June 2021

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Crises and Creativity: What we can learn from 2020

At Jumpstart, we emphasize the importance of young children’s capacity to learn during those critical early years, when their minds are flexible and open to new experiences. As adults, it can be easy to settle into our patterns and believe that our time to learn and change has passed. The pandemic has affected every aspect of my work and personal life, but rather than focus on the way things haven’t gone according to plan, I’m considering the ways my perspective has changed.

At the end of my fellowship, I’m thinking about how I can continue to challenge my expectations, habits, and ideas, even after leaving the crisis-mode of this past year.

I remember the dread throughout the nonprofit and education world as we entered the pandemic last spring. Without in-person classes, how could students learn effectively? Without in-person services, would families fall through the cracks? Before there was time to conduct research, we began planning how to address the expected learning loss. When things go sideways, it’s easy to catastrophize, freeze, and just wait for things to go back to normal.

Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth.

At Jumpstart, once we realized that “normalcy” would never return, the work of redesigning programs for a virtual setting began. Tech averse folks (like me), had to let go of our resistances and become fluent in virtual platforms. Rather than create a temporary replacement for traditional community engagement, we were able to develop something new. Over the summer, I worked with Jumpstart volunteers who created astounding educational videos for children. Throughout the year, I collaborated with the Reads Alliance in Brooklyn and Queens to host trilingual Zoom events that often gathered nearly one hundred attendees and distributed hundreds of book kits. Although the in-person interaction was missing, we were able to create entirely different experiences. Virtual engagement gave us the ability to have translators for multiple languages, host guest speakers who live across the world, and connect with families who may not have had the time to travel to a traditional event.

This is not to force a silver lining onto a year that was devastating and traumatic, but to point out how the learning potential we see in children still exists in adults and organizations. Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth, even though they may have exited that “critical period.” I hope that we can carry forward the innovations that have stemmed from this disaster, along with a new openness to adaptation. I’m excited to return to seeing children and families in-person, to have the side conversations and irreplaceable interactions, and I’ll bring a new sense of resourcefulness and creativity with me.

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones (she/her) is the Policy and Community Impact Fellow Jumpstart for Young Children in New York City.

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Photo Raul PetriUnsplash

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Tips on Applying For The FAO Schwarz Fellowship

When I was in college, I went to every single event my career center offered: resume writing workshops, interviewing seminars, you name it, I was there. Coming from a low-income background, much of the academic or non-profit sector felt foreign to me, including applying to jobs and fellowships after college. I learned a lot of useful things in those sessions, but what was particularly surprising was how many of those things I would have never thought of on my own. Below are some of the things that helped me the most in applying for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship, in hopes they might help you, too.

Is the Position a Good Fit?

After you read through the job descriptions on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship webpage, which are announced on November 1, you should check out the host organization’s websites. Click around the different pages and ask yourself some questions about what you find there.

Here are some useful questions that I asked myself before applying to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at the Museum of the City of New York:

  • What is the mission of this organization? How does this mission align with my values?
  • What type of work does this organization do with its community? Is this the type of work I am excited to do?
  • What skills might I learn working at this organization?
  • What is the size of this organization? Is it local, or national? Do I have a preference?
  • Who staffs this organization? What is the relationship between the staff and the community they serve?

In addition to these questions, you should take note of anything that catches your eye—something you like or dislike—that you find on the organization’s website.

Putting Together a Resume

The best piece of advice I ever received about resumes is to have one master resume, and create job-specific resumes for each application you submit. The master resume is one resume that has every job, project, internship, scholarship, prize, fellowship, and more, from your life. Under each of these experiences, list all the responsibilities you had, skills you used, and tasks you accomplished during that experience. 

When it comes time to apply to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship—or any job, really—pick out which of those experiences you want to highlight, ones that best demonstrate what you would bring to the position you are applying for. When selecting what responsibilities and skills from each experience to include, find the ones that most closely align with the responsibilities listed on the webpage for the specific host organization’s job description. For each item listed on your resume, ask yourself “does this show someone who has not met me what important skills and experience I would bring to this fellowship?” If not, rephrase so that it does, or replace it with something that shows your qualifications for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship specifically.

In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility.

Writing a Cover Letter

The reason I find cover letters daunting is because they’re a prospective employer’s first impression of me. How do you condense your entire person into a page? 

The short answer is: you don’t. Like a resume, a cover letter isn’t a comprehensive story of who you are as a person, your accomplishments, talents, or strengths. It isn’t even a complete list of all the reasons you might be a great fit for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Instead, you should aim for your cover letter to highlight a few of the most valuable skills and experiences you would bring to the fellowship.

Here is how I worked on my cover letter for the fellowship:

First, I looked at the responsibilities listed under the special project and direct service work sections on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at MCNY page on the Fellowship website. For each bullet point, I came up with one thing about myself that demonstrated why I would excel in that responsibility—this could be coursework, volunteer experience, previous work experience, a personal project, or something else.

After I had my list, I picked 3-4 of them, and focused on those in my cover letter. When talking about each experience, I made sure to explicitly describe how it would help me with the specific responsibility in the Fellowship role (e.g. “The skills I gained from working as a volunteer tutor will be invaluable as I teach museum field trips and create family programs”).

In addition to these tips, you should be sure to answer all three questions asked of you for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship. You can use your 3-4 experiences to weave in your answers to these questions, too.

Interviewing

Finally, here are some things that I learned from my college career center that were very useful in the interview process:

Pre-planned Talking Points. Working with your cover letter, come up with a few experiences or qualities about yourself that you are sure you would like to talk about. Look up some standard interview questions and think through how those experiences or qualities could be the starting point for answering these questions. This was a huge relief for me when interviewing—when asked a question in the interview, I already had a planned menu of experiences to choose from when deciding what to talk about. One less thing to worry about!

Come up with a Good Challenge. In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility. Even though it seems like a question that is asking you to talk about your flaws, use this as an opportunity to talk yourself up! Pick a challenge where you problem-solved effectively, one that the resolution is one that you’re proud of.  

Open-Ended Questions. Come to the interview with 3 open-ended questions you have about the host organization. An open-ended question is one that requires more than a sentence to answer. In most job interviews, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions for them. Always say yes. This shows your excitement for the job and is a way to demonstrate the research you’ve done about the host organization.

The Follow Up Email. After your interview (on the same day or the following day), write a personalized thank you email to your interviewer. Thank them for their time, and express how much you enjoyed hearing about the host organization.

I hope that you found some of these tips helpful, and best of luck in your application process! If you have any questions, attend one of our info sessions, AMAs, or reach out to contact@faoschwarzfellowship.org!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte (she/her or they/them) is an FAO Schwarz Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York.

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