Rebecca Deaton ’91 and Mike Malecek ’09 Discuss Their Fellowships

 

Recently, we asked two former fellows – Rebecca Deaton ’91, one of the first, and Mike Malecek ’09, one of the most recent – about their fellowships, what they’ve done since, and why they’ve remained involved.

1 – What inspired you to apply for a PP55 fellowship? What made you accept?

Rebecca: I graduated during a recession so there weren’t a ton of job opportunities that year!  Apart from that, I was inspired by the opportunity for an adventure with nine classmates.  John Fish ’55 was someone you simply trusted, so I went along for the ride with him.

Mike: I wanted to be involved in something meaningful upon graduating from Princeton. I majored in sociology and urban studies. I narrowed down my fields of interest to city policy, local government, and nonprofits. PP55 partner organizations were in many of these sectors. I was attracted to the matching component of PP55 (although I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had an idea of the field, and PP55 would find an organization that matched my interests and skills). When I graduated, I was so tired of school and couldn’t wait to contribute to meaningful work in the real world, where I could have an impact. Ultimately, I hoped to have an opportunity to help disadvantaged populations and have a positive impact through my work.

I accepted my placement because of the reasons listed above. I was placed with a great organization in a new city. I wanted to explore and experience new things. Despite having never been to Chicago (where my placement was) or having experience with workforce development or former offenders (the work my organization did), I heartily accepted. PP55 is a great opportunity to be in a new place, meet new people, and experience new things. I wholeheartedly embraced that and was excited to begin my post-college life in Chicago with the organization I was placed with.

 

2 – Describe your fellowship: your work, what you learned outside of work, your biggest takeaways.

Rebecca: I was lucky enough to work for Jody Kretzmann ’66 who had been working in Chicago neighborhoods for years and seemed to know everyone.  Jody founded the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, which partnered with non-profits across the city.  My job was to collect success stories from libraries and community colleges; this work became a small part of a manual that still guides the work of ABCD today.  My favorite memory is taking the bus to the Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago.  The librarian there could not have been more gracious and I never felt worried about my safety.  The opportunity to be completely out of my element and to broaden my worldview was unique.

Mike: My fellowship was with the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) on Chicago’s West Side. The great part of a PP55 fellowship is that I got diverse exposure to many aspects of the nonprofit I worked in. I did everything, including: communications, small business work, direct client training, beekeeping (unique to NLEN and Sweet Beginnings), work with the executive director and board of directors, and more.

I learned a lot outside of work. Working and spending time in a disadvantaged neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side gave me a new perspective on what many people struggle with day to day to put food on the table or succeed in life. Chicago had a number of other resources that I pursued outside of work to educate myself with urban policy issues and other problems affecting the city and often those with the fewest resources.

I also learned a lot in the weekly seminars the Chicago program hosts for fellows. It was valuable to be exposed to so many nonprofits, programs, and experts in my first year out of school. This also provided me additional perspective on other public interest agencies and programs that had impact and gave me knowledge of what others were doing outside the nonprofit I was placed with.

My biggest takeaways were broadening my world view, empathy for others and their unique circumstances, and appreciation and awe for those people dedicated to public interest work.

 

3 – What have you done since your fellowship – career? Volunteer?

Rebecca: Most of my volunteer work has been with Alumni Corps.  Because I stayed in Chicago, John Fish made sure I never left the fold!  I have loved being part of a special Princeton community in Chicago.  Princetonians of different generations and from all walks of life have come together to do meaningful work together.  We have more than our alma mater in common.

Professionally, I am an advisor to wealthy families.  While helping my clients take care of their finances is rewarding, it also leaves me with a desire to give back to less fortunate people.

Mike: After my fellowship year, I was retained by the nonprofit in a development role. I was employed as a Development & Program Associate for two years.  I left my job at NLEN to attend a summer urban planning, graduate-level immersion program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. I knew I wanted to return to school for a masters degree eventually, and this was a great way to see if graduate school was for me, and if urban planning was what I wanted to study. Upon returning to Chicago, I was employed by a boutique public affairs consulting firm, Resolute Consulting. I worked in their real estate and land use practice group under the firm’s managing director for two years.I applied to graduate schools in December 2013 for dual masters programs in urban planning and public policy. Now, I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. I am a dual degree student with the Masters of City & Regional Planning and Masters of Public Administration programs.

Since my fellowship, I’ve volunteered my time on the PP55 Chicago Area Committee and on the Princeton Club of Chicago Board or Directors. I’m now volunteering my time as a board member of the Carolina Triangle Princeton Club.

 

4 – How have you remained involved with Princeton AlumniCorps? Why?

Rebecca: There are so many ways to stay involved with PAC, and I’ve tried most of them!  That way I don’t get bored in the same role.  I’ve been a mentor to fellows, have served on the board, have organized anniversary celebrations and have been a part of our Chicago area committee for many years.  I find getting to know the fellows energizing and find the commitment of the members of the class of 1955 inspiring.  In addition, just as my fellowship took me out of my element, I continue to be out of my element in all of my PAC volunteer roles.  I don’t consider organizing events, speaking at seminars or being a board member roles I naturally excel at, but enjoy challenging myself.

Mike: I remained involved with Princeton AlumniCorps in Chicago by serving on the PP55 Chicago Area Committee. Through this network I remained connected to PP55 in Chicago and the incoming classes of fellows. It was rewarding to be a resource to the new fellows for fellowship, career, and other advice. Staying involved in the PP55 network in Chicago was important to me.

 

5 – Why do you support Princeton AlumniCorps? Why should other fellowship/internship alumni?

Rebecca: I’ve always been impressed by how much of our work is done by volunteers, but nevertheless we need a dedicated staff to fulfill our commitment to our fellows, partner organizations and even volunteers.  This organization provides a unique opportunity for Princeton alums of all ages and also provides a unique resource to some of our most challenged urban neighborhoods.  PAC gives me back much more than I contribute!

Mike: I support Princeton AlumniCorps annually. It is such a unique organization with an important mission. My PP55 fellowship was instrumental in shaping my interests and career path; I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience. I hear other PP55 alumni say this all the time. Princeton AlumniCorps also serves the important role of promoting careers in the public interest on campus. Too many students are consumed by the finance, investment banking, and management consulting career tracks. It is important to advocate for career options that may not be known to students; impactful careers that make a difference in our society. Other alumni should contribute to make a difference in the lives of recent graduates, and to give back for what PP55 has given you.

As we celebrate 25 years of Project 55, now is the time for our 1500 fellowship and internship alumni to lead Princeton AlumniCorps forward. We are counting on YOU to support the organization and ensure its future. Please consider a gift today. 

 

 

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.