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From “I don’t know” to FAO

As I thought about my “next step” during my senior year at Northwestern University, pursuing a fellowship seemed like a good option. It’s not like I totally understood what a fellowship entailed – but many professors, career advisors, and Northwestern alumni encouraged undergraduates to apply. I researched the different fellowships on Northwestern’s website and admired the varied experiences that a fellowship could offer. From positions focused on research, medicine, politics, social innovation, teaching, and even travel, a fellowship guaranteed job security, professional development, and practical learning opportunities that other jobs did not. After reviewing my resume and thinking about the fields I felt most passionate about, I decided to apply for fellowships in the education and social-impact sector.  

I basically lived three different lives during my final year at Northwestern. From July – November 2016, I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia; from January – June 2017, I returned to campus; and from late June – August 2017, I volunteered in Jukwa, Ghana. It was unusual to choose to study abroad during my senior year, especially because of the significant emphasis placed on making memories on campus and checking off college bucket list items, but, instead of taking the traditional route, I decided to pursue my dream of visiting Sydney. I figured that the people and the campus would be the same once I got back. I also had no idea when I’d get another chance to live in Australia for 5 months!

While many students I knew began looking for jobs in the fall of their senior year, I returned from my amazing study abroad experience and started job hunting in February. Still adjusting to campus life and being back in Evanston again, I applied to a few fellowships but didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic about any of the opportunities. But when I learned about the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship right before spring break, I started to get excited. Not only did it appeal to me the most out of all the positions I had considered at the time, it was in my hometown of New York City (which meant no crazy apartment hunting for me!). I decided to apply.

By that point, I had been offered two other fellowship positions, but after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to turn them down. I continued to look at job openings at different non-profit organizations all over the country. Time flew by and I started to get discouraged; nothing seemed very promising. Knowing I didn’t have a job yet, a friend encouraged me to spend my summer volunteering. I applied for a 9-week service-learning program in Ghana and reasoned that I’d have more time to focus on job hunting upon my return.

 

With June quickly approaching, I grew more and more excited to celebrate the completion of my undergraduate career – but the future scared me. It took time for me to accept my decision to postpone my job search because it didn’t seem like the “right” thing to do. My student loan servicer had started sending me emails in October, and those gentle reminders were not going to just disappear because of my unemployment status. Finally, I decided that, annoying emails aside, I didn’t want worry to distract me from enjoying the last few months of school and the time I spent celebrating with my family.

June came, and the excitement and insanity of graduation week filled the air. I needed to attend four different ceremonies, accommodate family members, move out of my dorm room, go to a study abroad orientation, and pack for Ghana. I was exhausted! That week, much to my surprise, I also got an email from Jumpstart, an FAO Schwarz Fellowship non-profit host organization, asking to schedule a phone interview. Although hesitant to begin an interview process right before my trip, I said yes and hoped for the best. During our conversation, I explained that I’d be leaving the country in a few days. Because we planned to work in a remote part of Ghana, I expected to have unreliable phone and internet access throughout the summer – I felt disappointed that another potential job that looked promising seemed to be passing me by. Already resolved to thank Jumpstart for the opportunity and withdraw my candidacy, I bubbled with enthusiasm (and gratitude) when they agreed to expedite my interview process!

I got the job offer a week after I arrived in Ghana. A load, which I didn’t even realize I carried, finally lifted. Getting a great job helped me to fully enjoy the new people, food, and culture in Jukwa. After I returned home, I had a three-week break before I started my Fellowship, and I took that time to process my last few months. A sense of peace and deep happiness overwhelmed me. I felt relieved that my next big life transition would occur in the comfort of my own home.

September 5th, 2018 will mark one year since I started working as Jumpstart’s FAO Schwarz Fellow. I split my time between two departments: Field Operations & Strategy (FOS) and Policy & Government Relations (PGR). As part of FOS, I coordinate and deliver Jumpstart community events in Brooklyn and Queens, including literacy fairs and family workshops at local libraries, preschools, and community centers. I’ve planned and hosted 26 events since I started last September. Jumpstart for a Day (JFAD), my biggest family literacy event of the year, attracted 200 children and parents. The community engagement team and I took months to plan JFAD; we were elated to see our hard work pay off!

Working with PGR, I research and write memoranda to strengthen Jumpstart’s public policy strategy; invite and host local, state, and federal elected officials at community events; participate in early education advocacy coalitions; and prepare public awareness and communications materials. This past year, I helped to write an application to the New York City Council that secured $325,000 in funding for Jumpstart programming through City’s First Readers, a City Council initiative with the goal of partnering non-profits to implement community-wide literacy events for young children. I visited Capitol Hill and met US Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who represents my home neighborhood in Brooklyn, when I attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Public Policy Forum in March. It was awesome to ride with Rep. Jeffries in the “Members of Congress” elevator on my first trip to the Hill!

