Regional Updates: The PP55 Fellowship Program

-Boston-

In the Boston area, Princeton AlumniCorps is in full swing!  The current class of fellows has attended seminars on careers in the public interest as well as education reform in Massachusetts. The Area Committee has worked to engage previous fellows and is now focusing efforts on recruiting new partner organizations. Tom Flynn, parent of Julie Flynn ’10, who is currently a fellow at the New York District Attorney’s Office, has joined the Boston Area Committee and is leading up the partner organization recruitment efforts.

-Bay Area-

Our five fellows are very engaged in the work at their placements, including Christina Jones ’10 at KIPP Foundation, who was able to catch an advanced screening of widely discussed Waiting for “Superman” which features KIPP schools.  Another Bay Area highlight, Christina adds, is the popularity of orange and black after the San Francisco Giants World Series win! On November 11th, the fellows attended their first seminar at Stanford entitled “Strategic Philanthropy: Getting Results and Adding Value” along with TAN affiliates Harvard CPIC and Stanford SPIN fellows. Steve McNamara ’55 and his wife Kay generously hosted a welcome dinner on November 20th.

-Chicago-

Kristen Molloy ’08 writes, “The weekly seminar program for 2010-11 Chicago PP55 fellows is off to a great start.  For the past two months, fellows have attended a series of seminars focusing on the theme of “hard times” and how the economic downturn has affected neighborhoods in Chicago.  During this series, fellows visited organizations such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Chicago Jobs Council, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository and heard from speakers such as journalist Salim Muwakkil, who discussed how the downturn has affected the African American community in Chicago.  Starting in December, seminars will focus on education reform in Chicago.  In other news, the Chicago Steering Committee has been busy recruiting new placement organizations, hosting events to acclimate new fellows to Chicago, and planning a spring event for PP55 alums.

-Connecticut-

Connecticut’s two fellows Blessing Agunwamba ’10 and Idil Kore ’10 are excelling at Norwalk Community Health Center. Harry Berkowitz ’55 is looking to work with Larry Cross, the health center’s executive director, to organize a day-long Public Health and Civic Service Event  for local Princeton alumni and the community.

-New York-

Kristen Smith ’03 writes, “We are thrilled to have 20 fellows in New York this year. On October 6th, Steve Houck ’69 and Toni Houck held our annual welcome dinner for the fellows complete with delicious Indian food. We recently held a seminar at the District Attorney’s office which was a debate between Peter Kougasian ’76 (Bureau Chief of Office of Special Narcotics) and Robin Steinberg (Founder and Executive Director of the Bronx Defenders).  We reached out to fellows from Harvard, Stanford and Dartmouth to participate in this debate creating a lively discussion about the criminal justice system. We are looking forward to our Career Night on November 30th hosted by the Arthur Malman ’64 P’96 P’03 and Professor Laurie Malman during which the fellows will have an opportunity to meet and network with industry professionals.”

-Philadelphia-

Julianne Grasso ’10, fellow at Foundations, Inc. came to Princeton on October 12th to serve on a panel for an information session and encourage applicants to consider a fellowship in Philadelphia, as a key group of volunteers on the ground works to expand the program. This initiative is being led by Carol Rosenfeld ’05, who has been in touch with Chet Safian ’55 about growing a program.

-Washington, DC-

Kate Lewis-LaMonica ’08 shares the following: “The DC Region was excited to welcome our largest cohort ever – 13 fellows. In July, the early arrivers gathered in Chinatown to meet the other fellows and local volunteers, and then again in August to volunteer together at Bruce Monroe Elementary during DC Public Schools Beautification Day. We finally formally welcomed the fellows at our orientation dinner in September: As tradition,  AlumniCorps President Bill Leahy ’66 and his wife, Chris, hosted a wonderful dinner at their home. Fellows gathered for a September workshop, Career Reflection 101, and the most recent seminar, “Options in Your 20s,” featured a panel of successful young professionals degree who spoke to the career choices they’ve made since graduating. On the social front, volunteers and fellows have organized outings to farm festivals and community dinners to sprinkle fun into our fall calendar.”

