Reflecting on College and Finding Your Passion

Being in a space of reflection is always uncomfortable for me, but I find that I feel at my best when I am living in that discomfort. I’m reaching the halfway point in my first year with the fellowship, I am starting my goal-setting process at Jumpstart, and in a week and a half, I will be back in Baltimore for my first-ever Alumni weekend. So as I am typing this, I am nose-deep in that reflection discomfort. Hopefully what follows will be helpful for my friends in the fellowship, for myself, and for everyone who has just submitted an application for the 2024-26 fellowship cohort as you head toward graduation and discern if this fellowship is right for you. 

Looking back, looking forward, and looking to where I am now—I realize being present is the secret... It connects you to your senses and helps decide if what you’re doing serves your passions or not.

As I begin this process, and ask trusted coworkers, friends, and family members about navigating professional goals and my early 20s, I have also been thinking back on some of the things I was told when I started college in August 2019 (a completely different world). I remember so much emphasis being put on what my major would be, how I would plan out my class schedule to help me four years down the line, and what clubs I wanted to participate in to make me a strong internship candidate for junior year.  I remember being told that the next four years would be “the best years of my life.” When I look back, I see how unnecessary and harmful that could have been—if it weren’t for Loyola University Maryland’s… shall we say… comprehensive core requirements that forced me to try a little bit of everything and fall in love with learning again. I think we are doing ourselves, and society, such a disservice when we are constantly forward-focused. The purpose of college should not be, and never before was, to set up whatever comes next. College, for those lucky enough to go, is the one time in life where you can learn for the sake of learning. There is no one handing you a curriculum that you can’t deviate from; there are so many options,and through (excuse the cliché) casting a wide net you might just stumble upon your life’s passion. 

As someone who was an overachiever, and whose high school extracurricular list looked like Santa’s Christmas list, I entered college with a clear trajectory. I would take a mix of political science classes but focus on constitutional law, take the LSAT, and apply to law school. I had a ten-year plan mapped out which included moving to New York and becoming a district attorney. But at 1:05 pm on my first day of class I walked into PS 101, Introduction to World Politics taught by an incredible political theorist. His charisma, and brilliance, and ability to make his students engage in questions that have been asked for millennia made me reconsider. I walked out of that class still sure I wanted to go to law school, but thought I might need to take some more classes with him (I would go on to take 5 with that professor—ranging from democratic theory to a seminar on warfare). Class after class, semester after semester I was exposed to things outside of my ten-year plan. Loyola required me to take two philosophy classes, the second of which was dedicated to a small segment of philosophy focused on the environment (recall my mention of stumbling upon passion).

But still, my life and career plan persisted until the summer between sophomore and junior year when I was studying for the LSAT and realized I actually had no desire to be an attorney. I cared about the law, sure, and I have research and debate skills, so I could be successful. But it wasn’t what I cared about. I remember walking up to the living room where my mom was watching a rerun of M*A*S*H, and breaking down in tears because I now had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Except I did. I did because rather than restricting myself to taking only the classes that would direct me to where I thought I wanted to go, I discovered that I was passionate about environmental justice and peace studies. 

I am where I am today, setting goals for the next fiscal year, and thinking of how I am going to make an impact because of that mindset I took in college. I took the fellowship because it gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work while being part of a network of fellows doing incredibly cool and different work than me. Hearing about Kayla’s work had made me want to rent a pottery wheel, and visiting Sarika and Natalia at their museums in New York City inspired me to spend my Sundays visiting different museums in Boston. 

This exposure to difference has been the key to my journey so far. Looking back, looking forward, and looking to where I am now—I realize being present is the secret. Being present connects you to your community. It connects you to your senses and helps decide if what you’re doing serves your passions or not. Most importantly it connects your heart to your mind. So to anyone reading… try everything and your life’s passion will uncover itself. 

Ryan Corrigan

Ryan Corrigan

Ryan (he/him) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in Boston.


A Strong Foundation: How the FAO Schwarz Fellowship Shaped My Career

Seven years since graduating from the FAO Schwarz Fellowship and 9 years since the start of my fellowship, the formative experiences, support system, and friendships developed within the fellowship have been foundational for finding and building my professional path.