This past year taught me that if an opportunity is meant to be yours, nothing can stop it from coming to pass. Being a part of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship and Jumpstart’s network has connected me with energetic children, wonderful coworkers, kind supervisors, and a supportive fellowship cohort. It’s been an amazing first year, and, despite the crazy journey I took to get to this moment, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

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Kayla Jones is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jump Start in New York City

How My Direct Service Work Influences My Special Project Work

My name is Pamela Martinez and I am the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Playworks Pennsylvania. I had experience at Playworks, first as a volunteer then as a direct service AmeriCorps recess coach, but the fellowship has allowed me to expand my knowledge and grow professionally. As the FAO Schwarz Fellow, I am in the role of Program and Engagement Coordinator, I am able to split my time with direct service work and helping to strengthen the development of our organization through my special marketing projects. Ten months into this role, I have realized that my service work directly influences my special project work and vice versa.

There has been a missing piece in our support plan for our Team Up Consultative program. which provides a single site coordinator to four partner schools. The site coordinator spends a week each month at each school leading, supporting, and empowering the school recess and lunch teams to take ownership of the Playworks model and program. As the FAO Schwarz Fellow, half of my role is to add an extra layer of support for those partner schools. I provide a site visit, which is devoted to consulting and supporting, and ensuring goals are being met. I accomplish this by checking in with the school recess teams and sending an overview or follow up email informing our staff on my observations and any areas of potential growth. My integration into this role was smooth, as I was able to immediately build rapport with all twelve schools by accompanying the site coordinators at their principal and recess team meetings, and also by shadowing and observing all twelve programs as they were being ran by our site coordinators. I was encouraged to build relationships and to feel confident when arriving to our school sites alone. Since I am working alongside three veteran coaches whom I have a great rapport built already, I believe we have developed a great form of ongoing communication which has allowed me to support them better and help me transition into a direct service consultant as well.

Here in Philadelphia we have an intensive plan on how we will expand Playworks in the next three years. Our goal is to reach more people and inform them of Playworks and the great work that we do. With my special marketing project work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about branding and marketing strategies and how they could benefit our region specifically. I was encouraged to build a one year marketing plan for our newsletters, emails, social media and school site visits. I led a training to our coaches on our expectations for branding and email sign ups and how this will leverage our pipeline and visibility. Since then, I’ve attended multiple tabling events, created over 8 emails varying from monthly newsletters, invitations and thank you letters for our fundraising efforts and I’ve also raised our following on our social media handles with over 200 new follows through posting, sharing, tagging and promoting our fundraising events and campaigns. Being able to build and compose content for our marketing plan, I realized my direct service work has a direct correlation to the collection of content we want to share on our outlets. I am now intentional with planning and conducting interviews at all of our twenty six partner schools and making sure our staff is always branded in our Playworks gear and the photos I take have a clear purpose. This is fun and exciting because I am able to directly collect the great stories from our partners while on site, but also strategize new ways we can get more exposure and gain more engagement in the city of Philadelphia.

Playworks is a very inclusive work environment and I definitely feel apart of the team in this role. As a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, my team has empowered me to take ownership of my role and I have been able to learn and grow immensely. My experience thus far has taught me so much in such a short time. I look forward to continuing my service in our community and merging my project work to collect and create great content that will assist us reaching our development goals.

 

Passing the Torch: From One Education Fellow to Another

The F.A.O Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship is a two-year program designed to provide recent college graduates with the opportunity to work in a full-time position at a non-profit organization with an educational focus. During these two years, the Fellows are given extensive career experience that involves direct service work with audiences as well as a perspective on running a special project from its inception to its evaluation. The F.A.O. Schwarz Family Foundation’s goal for these Fellows is to provide an opportunity to become “future leaders in the social sector” at institutions in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. This fellowship habitually provides young people with life-changing experiences.

My name is Jaiwantie Manni and I am the current F.A.O. Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York. My direct service work involves working with students and teachers who visit the Museum on field trips. For my special project at the Museum, I incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities into our field trips, and plan and implement our Family and Community Engagement Programs. I also have the pleasure of working with, and learning from, Joanna Steinberg, who was one of the first Fellows funded by the Foundation. Joanna completed her fellowship at the Museum in 2008, but has continued to be an integral team member of the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at MCNY in her role as Senior Education Manager.