Rob Spackey ’08 Shares Fellowship Experience with PP55 Board

Robert Spackey '08 spoke at the Sept. 26 PP55 Board Meeting
Robert Spackey '08 spoke at the Sept. 26 PP55 Board Meeting

At the September 26 PP55 Board Meeting, Robert Spackey ’08 talked about his 2008-09 PP55 fellowship experience at College Summit in Washington, DC. His prepared remarks are below.

Princeton Project 55
Remarks for the Board of Directors

September 26, 2009

I first stepped foot in the Princeton Project 55 office in April of 2008.  I was a late-comer to the fellowship application process, having assumed for most of my senior year that non-profits were not were I wanted to expend my energy.  Most non-profits, I presumed, were well-intentioned, but poorly managed, inefficient, and stale places to work.  After an earnest but wholly unsuccessful job hunt, I began to expand my search and found that Project 55 had several unfilled positions.  So, I took a chance.  I applied, was accepted, and apathetically began what has turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I have learned so much this year from my work at College Summit, and being in a challenging environment with smart people thinking about tough business and educational problems has forced me to rethink, and truly appreciate the role of a non-profit organization.

College Summit’s mission is to place more low-income students in college.  We partner with high schools around the country and provide a curriculum for seniors applying to college.  The curriculum is taught as a regular class in which the teacher walks students through the application process, completing tasks such as college lists, applications and the FAFSA.  We are a social entrepreneurship venture, which means that we find innovative ways to sustain organization.  For instance, we sell our curriculum to school districts for a nominal fee.  In addition, we seek to attract “investors”, not simply funders.  These investors are shown data that our product produces results, and they invest, confident that more dollars will produce results for more students.  Consequently, strong data is crucial to furthering our mission and reaching more students.  But last year we had what some might call a “data crisis”.  Although I didn’t know it then, the data crisis would be a turning point in my first year in the workforce.

It was the week before Christmas.  Everyone was in a great mood, and little work was getting done. But unbeknownst to most of the organization, the leadership team was looking at some pretty unsettling numbers from our data department.  We all went off to Christmas break (yes, College Summit has a Christmas break), blissfully content that everything was just fine.  The executive team didn’t break the news until after the holidays but let’s just say we all had a very sobering start to the new year.   At 10am on Tuesday, January 6, the Vice Presidents called a meeting with anyone whose job touched data in any way.  My job happened to be tangentially related to data so I was there and I remember distinctly the speech we were given.  Brian, our vice president of operations, opened by stating that our numbers were showing that only 2% of our students had submitted a college application. This was not good; more importantly, it was not accurate.  We knew anecdotally that students roughly half our students had submitted an application, but the system was not reflecting that reality.  After the initial announcement, Tom, the representative from the project management office, got into more detail about some possible ideas for solving the problem.  All were complicated, and all had significant downsides that were bound to make a lot of people unhappy.

I remember sitting in that meeting and asking myself one critical question: how does this affect me?  As Tom read through his rough sketch of solutions, I looked around the room, and the faces of each individual spoke volumes.  No one felt good about the problem, and no one felt good about the ideas to fix it.  But furthermore, no one in the room quite knew who was the one to “own” this issue and guide it towards resolution.  The 10 people in the room, and the additional 30 or so regional staff members on the phone all left that meeting deflated.  Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you I decided right then and there that I was going to solve this thing. No, frankly at that time I was still asking myself another question which was: given what it says in my job description, what should I do about this issue?  Am I responsible for it?  Will I be held accountable?  From that perspective, the answer was clearly no, I was not ultimately responsible.  I wrote parts of the curriculum that dealt with our data system, but this was much bigger than that.  In fact, I reasoned, this was something for the managers and directors to sort out.  Once they got a handle on the situation, then I would be given a clear directive about what to do.  And given the fact that my job title had very little to do with this issue, I was confident that the directive would soon be: don’t worry about it, it’s not your problem.

