I entered the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program at the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) upon leaving the classroom. I was a Teach for America alum (Atlanta, 2003) and taught third grade in the Atlanta Public Schools. It was really hard, but what I learned from being a teacher is that every student brings unique challenges to the classroom, but all students deserve the opportunity to have access to caring adults, an engaging curriculum, and people who will help them become ready at every rung on the K-12 ladder. I loved teaching and working with students, teachers, families, and community-based organizations but sought an opportunity to better understand how what the convergence of policy, practice, and theory occurred in practice to improve the educational outcomes of students in the K-12 continuum. I researched various graduate degree programs that would be well aligned with my personal interests and career goals. I spent months looking for a program that I would feel comfortable exploring these questions and learning from my peers and faculty about what policies, institutions, programs, and strategies were in place to improve educational outcomes of all students and to further develop my understanding of policy and research. The MSSP program at SP2 was the place for me.
During my tenure in the program, I was inspired by my colleagues and faculty. I felt supported to explore strategies for improving educational outcomes and thinking about how to better involve families in urban elementary school settings. I wanted to spend time researching how to reinvigorate community partnerships and improve the academic achievement of low-income students. Part of the program included a Capstone Seminar, where I completed an internship at the American Youth Policy Forum and for the first time, walked the halls of Capitol Hill, and felt prepared to be in the driver’s seat of my forthcoming career.
In the summer of 2007, I graduated from the School of Social Policy and Practice with a Master’s degree in Social Policy. I started working for a small non-profit organization called Reach for College! where the mission was to increase the number of traditionally disadvantaged students attending postsecondary institutions. A large part of my job was to create and implement innovative programs to improve college readiness and persistence rates of first-generation college students who attended high schools in Washington, D.C. I wanted to amplify my ability to help others, so I decided to enroll in a Ph.D in Education program at George Mason University (Mason). The program I entered offered a Ph.D in Education, with a major specialization in education policy and a minor in educational leadership. Similar to the SP2 program, the doctoral program required an internship placement (at the time), and I completed my internship at a national education advocacy organization, the Education Trust, in Washington, D.C. This experience was life-changing. I worked with data sets, met with policymakers, researchers, and system heads of statewide educational entities. It was a great experience!
Later that year, I was commissioned to complete a quantitative report for the Office of Admissions at George Mason University. The research skills I learned in SP2 and at Mason prepared me to complete this report on what the success rates were for Pathway to Baccalaureate students. This project applied skills learned from coursework at Penn and Mason. More specifically, I completed policy briefs, researched the problems the program was supposed to address or solve, learned about the legislative history of the program, developed an evaluation plan, reviewed entities that supported and opposed the program, and predicted the future of the program. This project allowed me to conduct statistical tests, write formal reports, and present findings before a variety of audiences.
I took a step back in the fall of 2010 and thought critically about where I wanted to go next. I had all of my doctoral coursework under my belt, and six years of practioner-based experience in several classrooms. I was ready to make a move from the non-profit sector and in 2011 was offered a position with the U.S. Department of Education. I am a Management and Program Analyst in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. In this role, I serve as a program officer and provide technical assistance to grantees. I also apply skills I have learned in my graduate coursework and real-life experiences to set, analyze, and use performance report data and use results to improve overall effectiveness and efficiency of grant programs. I have also been fortunate to serve on two Department of Education Committees, the College Completion Task Force and Combined Federal Campaign Planning Committee, where I have made tremendous connections and learned new things.
I was recently selected to join the 2011-2012 class of the Emerging Political Leaders Fellowship program. This program selects Teach for America alumni who have an interest in running for an elected office. I hope to become a school board member in the future and have a vision to improve the college transitions and graduation rates of all students. I am weeks away from my dissertation defense. My dissertation explored graduating seniors and university staff members’ perspectives of what may have contributed to high college completion rates of African American and Hispanic students at George Mason University. This project has been challenging, but very fulfilling at the same time. I am definitely looking forward to taking a vacation to a beach location sometime in the near future!
Finally, all of the experiences I had prior to entering Penn and since graduating from the MSSP program have provided me with perspective, research skills, and knowledge to address issues that I am very interested in. I feel fortunate to have graduated from the MSSP program and look forward to seeing what the future holds. Thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences.
Alisha K. Scruggs, Ph.D Candidate
Management and Program Analyst, U.S. Department of Education
"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically...Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education" - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Embracing the Chaos: Tales from the Job Search of a Recent Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) Graduate, by: Emily Sutcliffe, NPL Alumnus Class of 2011
Last year, as graduation neared, I was anxious to see how my post-NPL career path (and life in general) would unfold. With varied interests and undetermined goals, I had concerns that my amorphousness would make it difficult to find a fulfilling position. I also worried about how my beloved, yet somewhat unconventional new skillset would translate in the prodigiously competitive job market.
Just prior to graduation I was approached about an AmeriCorps position that had become unexpectedly available midway through the service year. The opportunity would allow me to work directly in refugee resettlement, one of my areas of interest, and would also enable me to hone my Arabic language skills. Though this opportunity was missing one minor component – a paycheck! – it felt like something I needed to do. Accepting a position like that would only lead to more uncertainty, but it was a wave of chaos I felt compelled to ride.
