Brian Leung ’12, ARC Innovator at Harlem RBI (now DREAM Charter School)
Brian Leung is a senior analyst at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. On a daily basis, he uses analytical and statistical methods to lead and evaluate projects that minimize disparities and injustice in the City’s youth population. He volunteered as an ARC Innovator with Harlem RBI (now DREAM Charter School) in 2016-17.
How did you discover ARC Innovators?
I learned about the program from the Princeton Alumni listserve. I’d been looking for an education-based pro bono project and it seemed to be a great fit given the skills I use in my day job. At work, I frequently deal with underserved populations. I live about ten blocks away from Harlem RBI, so this project hit close to home because it’s in my community. In the Mayor’s Office, my work is mile-high. At Harlem RBI, I was working on the ground and making a tangible difference.
What did you do at Harlem RBI (now DREAM Charter School)?
They needed help with choosing an e-learning solution for distributing materials to faculty, staff, parents, and students. My final deliverable was a 50-page slide deck ranking each popular solution on the market for the implementation leader and principal. I spent about 80 hours over the course of many weekends for four months.
How did your assistance help Harlem RBI (now DREAM Charter School)?
The person who would implement the chosen tool didn’t have enough hours in the day to do the research himself, so I saved him a lot of time. In addition, I provided an outsider’s perspective and strategic insight.
How did the ARC Innovator project benefit you?
Their feedback helped me develop as a private consultant. While ARC Innovators is usually promoted to seasoned professionals, this AlumniCorps program provides opportunities that should be leveraged by both new and experienced professionals.
DREAM Charter School (formerly Harlem RBI) is a model learning community with high expectations, a strong culture of care and a vision of student success and excellence. DREAM was established in 2008 with 100 scholars in kindergarten and first grade. Today, they serve 486 scholars in PreK through eighth grade. They will open their doors to their first ninth grade class in fall 2017.
Bill Cummiskey ’05, Project 55 Fellow in 2006-07, and current teacher at The Community Group in Lawrence, MA
Why a Project 55 Fellowship?
After a year-long internship with group Athletes in Action, Bill applied to seminary. Harvard Divinity School would have been ideal since his fiancé was enrolled in a PhD program at Harvard. But when he didn’t get accepted to the program, Bill found himself scrambling for a plan B. His friend, then-Executive Director Kim Hendler, encouraged him to apply for a Princeton Project 55 Fellowship at Community Day Public Charter School (now The Community Group) in Lawrence, MA.
How did a PP55 Fellowship morph into a teaching career?
In 2006, Bill’s Fellowship prompted him to start contemplating long-term career goals outside of vocational ministry. Bill reflects: “I started to really examine who I was and who I wanted to be.” He remembers driving back from apple picking at a farm near the school and having an epiphany about how much he enjoyed teaching at the school. “The staff gave me so much positive feedback and support, and I realized I could easily see myself developing a career as a teacher there. The realization was due in large part to the kids. Our students in Lawrence are truly amazing and being with them and working with them is a reward in and of itself.”
How was PP55 different from an internship?
I think that supportive community was the highlight. Dena Koren ’04 (my PP55 mentor) even helped me find a summer job! The Boston Area Committee was motivated and comprised of interested people who were there if you needed them.
What does your role at TCG look like now?
Bill accepted a permanent roll at TCG after his internship year, where he wore many hats. “I began as a generalist which was one part paraprofessional in the classroom with other teachers, one part in house substitute, and one part helper at odd jobs and small groups.” Over the next five years Bill’s teaching skills improved and he took on the role of a co-teacher. “I’d be responsible for small groups on long-term or even year-long bases and worked mainly in math and English language arts.” Bill’s morphing role allowed him to teach the same group of students for four straight years. “They were an amazing group and it was an awesome experience.” Bill currently serves as the 7th and 8th grade science teacher, while also filling the role of a technology integration coach, a job he finds both fun and challenging.