During the first year of the fellowship, there was a total of five fellows who worked in three cities. Joanna was the only Fellow in New York City during the first year of the fellowship. There was one Fellow in Philadelphia at the Children’s Literacy Initiative and three Fellows in Boston at the Associated Early Care and Education, Building Education Leaders for Life (BELL) and the Boston Children’s Museum. Today, there are currently three Fellows in New York, two in Philadelphia, and four in Boston.

Then: The beginning of Joanna’s Fellowship

Joanna chose to work at the Museum not only because she had previous experience here but also because she wanted to work in a dynamic museum in a large city. Having grown up in New York City, she was particularly interested in urban and local history, and working with students from across the boroughs. As a Fellow, Joanna’s direct service duties included leading fields trips (The Grid: Urban Planning in NYC and Life in New Amsterdam, which I also teach) and work on developing programs that aligned with the NYC Department of Education’s curriculum. The notion of having a direct service focus as well as a special long-term project, which the Fellow focuses on for the two-year period, is a concept that has been incorporated into the fellowship since it was established in 2006.

Joanna Steinberg leads a workshop for teachers in the Activist New York gallery at the Museum of the City of New York in 2014.

One of her special projects was coordinating an educational program at the Museum called New York City History Day. This annual citywide event brings together hundreds of students from across NYC to share their research in the form of exhibitions, documentaries, performances, papers, and websites. Joanna expanded participation in the program by over 100 participants and developed relationships with many schools who were new to the program. To help new schools prepare, Joanna led workshops with teachers and student groups about how to research and interpret primary sources and develop thesis statements to make a historical argument. As a former history major, Joanna was excited that the program creates a community of young historians in the making, and recognizes and ignites their interest in history. It’s been wonderful to see the program grow under Stephanie Dueno, also a former F.A.O. Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, who served as the coordinator after Joanna until 2017. She created extensive curriculum that teaches students how to conduct historical research and develop their own perspectives, in addition to strengthened partnerships with the Department of Education and schools across the city.

Like myself, Joanna had previous experience working in museums. Joanna was a history major and an art minor at Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio. During her time at Oberlin, Joanna completed a Museum practicum at the Allen Art Museum, which is where she led tours as a Museum Educator and worked as the Assistant Registrar in Collections. During one summer, she worked at the Museum of the City of New York in the Urban Peer Docent Program mentoring high school youth who learned to teach in museum exhibitions for the first time. However, being a Museum Educator isn’t something you learn overnight. Joanna mentioned that it takes time and practice to hone your pedagogical skills, which involves fine-tuning questions to elicit lively discussions, learning to listen closely to students and having them respond to each other, while also building on their comments and observations to enhance their engagement with the exhibitions and discussions about New York. For Joanna, the Museum has provided an amazing laboratory for developing interactive learning strategies, thinking about accessibility and how students interact in the spaces, and identifying optimal moments for learning. Even though I’ve worked in two museums before coming to MCNY, I find myself also seeking advice on how to fine tune these skills and learning how to make connections between students.

After the Fellowship

Today, Joanna is the Senior Education Manager of the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at the Museum of City of New York. After her fellowship ended in 2008, Joanna continued to work on teaching and developing new field trips, particularly ones in conjunction with Activist New York, Jacob Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half, City as Canvas, and Hip Hop Revolution, in addition to History Labs. Joanna says that “working on educational programs where students and chaperones see cultural movements of their own generation and their own communities across the boroughs represented in the Museum have been powerful and have changed the way students experience the Museums.”

“It’s been amazing to see the Museum transform over the years to look at the vast history of the city in New York at Its Core,and approach social justice as a central focus of New York’s ongoing history in exhibitions.”

Years later, Joanna has developed many lesson plans for Activist New York and recently worked with a team of educators to develop lesson plans for Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics for teachers to use in their classrooms. She has also worked on developing some of the components of the Future City Lab field trip that I am working on. The Future City Labis one of the Museum’s new permanent galleries that’s part of New York at Its Core, which allows visitors to examine the city’s current challenges and develop strategies to respond to these challenges using interactive digital games.

