrates every day to their students that they are not defined by the immediate path in front of them, that they have the power and control to change the course. The REAL Ride was designed to reflect that,” says Rothfuss. “Creativity, determination, and grit are three qualities my parents instilled in me, and if I can pass that on in any way, I am going to try.”

Rothfuss knows how to lean into a challenge, and has enjoyed both professional and athletic success. In her more than 10 years at Harvard, she has been lauded for being a thoughtful and transparent leader of IQSS and for being effective in forging strong partnerships with industry in her previous role as Director of Technology Transactions at the Office of Technology Development. She has a long history of athletic accomplishments, including varsity basketball and track at Yale, and racing cyclocross at the national elite level.

“It can be pretty daunting to think that I am about to step away (temporarily) from my job and life to do this. That I am putting everything on hold so I can pedal day after day for three months, but then I remember why I am doing it and it makes perfect sense.”

Support and enthusiasm around the event is building. The team’s social media campaign recently launched, and five corporate sponsors already have been announced, including Monster Worldwide Inc., and Better World Club, Inc. “I’m particularly grateful for Harvard’s support in allowing me to take a leave,” stresses Rothfuss. “It says a lot about the university’s commitment not only to its employees, but also in this case a cause that directly benefits our local community.”