PP55 Seminars Teach and Inspire

Regular seminars are a core element of the Project 55 Fellowships Program, giving fellows opportunities to deepen their knowledge about public issues and civic leadership. In Chicago, PP55 fellows gather weekly with fellows from our TAN affiliate schools to be inspired by and learn from leaders working for social change. Latalia White ’12 reports on a recent PP55 seminar in Chicago.

On Wednesday, November 13, Chicago PP55 fellows met downtown at Civic Consulting Alliance with Public Interest Program fellows from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago for a seminar led by Pamela Bozeman-Evans, Chief Operating Officer of the YWCA in Chicago. Bozeman-Evans described how growing up in a grassroots politically active family on the South Side of  Chicago set the foundation for her to dedicate her life to public service, with a focus on helping women and children. After graduating from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s degree in corporate communication and a Master’s degree in fiscal administration, Bozeman-Evans took a position as the Director of the University of Chicago’s Community Service Center after childhood friend [and former PP55 mentor] Michelle Obama ’85 persuaded her to consider the position. She has also worked on Barack Obama’s Senate campaign and served as the Senior Program Director for the Gary Comer Youth Center.

Bozeman-Evans used her time as Executive Director for Blue Gargoyle Community Services from 2007-2009 to  detail the struggles of running a nonprofit organization during tough financial times, reflecting to fellows how the shutting down of Blue Gargoyle under her leadership inspired her to prove her critics wrong by successfully moving ahead in her career. Bozeman-Evans’s advice to fellows who want to work in the nonprofit sector is that their focus should be on working toward a future in which their nonprofit organization no longer exists.

Using her current position as COO of the YWCA Chicago as an example, she expressed that she would be horrified if there was still a need in one hundred and fifty years for the YWCA, an organization that seeks to eliminate racism and sexual violence toward women; nonprofit companies need to strive for prevention as opposed to intervention. Taking questions from fellows about moving up in the nonprofit world, Bozeman-Evans’ recommendations were to implement a “strategic and visionary approach to development, the most important team” in a nonprofit, understand your hook, and constantly be thinking about what your company’s future needs will be in an ever-changing world.

 

Starting Out: An Interview With Eileen Torres ’13

Eileen Torrez ’13 is a current fellow in the Bay Area. We recently checked in with her about her first few months as a PP55 fellow at GreatSchools in San Francisco.

 

Tell us about yourself. What interests and experiences did you have at Princeton? What was your major and focus of study? Where are you from?

I come from Corrales, NM, which is a small town just outside of Albuquerque (think adobe houses, corn fields and lots of horses and goats). When I was younger I was always curious about the bigger picture: What is the nature of things? Why do people act the way they do? How much can we know about the past and the future? At Princeton I got hooked on metaphysics and epistemology and decided to major in philosophy. I explored the connections between       philosophy, language, and religion, ultimately traveling to India during the fall semester of my junior year to study Buddhism and then writing my thesis on Buddhist philosophy. I also studied Arabic and was part of     singing and yoga groups on campus.

Tell us about your host organization. What is its mission? What kind of work are you doing?

GreatSchools’ mission is to help parents get a great education for their kids both at home and at school. They started 15 years ago as a website of school     profiles, with transparent information on academic performance and reviews by parents, students, and teachers. The idea is that the more parents can make      informed choices about where they send their kids to school, the more the quality of schools will improve over time. The site has since expanded and now includes content aimed at helping parents become more actively involved in their kids’ education.

My job is to act as [the CEO’s] assistant, which so far has meant researching and crafting documents for   either internal or external purposes. For example, last month I directed the writing of a paper for funders    illustrating the theory and practice behind our new local engagement model. This month I’ll be working on the same type of paper, but for our new website called GreatKids.

We know it is early on in your fellowship. What has been the most surprising thing to you in your time on the job? Has anything been particularly rewarding so far? How are you finding the Bay Area?

I’ve been surprised to discover how much opportunity for impact still exists in the field of education reform. It’s encouraging to know that as long as you start somewhere, adapt quickly, and stay true to your original  vision, you can make a difference. I see that happening with GreatSchools and I really like knowing that I’m a part of the movement behind the scenes. I especially enjoy blogging because I get to read about the most recent debates and cutting-edge ideas in education, and process my own ideas about them. The best part about my job is that I’m actually using the skills I learned in college. There is a serious need in small public interest organizations for humanities students – people who know how to write, who can do solid research, and who bring their own perspective and voice to things. I feel good knowing that I’m making a difference at a company that’s having such a real impact.

San Francisco is, hands down, the most amazing city I’ve ever been in. A couple of times a week I go out and do something unique around the city.

What are your short and long-term career plans? How do you imagine your fellowship fitting in?

I started this fellowship with the goal of developing two things: my professional skills as a writer and my understanding of how nonprofits operate. So far my office has been an excellent training ground on both fronts. I’ve also been gaining a lot of insight into the more elusive aspects of running a business, such as the bridge between theory and practice. How does a nonprofit stay true to its mission in the midst of a competitive industry? How does it deal with internal clashes and interact with outside partners? Answering these questions has been incredibly helpful for me as I     consider how I might want to run an organization of my own someday.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up in the next couple of years, but I have some interesting ideas. I think I might take some time off and explore music for a while, then come back to the nonprofit arena and do more management-focused work. I may even go to business school! I’m really inspired by my boss’ story and I think I could accomplish a lot in a similar role. I may end up doing something education-related, and I may not; I’ve learned one thing through this fellowship it’s that all social and cultural issues are intimately connected.