The value most visible from the surface is a means of accessing a two-year, salaried, entry-level position at a leading non-profit organization. Finding entry-level jobs in the social impact, education, or environmental non-profit space is extremely challenging. Following a long and challenging search, I was hired in 2015 for an FAO Schwarz Fellowship at Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization with a mission to protect and restore the Hudson River from source to sea. After graduating from the fellowship in 2017, I remained on staff at Riverkeeper in various advocacy, volunteer management, and community engagement focused positions for another 5 years. My passion for environmental advocacy, community engagement, and the Hudson River watershed was fully realized while at Riverkeeper and has remained my focus ever since. The FAO Schwarz Fellowship program not only provided an opportunity to enter my desired field, but also provided opportunities for professional development, reflection, and an invaluable cohort experience.

Reflecting upon my almost decade-long career, the influence of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is clear. I’ve been better positioned to navigate the professional landscape, including salary and benefit negotiations, job applications, creating job descriptions and hiring, and project management.

Below the surface, the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is much more than a means of entering the non-profit sector. 

What isn’t as visible is the relationships you grow within the fellowship network and through the cohort experience. Each year, 6-7 fellows are hired to work at youth- or young-adult-serving nonprofits in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, creating a cohort who goes through the program together and connects through formal methods such as planning and experiencing retreats, working on shared projects within the fellowship, professional development sessions, and informal means inside and outside of retreats. By spending time together, fellows develop friendships within their cohort, and within the cohorts above and below them. These relationships have been invaluable both to my professional development and to me personally—from having understanding and listening ears to talk through how to navigate the dynamics of professional environments, to sharing time-management tools, to finding life-long friends.

Another major component of relationship building within the FAO Fellowship is mentorship: each incoming fellow is paired with an alumni fellow who often shares a career focus. Alumni mentors provide advice, share about their career paths, and support the fellows in thinking through career next steps. These relationships often continue beyond the fellowship, with mentees and mentors connecting at bi-annual reunions and keeping in touch over the years.

The Executive Director of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation is a tremendous resource. Priscilla has a deep well of advice, support, and kindness to offer as fellows navigate their fellowship roles, but also as alumni navigate future career moves within and outside the nonprofit sector. Priscilla’s support and advice have been invaluable—and her relationships with the alumni network allow her to make networking connections between fellows and alumni.

The Fellowship retreats, which take place twice each year and rotate between the cities where fellows live and work (New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia) are a blend of experiencing the work of each host organization, professional development sessions shaped by the needs and interests of the fellows, and unstructured time for the fellows to connect. Examples of professional development sessions include: disability accessibility and inclusivity at museums, how direct service and systems change work complement each other, personal mission statement development, exploration of leadership styles, and more.

Reflecting upon my almost decade-long career, the influence of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is clear. I’ve been better positioned to navigate the professional landscape, including salary and benefit negotiations, job applications, creating job descriptions and hiring, and project management.

Advice from Priscilla and others in the FAO network helped inform my decision to return to school part-time in 2019 to pursue a Masters of Environmental Policy at Bard College, which I completed while working full-time.

More recently, in July of 2023, I became the new Director of Environmental Action at the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a regional environmental non-profit organization with a mission to protect the Hudson River by inspiring lifelong stewardship of the river and its tributaries through education and advocacy. My role sits at the nexus of advocacy and community engagement—collaborating with communities, individuals, and other organizations to protect the Hudson River, and is one I hope to hold for years to come.

Whether I’m between jobs, hiring interns, managing advocacy campaigns, or educating the public, the foundational skills and experiences I had during my time as a FAO Fellow have been foundational to my career, and personal and professional development.

Jen Benson

Jen Benson

Jen Benson (she/her) is the Director of Environmental Action at the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a regional environmental non-profit organization with a mission to protect the Hudson River by inspiring lifelong stewardship of the river and its tributaries through education and advocacy.


Jason Roberts and his wife hiking Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

An Interview with Jason Roberts, Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University

We sat down with Jason Roberts, associate director of outreach and communications in Northwestern University’s Office of Fellowships, to learn more about his experience as a fellowship adviser and the students he supports.

