Three students in the USC Price School of Public Policy were immersed in the world of nonprofit educational organizations in Los Angeles this summer, gaining valuable experience and direction for their futures while contributing to educational advancement.
Jessica Papia MPP ’12, Amira Resnick and Diana Wiley were among 321 graduate students and early career professionals nationwide who were awarded 10-week fellowships by Education Pioneers, an organization that seeks to improve and revamp K-12 education. Some 4,000 had applied for the 2012 fellowships.
Education Pioneers, which offers fellowships outside the classroom, panel discussions and networking opportunities, began in 2003 in the San Francisco Bay Area and has expanded to Los Angeles and six other major metropolitan areas on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Its stated mission is to “identify, train, connect and inspire a new generation of leaders dedicated to transforming our education system so that all students receive a quality education.”
Papia, who spent three years as a high school English teacher in Baltimore, served as a fellow with Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE). The organization seeks to help its members, who are current and former Teach for America corps members, effectively engage in community advocacy and education policy reform.
A Teach for America alumna, Papia designed surveys and conducted interviews with experts to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of LEE’s outreach and civic engagement strategies.
The research methods that she learned in USC Price classes, Papia said, “prepared me to walk through the steps of finding a solution for my client, from conversations about what questions we were trying to answer, to creating a survey, to conducting interviews and synthesizing results.”
At the same time, she found that “the work reminded me of why I wanted to pursue public policy in the first place — to learn skills for influencing systems and organizations to better serve disadvantaged kids. As a teacher, I heard stories from my students that showed me the need for improving their safety and access to resources outside of the classroom. With every Education Pioneer guest speaker, I learned more about the ways organizations are trying to solve the problem of the education ‘opportunity gap’ for such students.”
Above all, Papia said, she wants to change the messages given to young people.
“I feel that, without meaning to, we create messages that say there are limitations on them,” she explained. “I want to encourage people to ask young kids what they care about, what they’re good at, what their biggest dreams are and what potential they see in themselves.”
Resnick, a Master of Public Administration student at USC Price, also was impressed by the Education Pioneers workshop on the opportunity gap between various socioeconomic and ethnic groups.
For years, she has been interested in working with diverse communities across cultures.
Because of her own Jewish cultural identity, Resnick said, “I feel a certain amount of social responsibility to do good on behalf of other people, following the Jewish ethic of tikkun olam — repairing the world.”
Knowing that education reform is a significant issue in California and across the nation, Resnick applied for an Education Pioneers fellowship to learn more about it and see how she might apply organizational skills acquired while working at a number of social services organizations.
Her fellowship was close to home at the USC Rossier School of Education, where she served as a research assistant. Resnick collected and analyzed information about the career development needs of the school’s students and alumni, made recommendations for strengthening how the school addresses them and is staying on to help implement them.
“I was able to apply the lessons learned at USC Price on what good leadership is, a topic covered thoroughly in several classes,” Resnick said. “Education Pioneers gave us many opportunities to use that information in planning events and sharing knowledge, experiences and contacts with our fellow cohort members.”
After receiving her degree next year, she would like to find a position with an organization that is globally focused and use her fluency in Spanish to work with the Latino community in Los Angeles.
For Wiley, Latino community issues are a top priority as well. A Master of Public Administration student, she is also a graduate assistant with El Centro Chicano, a USC organization that provides personal, social and academic support for developing Latino leaders through graduation and beyond.
Wiley chose to take a fellowship with Partners for Developing Futures (PDF), a nonprofit, social venture fund that primarily invests in minority-led charter schools and networks focused on underserved students. She helped to research and draft the organization’s strategic plan, and conducted interviews with charter-school entrepreneurs currently funded by PDF.
“I enjoyed learning new skills — writing for marketing and communications — and building a relationship of trust with someone I was writing about,” Wiley said. “It was a privilege to hear these leaders’ stories. Also, I knew little about charter schools before, and I enjoyed learning the different ways that one can address and fix issues in education.”
And she called upon lessons learned in her organizational development class at USC Price for her work at PDF. “A lot of the main points of the class were applicable to my project — observing the culture, listening to the leader and figuring out how his or her vision can be put into digestible chunks of information,” Wiley said.
Envisioning her own future, Wiley said she would welcome a role in the educational sector that focuses on preparing Latino students to succeed in college. “A lot of students of Latino descent who can make it to college can’t find the resources or support to stay in college,” she said. “I would love to find a way to help them do that.”
Regardless of their particular fellowships or individual goals, all three fellows felt enriched by sharing their experiences with other Education Pioneers.
As Resnick explained, “I really enjoyed getting to know the other fellows. Everyone had a wealth of information and experience. It was also an opportunity to develop a professional network for the future.”