Akash Patel received the prestigious honor for his work as founder of the Happy World Foundation. A middle school Spanish teacher, Patel created the Happy World Foundation to connect classrooms worldwide.
Patel is fluent in six languages and has visited more than 50 countries, but most of his students have never traveled outside the United States. Patel saw an opportunity to connect students in rural areas with classrooms around the globe.
Patel launched the Global Connect Database, a resource used by over 40,000 teachers worldwide. With help from 1,000 volunteers in 150 countries, Patel created “mystery hangouts,” which allow students to learn from speakers from other countries.
Patel’s Global Connect Database inspired the Happy World Foundation, a global education nonprofit he founded after the passing of his twin brother Anand Happy Patel. The Happy World Foundation funds several initiatives, including the Global Ambassadors Leadership Institute, international service trips, and a school-to-college pipeline.
TIME scoured the country for innovative teachers who are reshaping the way the world approaches education. The ten finalists were chosen based on their contributions to education and the impact they have on their students. Among the accomplishments of the 2022 finalists are educators who use video games to fight racism, plant micro-forests to combat climate change, and find ways to help refugees adjust to their new lives in America.
Students and parents from Ignite Middle School believe Patel deserves recognition for his work in the classroom. Gabriel Fernandez, one of Patel’s seventh-grade students, told TIME that the Spanish teacher makes lessons “funner to actually learn.” Gabriel’s father, Daniel Fernandez, added that “very few teachers are able to connect with students the way Mr. Patel does.”
This is not the first time Patel made national headlines. In 2021, he was elected president of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. As president, Patel plans to address academic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patel spent his childhood in Nashik, India. After briefly attending Iowa State University on a scholarship, he left to pursue a teaching degree. He earned a liberal arts degree from a community college in Oklahoma before enrolling at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
Patel has been teaching for seven years and has served on the Institute of Humane Education Board. He is also a National Council Member for the United Nations Association of the United States of America.