Within my first week at the refugee resettlement nonprofit, I facilitated an organization-wide strategic planning exercise aimed at bringing employees out of their departmental silos while gaining a better understanding of the clients’ multifaceted needs. Implementing the skills acquired from NPL proved to be seamless. I quickly recognized how useful and sought-after the NPL frame was in my new workplace. My supervisor would regularly consult with me on “big picture” ideas that were generally far beyond the purview of the role I had filled. On a daily basis I was also aware of how my NPL experiences had impacted the way I interacted with my clients. While many of my clients were facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, I focused on ways in which they could engage in acts of leadership and did my best to co-create a space of mutual enrichment.
As my AmeriCorps journey came to an end I applied for several jobs and went to a few interviews. There was the one that involved schlepping through Manhattan during a hurricane in a new suit and heels, only to then try and present myself as an impassioned expert in transportation policy. I wasn’t particularly successful in even transporting myself to the interview, much less was I interested in a career in transportation. There was the time I watched an Executive Director’s eyes glaze over as I spoke about principles of abundance. I’m pretty certain she mumbled “crazy hippie” under her breath as she escorted me to the elevator. And, there was also a time when I jumped successfully through several hoops and came very close to getting a job I really thought I wanted/needed. That one stung.
At some point I realized that I had been going about things all wrong. I had been thinking that my ambiguous career goals meant I should apply to anything that might ultimately make me “successful”. I had lost sight of the reality that my success was not something I could manufacture based on a preset formula; it was something that would manifest organically when I was doing things I genuinely cared about. I decided to try a novel strategy – I would only apply for positions that actually interested me, ha!
Things changed almost immediately once I decided to “get real”. I saw a job posting for a position at Penn Law’s Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) that I was extremely interested in. Unknown to me, one of my refugee resettlement colleagues from the legal department had very close ties to TPIC and highly recommended me to the Executive Director. Within a couple days I was at an interview. Instead of wearing the kind of suit that always makes me feel like I am literally taking on another person’s identity, I went dressed in something that I was comfortable in - something that reflected my personality. At the interview I didn’t try to tone down or amp up my NPL lingo, I didn’t try to cater to what I thought my interviewers wanted to hear, I simply presented them with the real me. A few days later I was offered the position.
I’ve been at TPIC for six months now and it has been the best six months of my professional life. Although many of the applicants for my position held a J.D. and had really impressive backgrounds, the Executive Director has reminded me on several occasions that I was selected because of the unique perspectives and skillsets I acquired in NPL. I currently oversee the law school’s pro bono program. This involves heavy interaction with the 24 law student-run pro bono projects, some of which are nonprofits on their own, the rest of which work within existing nonprofits. It is because of my NPL experiences that I am able to be an asset to the amazing public service work Penn Law students are engaging in. Instead of feeling at a deficit as a non-lawyer in a law school, I feel uniquely equipped to enrich the programs I am involved with.
NPL themes weave their way throughout the work I do on a daily basis and catalyze many of my new ideas. I am profoundly fortunate to have landed in a space where these themes are not only understood, but are welcomed and valued. And so, for all the times people have rolled their eyes when I talked about applied theories of abundance, I now work in a place that embraces these concepts so sincerely that my recommendation for this year’s Penn Law Public Interest Week theme was the one selected - Abundant Justice: Leveraging Our Collective Resources for Maximum Impact.
Finally, to those of you who may be concerned about how you will fare in the job market post-NPL - from the words of Dr. Kenwyn Smith, I encourage you to embrace the chaos. We NPLers are a rare and awesomely equipped bunch. While not all employers may fully understand our value, we have kindred spirits in those who do – and there are many who do. Be confident that there is wisdom in the path set before you and hang on for the ride. The NPL program was a remarkable experience for each of us and I have absolutely no doubt that we will all do (and are already doing) amazing things as we bring our distinctive resources to appreciative organizations.
By: Emily Sutcliffe, NPL Alumnus Class of 2011
Posted by SP2 Admissions and Programming Blog at 10:56 AM
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
As the 2012 spring semester began and SP2 students were returning to their busy schedules, a few students decided to arrive on campus a few days early to participate in a new workshop called A Day in the Life of a Social Worker. On January 5, 2012 the Field Education Office and the Office of Student Affairs invited twenty social workers from various areas of clinical and macro practice to network with first year MSW students. During the second semester of the first year, full time MSW students are required to choose a clinical or macro concentration for their advanced year of study in the program. The goal of the event was to help students gain a better understanding of the different aspect of the social work field. The event was structure similar to that of speed dating, where students were asked to choose five areas of practice out of eleven that they were most interested. The students were allowed 10 minutes at each table to talk about the day to day tasks that the social work professionals perform in their specific career. As the event concluded, we received immediate positive feedback from students and for us that meant that it was a successful event!
By: Jenn Jones, MSW, LCSW,
Associate Director of Student Services
Posted by SP2 Admissions and Programming Blog at 9:56 AM