You play such an important role with college seniors. Tell us what you do at Northwestern and about your experience talking with young people about the future.

One of my primary roles is to advise first- and second-year students, especially through our annual “talent search” meetings, when students learn that a faculty member has recommended them to meet with our office.  I am also the advisor for most postgraduate fellowships that take place in the United States, so it is not uncommon for me to introduce a Northwestern (NU) student to the world of fellowships, then advise them throughout their undergraduate years, culminating in successful pursuit of a bridge-year fellowship as a graduating senior.

Along the way, I am also happy to help NU students better understand the internal opportunities available to them as they seek the experiences and credentials that will make them stronger candidates for external awards.  I have worked at Northwestern for a very, very long time (and it feels even longer than that!), so I take it as my responsibility to do my part to help NU students maximize the value of their entire time as undergraduates, which entails considering what they want to do beyond the relatively narrow purview of applying for an external award and showing them how this powerful, wealthy institution can enrich and expand their humanity.

And the best part of that journey is helping them to learn who they are and what they want to do, both in the near future and for the rest of their lives.

For applicants who ultimately want careers serving the environment or working in a humanities-related field, the FAO Schwarz Fellowship offers rare and much-needed opportunities.

How have our national conversations on leadership, social change, inequality, environmental justice, and civil rights influenced the post-college plans of the students you are advising? Have you noticed any particular trends or themes as they ponder their future and what happens next?

As we often say on campus, Northwestern is a very “pre-professional” university, and here is how I define that to students when I discuss this issue with them:  NU students are often A-types who overachieved in high school and see college first and foremost as a path toward entering their desired profession, with medicine, law, finance, and consulting accounting for the professional aspirations of many of our students.  

However, I noticed a change in student attitudes in response to the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown.  Suddenly, it seemed many of our students were generally more politically aware and more concerned with what it meant for them to be good citizens.  Although this shift did not necessarily entail a corresponding rejection of the career paths named above, it did seem to mean that students were, on average, more thoughtful about how they might do more than get a good return on investment for their education. They, instead, began to think more deeply about how their careers could be ethical and meaningful.  While students rightly feel a lot of anger about inequality and anxiety about the environment, I find that their youth typically makes it possible for them to access hope in the fight against despair, and it is one of the intangible benefits of my job that I get to have my own sense of hope renewed by my work with them.

We’ve been so lucky to have had four Fellows from Northwestern University (Natalia Wang ’22; Serena Salgado ’20; Kayla Jones ’18 and Karen Wilber ’16) participate in our program in recent years. What do you think it is about the program that appeals to your seniors?

There is a lot to like about the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.  The financial compensation is excellent. Very few awards pay as well as this one does, which undoubtedly makes it easier for students to follow their ideological convictions (and their hearts) to pursue work that prioritizes social impact over profit and higher salaries. 

The fellowship also offers a compelling mix of autonomy, responsibility, community, and mentorship.  Applicants know they will have the chance to engage in meaningful work, with a structure that encourages them to target specific professional development goals, all while receiving support from their peers in the cohort and mentorship from the leaders in their host organizations and the fellowship foundation. For applicants who ultimately want careers serving the environment or working in a humanities-related field, the fellowship offers rare and much-needed opportunities.

Lastly, I am sure that the placement cities are especially appealing to our students, many of whom come from large coastal cities.

We know from our research that a lot of students don’t believe they are good candidates for prestigious Fellowships or don’t even know what a Fellowship is. What do you tell them?

This conversation is a very common feature of our work with prospective fellowship applicants, and I handle it in a couple of different ways.  First, I try to help students understand a few basic facts about applying for selective external awards.  These awards are all highly competitive, which means you cannot find an “easy” award to apply.  Because these awards are so competitive, they need to accept that fact as a reality and focus instead on their desire to have the experience being offered (while also making sure they are eligible before expending unnecessary effort).  I encourage students to imagine they have gotten an offer from the award at hand and then gauge their emotional response—are they on the fence about it when they hear the news, or are they excited to immediately say yes?  If they give me the latter answer but still need encouragement, I remind them of something they likely already know but often need to hear again: the only way to be sure you don’t win a given award is to never apply in the first place.