That’s not how the data crisis concluded for me.  The next day I remember being called into a meeting with a smaller group in which we started to weigh the options and plan who was going to tackle the issue.  As the discussions began, I started to speak up and identify some risks involved with certain options on the table.  We had several more meetings that week with the smaller group, and I found that the more information I had, the more I was able to contribute, and the less I felt like a tangential curriculum writer, orbiting far from the center of the problem.  By the end of that week, after many rounds of sometimes heated discussion, and some serious bore down problem solving, I felt like an influential member of the group.  In fact, it was clear that I, along with two others, had really taken this problem on.  It wasn’t assigned to us.  We weren’t the obvious picks to solve it.  But this was our ad hoc team and by the end of the week, the three of us had developed a complex 35 step process necessary to achieve our goal.  I knew by heart how accounts would be created in the computer system, how groups would be established to keep track of students by class, the data points that each regional team member would need to collect, the process for batch creating accounts when accounts couldn’t be created at the school, and the strict timeline necessary for meeting each milestone.

In the end, we accomplished our goal and were able to produce a report for the board that showed that 60% of our students had submitted a college application.  To know that that process worked was incredibly satisfying.  But what I realized looking back on that whole month was that I could have stood back and let others take care of the problem because working on the data crisis was not in my job description.  But I made the choice to be intimately involved and go beyond my prescribed role.

College Summit constantly refers to our students as “better than their numbers”.  On paper, they might not have the highest GPAs or the best standardized test scores, but their talents are tremendous nonetheless.  In many ways, College Summit challenges it’s employees to be better than their numbers.  It may say on paper that I’m an entry-level associate, but I found this year that that did not mean that that was all I could be.  And going beyond the job description is a trait that I have found common among every single person in the organization who I consider to be excellent at what they do.

Today I am no longer an entry-level associate.  I was promoted last spring three levels to be a senior coordinator for projects on the Research and Development team.  But I haven’t stopped striving to be better than that title.  I’ve been put in charge of a project called Launchpad Campaign that is piloting a new and innovative way of implementing College Summit.  We are thinking critically about our costs of doing business, how we can scale good education, and how we can double and triple the number of students we serve each year.  It is a great joy to be able to think about these tough problems and know that I can make the choice to be an influential problem-solver on whatever issue confronts us.

Last week, Keith Frome, our Chief Academic Officer told me at our regular weekly check-in that several schools in Colorado unexpectedly want to buy our curriculum for 9th graders.  He asked me if I thought we should sell it to them on short notice.  A year ago I would have said, hey, I don’t think I’m really the right person to help with this – that sounds like something you and the exec team need to decide.  Of course, today I don’t respond that way.  I say: it sounds like a promising opportunity, but we first need to think about how the curriculum will be supported because Colorado is short staffed.  Maybe if we laid out up front that the school would get a one-time training and a minimal support after that, we could make the sale and not suffer capacity issues on the regional team.  His response? I like it, let’s do it.

Click this youtube link to watch Robert Spackey at the May DC Fellows Forum

CityBridge: “A Natural Match” for Princeton’s Motto

By Katie Lewis-LaMonica ’08
Current fellow at the CityBridge Foundation

Before my fellowship year, I always scoffed at the word “commencement.” I thought it cute—but not realistic—to frame graduation as a beginning, rather than an end. My Project 55 fellowship experience has inverted my opinion and I now view FitzRandolph Gate as the starting line.

It is hard to imagine finding a better first work experience to launch my career in public service– an experience shaped by the best of both Princeton, Project 55, and the nonprofit sector—than CityBridge Foundation in Washington, DC.

CityBridge, the family foundation of David and Katherine Bradley ’86, makes strategic investments, particularly in early childhood and human capital, to further education reform in the District. We also operate a corporate volunteering program, called ServiceCorps, which facilitates direct service, pro bono engagements, and nonprofit board placement for several partner companies in the DC area. Over the past three years, CityBridge has hosted three consecutive Project 55 fellows, and has served as a spring board for Princeton and Project 55 leadership. Our staff includes a Princeton trustee, a Project 55 board member, and the Project 55 DC steering committee chair. We strongly considered repainting the office from beige to orange and black.