PP55 had an indelible impact on Bill’s decision to work at TCG long term. What started as a “good job,” evolved into even more than a career : “Working in schools, in particular charter schools in Massachusetts, and in Lawrence specifically, has become a vocational calling. I can’t communicate how large a role TCG has played in my life. I’ve been there for one third of my entire life at this point, which seems incredible. I’d have to say that the colleagues I’ve worked with, their professionalism and skill and care for students, has been a huge gift. And the students are why we are all there and they are wonderful, new every day, and it is an amazing privilege to be entrusted to teach them.”
Bill and his wife, Kristina Fontanez ‘05, live in MA with their two sons.
Nina Narayanan ’16, current Project 55 Fellow at The Community Group in Lawrence, MA
Why a Project 55 Fellowship?
I’m planning on pursuing a PhD in anthropology, but for me the choice to take a year off in between was a no-brainer. I study anthropology largely because the discipline is defined by intercultural communication and understanding; it’s a natural venue for social justice and for confronting the changing possibilities of a multicultural world. PP55 has offered me the opportunity to work hands-on with a disadvantaged community and to learn directly from them about the challenges they face. Lawrence is a gateway city for low-income Latin American immigrants, so the population I serve has very specific linguistic, socioeconomic and socio-emotional needs. As an academic, I want to make sure that my theoretical work has tangible results, and that I’m able to understand the practical implications and lived experiences of racial inequality and cultural integration before approaching these topics from an academic standpoint. In this regard, my year as a PP55 fellow has already been invaluable.
What’s your role at The Community Group (TCG)?
The culture at The Community Group and at Community Day Arlington Elementary School is all hands on deck, all the time. For me that’s meant that while my job description involves creating and translating mass communications home, running parent meetings and parent-teacher conferences, and teaching adult ESL by night, I’ve also found myself thrown into the classroom to teach second grade for two weeks when we were suddenly understaffed; I’ve worked in Operations, and gotten an in-depth look at the day-to-day mechanics of running a school; I’ve started a student choir with our after-school program, and found myself involved with efforts to expand our enrichment and artistic offerings; and through various communication initiatives I’ve been able to play a direct role in shaping our long-term plans for bridging the language and education gap with our community. I rarely walk into work knowing what my day will look like, and I am consistently handed the opportunity to make a very real difference in the lives of our children and families. Every day is defined by surprise, excitement, and inspiration.
How has the PP55 Fellowship impacted your future plans?
After my fellowship, I’ll be spending a year in Argentina as a Fulbright scholar, then returning to the states to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. The PP55 Fellowship has impacted ,my research focus by challenging me to consider how my work can make a practical difference. I’ve always been interested in the ways minority and immigrant communities define and express their identities against mainstream American culture. More and more, I find myself approaching this topic from the question of language and education, confronted as I am every day with the challenges of translation, interpretation, and cultural difference in an institutional educational setting. I hope and intend on making sure that my research is poised to do real work towards addressing these social issues.
The Community Group
In response to the poverty, teen pregnancy, illegal drug use, and gang violence that has plagued Lawrence, MA since 1970, The Community Group (TCG) has been creating opportunities in Lawrence by managing a range of programs, including a network of early childhood and out-of-school time programs, a network of charter and district public schools, consulting and training programs, and a child care resource and referral program. AlumniCorps is proud to have placed 15 Project 55 Fellows at The Community Group since beginning our partnership in 2005. Learn more about them at www.thecommunitygroupinc.org!
Asawari Sodhi ’15 comes from New Delhi, India and is a PP55 fellow with Safer Foundation in Chicago. At Princeton, she studied Comparative Politics and also Dance. She spent a year in Serbia as a participant in the Bridge Year Program, and then a summer in Bosnia as an IIP intern. She also studied the Indian constitution, and rural development through her internships back home. Apart from social/political theorizing, she enjoys choreography and performance.
Why did you choose a Project 55 fellowship to launch your post-Princeton life?
It was a logical outcome given my academic and work history. Moreover, as a yearlong fellowship, PP55 promised to be an involved experience and a good interlude to an advanced degree.
What projects are you working on?
I’ve been helping with legislation, policy research for the Safer Policy Institute, research for the senior team and recommendations to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. I’m also working on two white papers on court fees and occupational licensing.
What is the value to you of the fellowship?