Alongside this discussion, our work together on an application offers the students a chance to gain confidence about their competitiveness for the award in question and for their future moving forward, and I especially appreciate the specific requirements of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship as a way to achieve this goal.  Because the fellowship requires a cover letter and a resume but not a personal statement, my work with applicants can focus on helping them better understand and more powerfully articulate just how significant their experiences have already been for building the skills and acquiring the tools they will need to be successful in their fellowship placement and in many other roles beyond it. 

Over the past few years, I have found myself frustrated by much of the instruction around these genres of writing (i.e., cover letters and resumes) and have devoted much more effort and attention to helping students learn how to write effectively in these genres, and I have been particularly happy with how my FAO applicants have benefitted from that process even when they did not get chosen for the fellowship.  The cover letters and resumes they wrote for the fellowship were directly applicable to other opportunities they pursued and were given offers for, demonstrating the value of the process and, more importantly, the value of their own experiences and credentials.

Jason Roberts

Jason Roberts

Jason Roberts (he/him) is the associate director for outreach and communications in Northwestern University’s Office of Fellowships


Feature image courtesy of Jason Roberts.

Liana speaking at the graduation ceremony in Israel of one of Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation's Executive Leadership Program cohorts.

Nurturing Tomorrow’s Visionaries: Running a Fellowship Program for Executive Leaders

In a world driven by innovation, leadership, and social impact, the role of executive leaders has never been more crucial. These leaders, armed with the vision and expertise to drive change, play a pivotal role in shaping the future of organizations, communities, and industries.

Recognizing this, fellowship programs for executive leaders have emerged as a powerful platform to cultivate and unleash the potential of these remarkable individuals. Drawing inspiration from my own transformative journey as a FAO Schwarz Fellow, I have embarked on a mission to curate and facilitate fellowship experiences that empower professional leaders to drive positive change in the world. In this blog post, I will delve into what it takes to run a fellowship program for executive leaders and how being part of a family foundation adds a unique dimension to this endeavor.

Running a fellowship program is a labor of love that requires dedication, thoughtful design, and a deep commitment to empowering individuals to make a difference.

A Personal Journey: From Fellow to Facilitator

My personal journey into the world of fellowship programs began with my participation in the FAO Schwarz Fellowship Program, an initiative of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation . I was a Fellow in the 3rd  cohort of the Fellowship, from 2008-2010. I was the first Fellow at Jumpstart for Young Children in Boston and the experience was nothing short of transformative. The program offered me unparalleled opportunities to learn, grow, and engage in meaningful work that aligned with my passion for social impact and early childhood education. Through mentorship, hands-on experience, and exposure to various sectors, I honed my leadership skills and gained insights that have stayed with me throughout my career. 

This firsthand encounter with the power of fellowships planted a seed that would later grow into my aspiration to provide similar opportunities to other leaders. I later ran a highly selective teen fellowship program, and now serve as the Associate Director of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership as part of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. Our mission is to strengthen the capacities of talented professionals who lead or have the potential to lead- important nonprofit institutions. We run fellowships for executives as well as educators and cultural producers.

Running a Fellowship Program: Key Ingredients

1. Purposeful Design: A successful fellowship program begins with a well-crafted design that aligns with the mission of the organization and the needs of the fellows. It is essential to structure the program in a way that fosters experiential learning, personal growth, and a deep sense of community. Defining the goals of the fellowship for the participants is crucial.

2. Selecting Fellows: Selecting Fellows: Implementing a variety of applicant selection methods, such as applications with written and video components, structured interviews, and a time for group process helps identify a pool of candidates that can show their individuality. It is important to look for diversity among fellows in order to enrich the learning environment and broaden perspectives.

3. Mentorship and Networking: One of the cornerstones of a fellowship program is the opportunity for fellows to connect with seasoned mentors and build a robust professional network. These relationships offer guidance, insights, and connections that can propel fellows’ careers and impact to new heights.

4. Cross-Sector Exposure: To equip leaders with a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in various sectors, it’s important to expose them to a diverse range of experiences. This might include rotations across departments, engagement with community stakeholders, and collaboration with partner organizations.

