Education is often cited as an area that could create an enormous positive difference on issues of social justice. But such a result would require an immense effort of people working together to make systematic change over time.
Two alumni of the USC Price School of Public Policy have formed the Price Education Network (PEN) to try to make a collective impact in education.
Matthew Gonzalez ’15, a graduate of the Master of Public Policy program, had the idea to start PEN soon after graduation when he tried to connect with other USC alumni working in the education realm, but he had difficulty finding where they were working or what they were working on.
For Gonzalez, education has been a long-standing passion — he previously served as a high school language arts teacher, a Fulbright fellow and an Education Pioneers fellow. In August 2015, he reached out to Justin Tandingan MPP ’14, who works at Teach for America — the two had met at USC Price while Tandingan was president of the Graduate Policy Administration Community, a student organization.
Together, they gauged interest by setting up a networking event in downtown Los Angeles. More than a dozen people showed up, encouraging them to follow through on the idea.
Who are the members?
PEN currently is up to about 80 members, ranging from CEOs of nonprofits to current students, representing 55 organizations across the L.A. area. The network established a seven-person board that always includes one USC Price student.
“Our mission is to build a community of Price alumni in L.A. working in the education space, and amplifying the impact of that community, in tandem supporting current students trying to get into the space to get them the best jobs to maximize their impact,” Gonzalez said.
Tandingan was excited to expand on the network he had already built as a USC Price student, but also the potential for them to help one another given the complexity of the work they do.
“Education policy is such a unique realm of work in terms of its scope, the amount of money involved, the number of stakeholders and the difficulty to measure K-12 impact,” Tandingan said. “I thought a lot about what this network could do, what we could do for one another and how we might be able to build upon the already great Trojan family.”
The focus for the first year was mostly around building the community component of the network. They created a master list of all L.A.-based education organizations along with any PEN members employed at each. They plan to update the list annually.
In year two, they are looking for new ways to make a difference. PEN is assisting USC Price Professor Antonio Bento, chair of the Department of Policy Analysis and Real Estate, on designing a potential future education policy course for the MPP curriculum.
Former teacher Avery Seretan joined PEN last year as an MPP student. Now beginning pursuit of a Doctor of Education at the USC Rossier School of Education, Seretan is on the PEN committee working with Bento to build up USC Price’s in-house education policy capacity.
Seretan — a past fellow at the California Charter Schools Association and Education Pioneers — said PEN is providing Bento with potential topics and themes for which PEN members might be interested in providing practitioner expertise, helping to flesh out the syllabus for a future education policy course and identify people who could serve as guest speakers.
I feel fortunate to have a voice that could impact future students to give them that outlet to focus specifically on education policy.
“I feel fortunate to have a voice that could impact future students to give them that outlet to focus specifically on education policy,” Seretan said.
“The impact they’re having in creating a community on education policy highlights a lot of what the Price School is doing, and as a consequence we can help and inform each other about different career opportunities,” Bento said. “They provide mentorship to our current students, and I think in the future could also provide a lot of assistance in the training we do in education policy.”
Eventually, the co-founders hope PEN can make a tangible difference in education and, as a result, the community.
“How is L.A. better off because we exist?” Gonzalez asked. “That is a real conversation that we’re having. As we get into year two, continuing to develop and grow with Price’s assistance, I think the conversation will turn to how do we give back to L.A. That requires a lot of capacity, and right now we’re building the infrastructure to do that work.”