I have an interest in public policy. The fellowship has been an opportunity to see it in motion. Also, being with an organization for a year allows time to understand and gain their trust. It gives my experience and the littlest contribution more depth.
What are your plans for next year?
I’ll begin planning for graduate school while, hopefully continuing to work in public policy.
If you were to sum up the experience in one or two sentences for a blog post, what would you say?
Deep end with buoys.
This article is part of a series spotlighting the impact of our programs.
Safer Foundationis one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit providers of services designed exclusively for people with criminal records. They focus on helping their clients secure and maintain jobs because they understand that employment offers the best chance at successful re-entry. Sodiqa Williams ’05 has been Associate Vice President, Policy and Strategy since 2014.
Why did you hire a Princeton Project 55 fellow?
As an alumna of the Princeton Project 55 program, I know the tremendous opportunity there is for a Princeton graduate entering the world of public interest. I started my career in public policy and politics eleven years ago as a Fellow for the then-Lt. Governor of the State of Illinois, who later became Governor. I wanted to afford the opportunity to another Princeton graduate to learn and work at one of the nation’s leading organizations in reentry and workforce development. In order to truly turn this nation around, we need the best and brightest working on critical criminal justice issues.
Also, I understand the tremendous talent and work-ethic of those who enroll in the PP55 program as an intern or fellow. I knew that in order to get Safer’s vision materialized we needed the best, and that was a PP55 Fellow.
What projects is your fellow working on?
Asawari came to Safer to lead our newly created Safer Policy Institute. The Policy Institute provides weekly updates to synthesize the most important of the latest in the criminal justice system, and when possible, uses this synthesis to assess Illinois’ position and advance action. It is also a forum to mobilize action on impactful legislative developments. With Asawari’s leadership and excellent writing abilities – I suspect due to her in-depth knowledge of policy analysis and journalism – the Institute is quickly establishing Safer locally and internationally as a reliable source that can contribute to an advocate’s efforts in criminal justice and reentry policies. In addition, it is effectively re-directing the discourse on criminal justice reform to focus on reentry.
Asawari’s role, however, has not been confined to the Institute. She is now an integral part of the Policy and Advocacy Team. She has drafted testimony and high-level recommendations for state commissions, county boards, and government officials. Asawari also has been key in pushing legislation at the state level. We are currently working to push HB 5973, legislation that codifies for Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR)’s licensing purposes EEOC guidance on employing people with criminal records. It does so for the high growth professions of cosmetology, funeral services, accounting, real estate and roofing. EEOC guidance encourages consideration of mitigating factors such as time since commission of an offense, its nature and gravity, bearing upon job sought and evidence of rehabilitation. HB 5973 states that a conviction record directly related to the practice of a profession. If this legislation is enacted, I can confidently say Asawari played a big part in our success.
Asawari is also working on an initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase to engage health care employers in a national discussion about promising new opportunities to recruit and employ people with conviction records. While the industry has historically been closed to this population, the initiative aims to expand and diversify the pipeline of applicants seeking health care employment to meet the significant demand for qualified workers.
What is the value to your organization of having a Princeton Project 55 fellow?
Asawari has brought tremendous value to Safer; there are now two brainy people who are excellent writers! Before she arrived, I was able to do some great innovative work but now she is helping me with research and drafting of policy documents. Now our ability to make significant substantive impact has tripled.
In particular, I am ecstatic to have a Princeton Project 55 fellow like Asawari because I know I can trust her when I delegate a project. She not only provides exactly what I asked for but also an excellent work product. With our fast-paced environment and small staff, matched with very high expectations from senior leadership, it is critical that I have someone on my team who can keep pace with us as we are repeatedly called for our advice and guidance, as we continue to advocate for policies allowing equal employment opportunities for all, and as we develop new opportunities in high-growth industries.
Asawari has done such a fantastic job Safer has made her an offer to become our Public Policy & Legislative Affairs Coordinator at the end of her fellowship in 2016.
What is the impact on your beneficiaries of having a Project 55 fellow?
The impact can be seen now and will be seen for many years into the future as we continue to open historically closed doors in high-growth industries such as healthcare, remove barriers to employment opportunities, and recommend to top government officials and agencies cost-effective, evidence-based practices that will reduce recidivism and save taxpayers’ dollars.
