Arthur recently joined the National Council on Teacher Quality in January 2011, to head up their project to rate over 1000 schools of education, which prepare virtually all the new teachers in the country every year. From 2000 to 2010, Arthur worked at CityBridge Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to creating and sustaining great public schools in Washington DC. While there, he oversaw the foundation’s Early Years Education Initiative, an $8M, five-year effort to expand high-quality early childhood education services in the nation’s capital. Prior to the launch of the Early Years Initiative in 2006, Arthur investigated the potential of philanthropic strategies in the areas of homeless service provision, workforce development, and asset building. He also taught Russian history at American University. He has a Bachelor of Arts in History from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Russian History from U.C. Berkeley. He serves on the board of DC Preparatory Academy and has two young sons.
How/Why did you get involved with Princeton AlumniCorps?
A brief notice in an e-mail from the University in 2005 reminded me that nonprofit organizations could bring on fellows through Princeton Project 55. While I was aware of Princeton Project 55, having been a senior when it was created, I actually hadn’t kept up with the organization in the intervening years. When I got this e-mail I was working at CityBridge Foundation, and we were gearing up for what would become the Early Years Initiative. We decided to apply to become a host organization and brought Emily Chiswick-Patterson on board in 2006. Emily made a huge difference as we helped design the academic program of a charter school. So I became a big fan of the PP55 fellowship.
From my own work, I knew that the supply of talent into the nonprofit sector was something of a rate-limiting factor. Social service organizations could succeed in making a difference only if they had enough motivated and smart folks working for them. Princeton Project 55 seemed like just the sort of pipeline the sector needed. After talking more about this with Bill Leahy (who was then on the board of PP55), I wrote a letter to the board and was recruited to serve on a taskforce that had formed to discuss partner organizations. That work got me hooked, and I was very fortunate to be asked to join the board in 2008.
What is your background regarding nonprofits/volunteering? How have you demonstrated “Princeton in the Nation’s Service?”
To be honest, for the first decade or so after I graduated, I was much more focused on advancing my career in academia than I was service to others. But when I left academia, I was fortunate enough to join the staff of the family foundation of David and Katherine Bradley (Katherine is a member of the class of 1986 and serves on the University’s Board of Trustees). They had ingrained in their business enterprises and foundation an intensive ethic of service, which was very compelling to me. And the work of the foundation itself showed me why it was important to give back to the community.
In the past decade, I’ve served on the boards of four organizations, including Princeton AlumniCorps. I feel like board service is a good fit for my skills, and I feel like I have been able to make a lasting difference to the community by helping good organizations get even better.
What’s the most important thing you look for when supporting an organization or serving on a nonprofit board?
Like anyone else, I should suspect, I look first and foremost at the mission of the organization. Is it something that I am passionate about? If the organization achieved its mission, would it have made a significant difference?
But after that, I really look at the organization’s leadership. Are the organization’s leaders energized for growth and eager to improve? Can the leadership rally smart and good people to support it? Even if an organization has good programs, it won’t be able to last long with bad leadership.
I should note that leadership cannot be completely concentrated in a single person. I look to see who the chair of the organization is along with the executive director. One of the reasons why Princeton AlumniCorps has had such a good run is that it has tremendous leadership strength on its board, in its chairs, presidents, and executive directors.
Please discuss the importance of what Princeton AlumniCorps does for the Princeton community and communities across the country.
I will defer to my fellow board member, Stan Katz, who has told us that he thinks that AlumniCorps has had a profound impact on the culture of the university. Before it was founded, corporate recruiters really had no competitors on campus. And if you were like me, and didn’t want to join the corporate sector, you went on to graduate or professional schools. The advent of Princeton AlumniCorps has actually made the university’s motto real by providing them with viable pathways to service. And its emergence presaged the creation of a wide variety of other organizations (such as Princeton in Africa) that widened these pathways. From what I can tell, students are actually giving a lot more thought to how they can serve than when I was a student.
For 2010-11, AlumniCorps placed 51 Project 55 fellows. What would your advice be for our newest class of PP55 fellows?
My advice both to those who are roughly halfway through their fellowships and those who have applied to become fellows is: network. We normally think of going out and meeting people in a purely instrumental light, as a means of convincing someone to give you a job. That obviously can be one goal. But for people who are just getting out of college, networking is actually a way of getting a much better sense of what you might ultimately want to do. And you shouldn’t be bashful about asking someone to take a phone call or a lunch meeting with you. Most people are happy to talk about what they’re doing, and you can learn a lot from asking them some simple questions.
One of Princeton AlumniCorps’ strengths is that it has established a remarkably extensive and dense network of contacts that people in the organization can take advantage of. So, if you’re a fellow, you can talk to other fellows in the city you’re placed in, your mentor, your supervisor (and, possibly, the colleagues of your supervisor). And if you are applying to become a fellow, you can talk with the fellows who are in organizations that you’re interested in.
What is your hope for the future of Princeton AlumniCorps?
I’m very excited about the prospect of turning Princeton AlumniCorps into the organizational destination for Princeton alums to get meaningfully involved in community service. The work that John Shriver and Bill Leahy have done in developing the Community Volunteers Program to establish compelling channels for alumni to get involved is going a long way to making this a reality.