Now: My Fellowship

Jaiwantie Manni teaching a group of fifth graders in the Activist New York gallery at Museum of the City of New York in 2018

Today, Joanna is my go-to person for anything regarding field trips. She helps teach me the field trip content and is someone I seek feedback from while developing a STEM-based educational experience for students visiting the Future City Lab for my special project work. Throughout these past six months, I have worked with students from grades K–12, and have learned to lead five different field trips. Using STEM concepts, I have also developed a new interactive display for theFuture City Lab to help students learn about the strategies New Yorkers are using to address major challenges that the city is facing in terms of the environment, housing, and transportation. My hope is that the inclusion of tactile objects, like concrete and materials from green roofs will help them understand the inner workings of the city and the choices professionals and community members are making to solve problems. Having the opportunity to look at photographs and touch urban materials will not only resonate with students, but will draw a real connection between the exhibition and the city beyond the Museum’s walls. I’ve worked with Joanna and other members of the Schwarz Education Center to make decisions about what to include in this display so that the concepts featured in the exhibition are more accessible to our students of all ages. Having Joanna’s expertise on how students grasp information has been extremely helpful and has made my project more meaningful.

“It’s great to be a part of the full circle of the fellowship at MCNY and it’s also inspiring to see what upcoming endeavors the future holds.”

It has been delightful to come into the Museum and work with Joanna to develop a more STEM-based educational experience for students visiting the Future City Lab. Every day, I get to work in a professional setting where everyone is each other’s cheerleader and everyone is given room for professional growth. I not only get to collaborate with other Museum Educators but also our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellows who are trained as Museum Educators to utilize their doctoral research in a public history setting by engaging the Schwarz Education Center’s audiences. This summer, I will be working with some of the Museum interns who are young adults being trained in Museum Education techniques as a first-time job opportunity. They lead field trips to camp groups and Family Programs in July and August. I am looking forward to being a part of their training and supervisory team where I can impart my recent knowledge as a new staff member to this new cohort of interns.

With the support of the F.A.O. Schwarz Family Foundation, the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at the Museum of the City of New York offers career development opportunities to a wide range of professionals at different levels of their career. I feel fortunate to be the beneficiary of one of these opportunities. From the Foundation’s resources to my colleagues at MCNY, I’m learning how to hone my creativity, experience, and knowledge to contribute to the important educational programs offered by the Museum.

Trash Academy: Understanding Trash through Participatory Action Research

My name is Ciara Williams and I am the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow with Mural Arts’ Restored Spaces Initiative in Philadelphia, PA. Restored Spaces uses socially-engaged public art as a platform for neighborhood change. Our projects use innovative approaches to community engagement; one approach is similar to participatory action research because of it’s collaborative and action-oriented approach to meaning-making. When starting our projects, it’s important for us to get a sense of the trades, skills, social relationships, resources, and cultural traditions that can shape our projects. We also seek to understand the activities, social relationships, and material resources our projects can possibly support or make possible. Essentially and ideally, we become engaged in a process of collective imagining and re-imagining of the environment through the creation of public art and the redevelopment of public space. Trash Academy, like many of our other projects, is informed by this model of community engagement and art making.

Trash Academy is a collaborative effort to understand and address the issue of trash in Philadelphia. We use creative, arts based solutions like teach-ins, student designed games and activities, and public art installations. Trash Academy is structured as a “collaboratory” between community members, business owners, artists, environmental activist, and youth. In summary, Trash Academy is designed to connect individuals and communities to resources that are already out there. We then work with those most directly impacted by the issue of trash in order to generate, test, and share new solutions. Through our efforts, we seek to understand trash as it is experienced locally; so people’s on-the-ground experiences and how they may relate to larger systems of production, consumption and disposal. This is accomplished through surveys, interviews, and casual conversation at our local events.

We are committed to the development of youth and community as researchers. To develop as leaders and experts in trash, participants produce art that is meant to educate our audience and spark conversation about how trash is managed. While we are engaged in the research and data collection phase, we create games and activities designed to share what we have learned. An example of this is the Trashmobile. The Trashmobile is a mobile educational tool created to meet people where they are. We are invited to events all across Philadelphia to engage people around the issue of trash. When it comes to equity and the principles of environmental justice, it is important that those who are the most impacted are directly involved in understanding and addressing the issue of trash. Participatory action research and the Trashmobile brings us closer to our goals of inclusion and civic participation. These tools allows us to understand the nuances in how people experience trash while also creating opportunities for people to become more directly involved.

Why I Chose To Work For Playworks

Growing up in a small town, recess was the best part of the day. I was able to run around outside with all of my classmates and play my favorite sports and tag games. As I grew older, I realized that recess was not only a time to run around, but it was a crucial part of the day. At recess, clicks were formed, discrimination happened based on gender and abilities, and safety became an issue. When I continued to play sports throughout middle and high school, I realized that being discriminated against or excluded from something that you did not excel in was an awful feeling. As I was searching for opportunities after graduation I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit that had an extreme passion for helping kids. I came across Playworks, and after my group interview I was immediately hooked.