5. Ongoing Learning: The journey of a leader is a continuous one. Providing access to ongoing learning opportunities, workshops, and resources ensures that fellows remain at the cutting edge of their respective fields and continue to drive innovation and change. Including content on leadership models and methods is important. 

Family Foundation and Fellowships

Being part of a family foundation adds a unique dimension to the fellowship experience. Family foundations are often deeply rooted in values, purpose, and a commitment to social impact. This shared ethos creates a sense of belonging and purpose that resonates deeply with fellows, fostering a strong sense of community and connection.

Family foundations also offer a nurturing environment that encourages fellows to explore their passions, take risks, and think outside the box. A family foundation’s long-term perspective and dedication to positive change provide fellows with the support and resources needed to bring their visions to life.

Running a fellowship program for professionals is a labor of love that requires dedication, thoughtful design, and a deep commitment to empowering individuals to make a difference. Drawing inspiration from my own fellowship experience and the guiding principles of a family foundation helps me immensely in my work. I am better able to work with my team to create transformative opportunities for leaders to unleash their potential, drive innovation, and create lasting social impact. As nonprofit professionals continue to pave the way for the next generation of visionary leaders, we should celebrate the power of fellowships and the incredible journey of personal and professional growth they offer.

Liana Brodsky

Liana Brodsky

Liana Brodsky (she/her) is the Associate Director of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership, part of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.


FAO Schwarz Fellowship: Alumni by the Numbers

Fellows make an incredible impact during their two years with their host organizations and go on to do some pretty amazing things. From running for mayor to running their own therapy practice, from engaging students in designing and building schoolyards to leading an organization supporting youth in reentry, our alums’ careers truly run the gamut of social impact.

Since 2006, we’ve supported 73 Fellows in launching their careers in social impact. After the Fellowship, 59% of alums have completed or are pursuing graduate school. A few examples:

  • Kayla Jones, MBA/MDiv dual-degree, Emory University
  • Nick Mitch, Masters in Urban Planning, Harvard University
  • Samantha Perlman, JD/MA in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Boston College Law School and Tufts University 
  • Claudia von Nostitz, MEd Childhood and Special Education, Hunter College

About 41% of Fellows were hired by their host organization completion of the Fellowship:

  • Clara Monk, National Community Engagement Manager, Reading Partners
  • Pamela Martinez, Program Manager for Americorps Members, Playworks PA
  • Deshaun Parris, Youth Leadership Associate, The Food Trust
  • Karen Wilber, Senior Director of Learning & Evaluation, uAspire
  • And now, the statistic we’re perhaps most proud of: 95% of Fellowship alums remain working in the social impact sector.

    • Greg White, Community School Coordinator, Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education Community School Initiative
    • Lauren Hurley, Supervising Program Manager, iMentor Chicago
    • Emily Hynes, Program Associate, Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance
    • Ciara Williams, Co-Executive Director, PLAN: the Post-Landfill Action Network

    The Fellowship provides a tight, passionate network–for life. Are you ready to lead the change and help others through your work? Mark our key dates in your calendar and stay tuned!


    Significant and Measurable Growth: Reflecting on My Two-Year Fellowship

    Approaching the end of my Fellowship, I have had several opportunities to reflect on the soft and hard skills I have gained from this experience and have been most struck with the significant and measurable growth I have seen in many parts of my professional and personal journey. This experience has afforded me incredible opportunity and leadership in programs and advocacy impacting children and families of New York City, while learning from a powerful community of advocates relentlessly invested in improving the lives of children through robust early learning opportunities. 

    The Fellowhsip was a fantastic opportunity to remain in my passion area at the intersection of direct service and policy, while growing the skills I needed to be a more capable advocate and professional.

    My direct service work through Jumpstart’s Community Impact team wove direct service components with helpful elements of strategic planning, development work, and more. We focused on expanding the role of Jumpstart services to fit specified community needs, to broaden our scope of service and connect with community partners in schools and beyond. Through the team I have gained valuable experience by planning and executing the Family Academy series with schools in several New York neighborhoods, navigating both a virtual and in-person programming format that created opportunities that engaged many families and caregivers as they built early literacy skills alongside their children. These events were some of the most impactful of my Fellowship, helping to build deep bonds with families, children, and school-based professionals who helped to support and implement our programing.

