August 17, 2012

Education Pioneers [Part 1 of 2]

Part 1 by:
Matt Roper, MBA 2013
Sonal Dhingra, MS-MBA 2013
Rachel Alexander, MBA 2013 
Intro and blog post coordinating by Dana Connolly, MS-MBA, 2013

This summer, six BU SMG students had the opportunity to be part of a group of over 330 Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellows. This widely recognized national pipeline program, founded in 2003, partners with more 130 education organizations across the country - including school districts, government agencies, charter schools, and other leading education organizations – with a direct focus on fostering leadership and management talent for positions outside of the classroom. The fellowship program will boast around 2,000 alumni by 2013, and has cohorts set up in 7 major metropolitan areas throughout the country.

So, Pioneer might seem like an odd term, seeing as this sector is constantly being explored and there is an overwhelming number of start-up organizations focused on Education reform (not to mention the fact that we’re not going off in covered wagons, catching typhoid or fording rivers…)

In a way though, there is an element of “braving the unknown” in that this fellowship program sets us up to plot a course for a destination that has yet to be reached: one where every child has an equal opportunity to get a great education. The Education Pioneers Fellowship program hones in on creating strong and dynamic leaders that will transform the schools, districts, and systems with the goal of completely eliminating these long-existing inequities and issues.

The beauty of this fellowship program is that although we are all coordinated under the same organization, the experiences of each fellow vary immensely. The six of us thought it would be great to share a bit about our respective summers “pioneering” both with regards to our projects and with our Cohort experiences (On a personal note, I think this is a particularly awesome feat that we coordinated a 6 person blog post from 3 different states…just sayin’.)  

This first blog post includes the contributions of Matt, Sonal, and Rachel.  Check back for Pammi, Renato, and Dana's excerpts next week!

MATT ROPER: MBA Class of 2013, PNP & Finance -- TEXAS COHORT [Educate Texas]
Matt (right), enjoying a Rangers game in his home state
A leading catalyst for progress, Educate Texas, a public-private initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas, is an innovative alliance of public and private groups that share a common goal: improving the public education system so that every Texas student is prepared for success in school, in the workforce, and in life.

My work focuses on organizational goals, strategies and metrics for Educate Texas which help track the performance of the main programs and initiatives that are currently being run. My main role involves a project aimed at identifying specific metrics that can be used to track progress and effectiveness of the strategies and creating a tool that will allow Educate Texas employees and partners to easily capture the defined metrics.

I chose to become an Education Pioneers Fellow to gain further understanding of the major issues in education and bring my leadership, organization and quantitative skills to the sector to help expand and increase the effectiveness of potential solutions. This summer has helped me determine where I want to focus my work in education - on out of school time nonprofits and social ventures.

I think the cohort experience is the strongest benefit to the program. Meeting with a group of individuals that all want to improve education but in different ways helps expand your views and find new areas where you can grow. I met some great people in my cohort and look forward to continuing to build our relationship and seeing where we all end up in 5-10 years.

One of the fellows in my cohort was placed with the George W. Bush Institute this summer and due to this placement, all of the fellows in the Dallas area were able to meet with former President Bush for about an hour to talk education and the goals of his foundation. It was an extremely interesting experience. Regardless of politics (mine or yours), it was incredible to meet a former President and something that only happened because of my involvement with Education Pioneers.

SONAL DHINGRA – MS-MBA Class of 2013, PNP & LOT -- BOSTON COHORT [Curriculum Associates]
Sonal (above) and her project being presented to a group of around 200 (below)

I chose to become an Education Pioneer Fellow because I wanted to see what the variety of opportunities were in the Ed space besides being an educator or administrator. Prior to the fellowship, I was a Massachusetts Promise Fellow (AmeriCorps) at Science Club for Girls in Cambridge, MA and before that I worked in IT service delivery at State Street Corporation.

My project is to create the digital and social media presence for Curriculum Associates relatively new education technology product, i-Ready. In my role I've created the questions, slated customers for interview, filmed the interviews as well as edited the footage. Soon this footage will be used to build up the organization's YouTube channel and expand CA's social media footprint. So far I've traveled to North Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio and California and am slated to make some final stops in New York and Connecticut.

Coming from a non-educational background (State Street and then AmeriCorps), I always thought that you could only be a teacher or a principal in the education space. But since my time as an Ed Pioneer Fellow, I've learned that there are a ton more things that are going on in this sector and I'm excited to see first-hand that digital and social media marketing are a part of this space.

RACHEL ALEXANDER: MBA Class of 2013, PNP -- BOSTON COHORT [Boston After School And Beyond]
Rachel (second from right) with her hybrid group in Boston
I was part of the Greater Boston cohort, with a placement at Boston After School and Beyond, a public/private partnership dedicated to supporting, strengthening, and expanding the city's after-school sector. I worked on a development strategy for the organization, identifying major funders in the field and the best paths for connecting with them in order to build a long-term, sustainable revenue stream.

While I was already certain that I would return to the field of education after business school, the fellowship helped me refine my understanding of the type of organization I'd like to work at: one that is nimble, collaborative, and moving the field forward in a significant way. It also showed me that I'd like a job where I'm working with kids at least some of the time -- some hybrid of the organization-strengthening work that is so important, and the youth-interaction work that is the heart and soul of a career in education.

The best moments spent with my cohort were those in which I got to learn about other Fellows' backgrounds and experiences. Talking with former teachers informed my understanding of systems-change at the school level, while conversations with those coming from private-sector roles showed me why an outside perspective is sometimes so important. I know that it is this network of professionals, all of whom care deeply about education equity, that will be the most valuable element of my experience in years to come. 


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