Joking aside, the Foundation’s pride and appreciation for Princeton certainly run deep. CityBridge President and current Princeton trustee, Katherine Bradley ’86, reflects on the value added of Project 55 for CityBridge: “Princeton and Project 55 have provided the backbone of our education team at CityBridge: Four out of six of us are Princetonians—including two who started as PP55 fellows. And this ‘Princeton saturation’ makes sense: Our work at CityBridge aims to undo local educational inequality, and that mission is such a natural match for Princeton and its larger pull to service and national purpose.”

“It is hard to imagine finding a better first
work experience to launch my career in public service—an experience shaped by the best of both Princeton, Project 55, and the
nonprofit sector.”

— Katie Lewis-LaMonica ’08 Project 55 Fellow

Building on those common values, Project 55 has provided CityBridge a distinct opportunity to pursue an ancillary but critical mission of the Foundation, explains Arthur McKee ’90, the Foundation’s Education Program Director and a Project 55 Board member: “Recruiting, developing and anchoring talent for the social service sector has long been an imperative for CityBridge; PP55 is a great avenue to meet this imperative.”

Past and present CityBridge Project 55 fellows feel we are the lucky beneficiaries of the intersection of these two unique organizations. Caitlin Sullivan, an ’07-’08 fellow who has stayed on at the Foundation beyond her fellowship year, admits, “As many times as I heard ‘in the nation’s service and the service of all nations’ while a student at Princeton, it was impossible to know exactly how the motto would play out in the real world. CityBridge is the embodiment of Princeton’s commitment. I often feel as if our education reform strategy sessions are WWS task forces, with recommendations that we get to implement ourselves.”

For me, just observing my colleagues tackle strategic and operational problems and engage excellent interpersonal skills in their professional relationships has taught me more than any afternoon seminar in Robertson. But I’m not only observing; I’m doing.

CityBridge has provided fertile ground for me to adapt the research skills I built at Princeton to the philanthropic landscape. My own growth over the last 8 months has been fostered by invaluable mentoring and coaching – including constant feedback from my colleagues at CityBridge, regular opportunities for professional reflection with my supervisor, and monthly dinners with my Project 55 mentor, Jen Albinson ’05.

The combination of intellectual probing and unwavering support that I have received is no accident. Arthur McKee describes the Foundation’s approach to developing fellows: “We’ve found that Project 55 fellows have tremendous potential for making significant contributions and becoming real leaders in the field. It’s a pretty basic formula, but one that gets us results: set high expectations for the fellows’ work, provide a modicum of support and guidance, and give them a chance to spread their wings.”

And that’s what has made the Project 55 fellowship experience such a critical step for Caitlin and me after Princeton: it has given us direction among a sea of options in the nonprofit sector, and the tools and relationships to pursue that path and excel. Caitlin explains, “Project 55 has served as a gateway to CityBridge, a network of alumni contacts in DC, and now, in my role as chair of DC’s steering committee, a leadership opportunity. Project 55 has completely re-vectored my career path toward education by introducing me to the colleagues and work I love.”

PP55 in the Nation’s Service, in the Nation’s Capital

By Caitlin Sullivan ’07
Former PP55 fellow, DC Area Committee Coordinator

By the end of this Project 55 fellowship year in DC we will have had twelve seminars or gatherings as a full group of eleven fellows and their mentors. Seminar topics have included public health, hybrid careers in government and nonprofit sectors, environment, education reform, human rights, nonprofit leadership and direct service projects. Project 55 President Bill Leahy ’66 and Jennifer Albinson ’05 have opened up their homes for social gatherings at the beginning of the year and during the holidays; and we look forward to a celebratory group dinner together at the end of May. Some fellows are off to graduate schools, others are staying at their partner organizations past the length of their fellowship term and a few are still formulating their next steps beyond Project 55.