The culture at Playworks is like no other culture that I have ever come across. High fives, good jobs, and recess is just the start of it. I constantly feel like my voice is being heard and collaboration is strongly encouraged. When I was thinking about the type of work that I wanted to get into, I knew I wanted to be a part of a community. Playworks has given me the community that I need to feel supported and appreciated, while still giving me the opportunity to learn something new everyday. I could not be happier to be in this line of work.

Throughout my time as a Playworks coach and now embarking on this fellowship journey, I have realized how important the culture of an organization is to me. Healthy play, healthy community, respect, and inclusion are the four values that Playworks abides by. I grew up in a healthy community, I went to college in a healthy community, and I now work in a healthy community. This is a characteristic that I always want to have in my daily life. When I feel like I am part of a healthy community, I believe that I feel stronger and more confident with my decisions. Being a part of Playworks and the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship community has taught me about creating long lasting relationships with the people around me. All of this has led to being in a healthy community and learning from others. Working for Playworks has changed my view on working, and giving back and I am excited to see what the future holds!

Keeping and Utilizing the Fellowship Network

We’ve all heard about how invaluable our network is and how nobody finds a job without LinkedIn these days. And, in some ways, staying in touch is far easier for our generation than those who came before us. But how many of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections would you feel comfortable calling up on a whim? Or asking if you could come take their portrait like this artist did? Luckily, we all have some sort of network we’ve built that we do feel comfortable reaching out to, and that’s a good place to start. There are certainly innumerable resources out there about how to best build and foster your network, but I’m hoping to share a few quick things I’ve learned in the time since completing my FAO Fellowship.

CONNECT WITH INTERESTS

If you feel comfortable enough to reach out to someone via email or the phone, chances are you also know something about their interests. One of the best go-to ways to stay connected with someone or to start an email that contains an ask is to include something you’ve heard or seen lately that you think they would be interested in. Just listened to a podcast about an organization like theirs? Read a news article that was about their hometown? Share a link and let them know you were thinking of them. (Quick tip: make sure this isn’t about their sector being a total scam or their hometown mayor laundering money… positive is always better).

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK…

It’s cliché for a reason: the worst someone can do is say no (or, more likely, not respond to your email). The important thing is to be clear about what you’re asking for and try to ask for something that won’t be a huge inconvenience. If you’re reaching out to try to further your career or ask for help, you should be the one doing most of the work. If you’re hoping to meet up, pick a location convenient for them and offer specific times. If you’re interested in their field of work and you’ve already heard all about their job, search LinkedIn for someone they know in a position you would be interested in and ask for an email introduction. Better yet, offer to send a paragraph for them to include in an email introduction. I won’t go into it here, but Vu Le has some great advice for you once you’ve secured that coffee date. Also, be sure to say thank you to both the person you met with and the person who arranged it. They’ll be happy to know you followed through and connected with someone in their network.

EVEN WHEN IT’S BEEN AWHILE

One of my personal struggles is staying in regular contact with those in my network. I try to follow great tips like using holidays as an excuse to reach out and being intentional about refreshing my network, but I never do it as often as I should. A couple experiences over the past few years, however, have taught me that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out when an opportunity presents itself. If there’s a job posting at an organization where someone in your network used to work or you’re thinking about transitioning to a new field where an old fellowship connection has experience, it’s worth reaching out even if you haven’t stayed in touch. And if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to be up front about how long it’s been and give a reminder of how you know one another. Chances are, they will be able and willing to help if you approach with a manageable ask. Even if they aren’t, this can serve as a great touch point. Take the opportunity to reconnect and catch up.

Overall, I’ve learned in recent years not to think of my network as something separate from the rest of my life. The people I completed my FAO Fellowship with, the Executive Directors I met on retreats, the fellowship Trustees I met at dinner, they are all people I have something in common with. They serve as resources for me, just as I can be a resource to them. And if I ever get too hesitant about reaching out, I think about whether what I’m asking for is something I’d be willing to do if the situation were reversed. Staying connected with your network, both personally and professionally, will be beneficial to your career and to your life. The best time to start is now.

Dawn casual head shotDawn Lavallee is a 2018 MBA Candidate in the Public and Nonprofit MBA program at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. During her fellowship, Dawn worked at Playworks New England developing Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum and helping young Playworks Junior Coaches to make a successful transition to middle school. When she’s not doing classwork, she can be found running, hiking, crafting, or volunteering with local nonprofits.