If you were sum up the experience in one or two sentences for a blog post, what would you say?
Having a Princeton Project 55 Fellow is the best short-term and long-term investment organizations can make not only to build up their internal capacity, but also to make significant positive impact. These Fellows are the best and brightest who lend their intelligence, skills, drive and determination to advance critically important causes.
This article is part of a series spotlighting the impact of our programs.
Malena Attar is the Development Associate at Good Grief and a participant in this year’s Emerging Leaders program in New York. Good Grief’s mission is to provide unlimited and free support to children, teens, young adults, and families after the death of a mother, father, sister, or brother through peer support programs, education, and advocacy. Malena’s role combines her passion for community engagement and the advocacy needed to ensure that no child ever has to grieve alone. This is an excerpt from the post she wrote for The Leading Edge, the AlumniCorps blog.
I had high expectations for my experience with the Emerging Leaders program, but I can honestly say that I had no idea how life-changing it would be.
Before our first session, we were asked to obtain feedback on our strengths. Only our strengths. Before our first day together, Emerging Leaders was al- ready sending us a message that would be made very clear: “You are already a leader. You already possess the unique strengths that you bring to the environments around you.” We have gotten this far because we already are leaders, we are just simply unaware of how to position ourselves so that we can best show our strengths and succeed.
The beauty of this program is that it meets once a month over the span of nine months. As we explored forms of communication, leadership styles, managing up, networking, fundraising, and public speaking, we always looped back to what kind of leader we were. It is a lot of work to undo the notion that a leader speaks, leads, works, looks a specific way. As each of the leaders in the program slowly emerged into their better-defined selves, everyone benefited. Everyone in the program shared the struggles, rethinking, perseverance, and successes of each peer. In learning to work with our varied professional teams, we were evolving into our own diverse and powerful team.
This would have been impossible without the exceptional work of the AlumniCorps staff and board, and most importantly of our facilitator, Yael Sivi. We all knew Yael would be encouraging us to stretch further than we thought we could, and that we would grow. We did. The announcement of a number of promotions, new opportunities, and workplace improvements filled the air as we met each month.
I am so grateful for this opportunity, for Princeton AlumniCorps, and for our facilitator Yael. In being accepted into this program, each leader started on a journey they didn’t know was possible. A journey with a network of hundreds of accomplished professionals, a wealth of knowledge, a family of peers that will continue to grow alongside us, and as the leaders we didn’t realize we could be.
Why did you join the Princeton AlumniCorps community and the Emerging Leaders program? We posed that question to Scott Welfel ’06, a Staff Attorney at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and 2014-15 Emerging Leader.
I applied to Emerging Leaders because I wanted to learn how to play a more active role in the operation, organization, and direction of my organization even from my current role as staff attorney, to position myself to become one of the leaders in prisoner reentry policy in New Jersey, and to improve my ability to effectively and efficiently manage my direct reports. I was inspired by the example of Emerging Leaders alumni, such as Shena Elrington, who have risen to become incredibly effective leaders in their organizations and their respective fields.
I have learned an enormous amount from my colleagues – the other Emerging Leaders currently in the program. It is really inspiring to be connected with such passionate, driven advocates for social justice, and to learn different management techniques from their collective experience and wisdom. Additionally, Yael Sivi, Program Facilitator for New York, is hands-down a master teacher. Her knowledge of what makes us and others tick, and how to harness that knowledge to realize the full potential of our organizations, is absolutely unparalleled. If given the option of choosing one person to send to end the gridlock in Washington, I would send Yael.
The skills and tools I am learning at Emerging Leaders are particularly crucial in the social justice sphere of legal advocacy, where organizations are dependent on law student interns. Effective and efficient management of interns is particularly difficult given the transient and unpaid nature of their positions. Through mastering the skill of effective management, I hope to markedly increase the capacity and productivity of the Institute for Social Justice as well as any organizations I land at in the future.
I support AlumniCorps because I believe effective leadership, and the level of self-reflection that is required for effective leadership, must be taught. No other organization currently offers this level of high-caliber professional development for leaders in the public interest sector.