Katherine Bradley ’86, Katie Lewis-LaMonica ’08, Caitlin Sullivan ’07, and Arthur McKee ’90.
Katherine Bradley ’86, Katie Lewis-LaMonica ’08, Caitlin Sullivan ’07, and Arthur McKee ’90.

With a full local calendar of seminars meeting about twice per month, a core group of active mentors and ample opportunities for networking with alumni, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental impact of Project 55’s public interest program–the work that fellows are doing every day at their partner organizations. To honor fellows’ dedication and celebrate the end of the fellowship year, we are planning a Fellows Forum to be held on Tuesday, May 12th, at the central office of DC Public Schools, a Project 55 partner organization where Charity Fesler ’01 is currently serving. All eleven fellows will be on hand to describe their past year, explain how their fellowships may influence their career trajectories and network with interested Princeton alumni. We hope that all who attend this event will develop a deeper understanding of Project 55 as an organization but, more importantly, how it comes to life through the dedication and commitment of public interest fellows.

Project 55 Mentors: Building Relationships and Careers

By John Shriver,
PP55 Fellowship Program Manager

In the fall of 2007 when Stuart Raynor ’55 became interested in expanding Project 55’s affordable housing fellowship opportunities, he could not have predicted all the year would have in store. After using his contacts at the DC Housing Authority to create a fellowship opening, Stuart was connected with Aaron Buchman ’08, who would fill the new position. So began a fruitful and unlikely relationship spanning generations of experience and idealism.

Every year, new fellows are paired with local Princeton alumni with similar interests to provide support and guidance. Through the Project 55 Mentoring Program, mentors help fellows set career goals, network with professionals, and maybe most importantly, offer guidance from someone who has been in their shoes. For Aaron, this has been especially helpful as he learns to navigate the world of city government.

“Fellows are the primary reason for the strength and growth of Project 55…
Aaron exemplifies that.”

— Stuart Raynor ’55 Project 55 Mentor

Stuart also has learned a lot from Aaron as their relationship developed. “For someone of my generation, there [are] not a lot of opportunities to converse with people from [a] younger generation,” says Stuart. “Aaron has a lot of good ideas.”

Aaron first became interested in affordable housing through his undergraduate coursework. While it was not his primary interest, he was attracted to the complex interactions between real estate markets, financing and social policy. “Public housing is an ambitious social experiment,” Aaron said. So when Project 55 offered him a hands-on opportunity to learn more about affordable housing in Washington, DC, he jumped at the chance.

Though his career began in the private sector, Stuart always had a strong interest in affordable housing. Inspired by the work of his classmates and the spirit of Project 55, he decided to take a job in the public sector at the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) of Montgomery County, Maryland. What he thought would be a brief stint in the public sector became a fifteen-year career. Although he has now retired from HOC, Stuart remains active in the nonprofit sector on the board of the Alternative Housing Solutions and the Arlington County Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.

Soon after Aaron started at the DC Housing Authority, he learned how complicated and frustrating the housing industry can be, yet how helpful it is to have a mentor with Stuart’s experience. The “field does not explain itself well,” said Aaron, “one year is barely enough time to get up to speed, and it takes time to implement any policy.” Stuart has been able to help by offering a different perspective. “Stuart has said things that give me a longer view,” Aaron said recently, “it helps me have hope for the future”.

A mentoring relationship isn’t all about business though. Aaron and Stuart have frequent meals together, have taken a walking tour of affordable housing projects, and have gone to a Capitals hockey game.

So is mentoring a meaningful way to get involved? Stuart certainly seems to think so. “Fellows are the primary reason for the strength and growth of Project 55,” he said. “Aaron exemplifies that…It has been rewarding to get to know Aaron.” Even after the fellowship year, Stuart and Aaron plan to keep in touch. “I am delighted Aaron will be in Washington,” said Stuart. For these two at least, this fellowship has helped build more than affordable housing.

PP55 is now accepting mentor applications. If you are interested in getting involved and becoming a mentor, please contact John Shriver and Stephanie Mirkin at pip@alumnicorps.org.