    Additionally, participating in strategic planning through NY community coalitions like City’s First Readers and the Reads Initiative sharpened my skills in advocacy and coalition-building for more effective direct-service programming, gave me additional experience in supporting the grant and funding cycle for programming, and created lasting relationships with a powerful community of advocates.

    Through my special project work in the Policy and Government Relations team, I have gained experience in both lobbying and advocacy for issues impacting the early childhood education field and was given incredible opportunity for leadership in supporting our New York Policy agenda build-out. The most impactful parts of this work over the last year have included the roll out of a bill supporting the Federal Work Study community service set-aside, including the exciting introduction of our bill in the 2023 House of Representatives legislative session. Supporting our team from the preliminary stages of drafting our legislation, to lobbying for the role of paid community service with legislators and using coalition- building skills to support and convene a broad coalition of organizational support around our initiative, made for an exciting experience that has reaffirmed my passion for policy advocacy and collective action. 

    Beyond direct experiences in work, relations with both colleagues and mentors played a powerful role in my development as a Fellow. My supervisors and teams became excellent sources of support and leadership and took an important role in allowing me to discover my unique interests in our work, take leadership in key projects, while problem solving around challenges. Having these integral relationships early in my career with senior level professionals offered great opporunities for leadership and to learn from the stories, experiences, and support of those around me. These lasting connections will continue to empower my work beyond my current organization as I continue in educational advocacy. 

    Beyond this, working in the education policy arena was a power experience to witness collective power in action. Working with coaltions of advocates, organizations, and program managers across New York City was not only a heartening experience to see the power of our collective voice and programming to improve access to education and resources for families, but to see the ability of groups to leverage the voices of educators, families, and organizations for real and measurable change. These lessons in the role of mentorship, the power of collective action and the skills I have taken from key projects will stay with me through the course of my career.

    With incredible support and advice from the Jumpstart community and from the Fellowship, post-Fellowship I will be entering graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Educational Policy Studies from Boston University as a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow. While completing my degree, I will continue to work in the educational advocacy sector as an Organizer while continuing to build skills in data analysis, policy management, and advocacy through my studies. I am honored to have gained such valuable experience, realtionships, and insight during these first two years in my career. The Fellowhsip was a fantastic opportunity to remain in my passion area at the intersection of direct service and policy, while growing the skills I needed to be a more capable advocate and professional.

    Jasmin Norford

    Jasmin Norford

    Jasmin (she/her) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in New York City.


    Beyond the Two Years: What Fellows Are Doing Next

    Upon completing the Fellowship, our alums go on to do amazing things. Some are running for office, some are in graduate school. Others are teachers, therapists, marketers, research associates, entrepreneurs, and so much more! Read on to learn what this year’s graduating class is doing next.


    Upon completion of her Fellowship at Jumpstart in New York City, Jasmin will be pursuing a Masters in Education Policy at Boston University as a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow.  At the same time, Jasmin will work as a Massachusetts organizer for Educators for Excellence (E4E), working to organize educators to policy and advocacy opportunities for education reform. 

    During her Fellowship, Jasmin planned and executed the Family Academy series with schools in several New York neighborhoods, navigating both a virtual and in-person programming format that created opportunities and engaged many families and caregivers as they built early literacy skills alongside their children. She named these events as some of the most impactful of her Fellowship because she was able to build deep bonds with families, children, and school-based professionals who helped to support and implement Jumpstart’s programming. 

    She also gained experience in both lobbying and advocacy for issues impacting the early childhood education field with the Policy and Government Relations team, and was given the opportunity to support Jumpstart’s New York Policy agenda build-out. She supported the team from the preliminary stages of writing legislation, to lobbying for the role of paid community service with legislators, and used coalition-building skills to support and convene broad support around their initiative. This exciting experience reaffirmed her passion for policy, advocacy, and collective action. 

    She shares, “Overall, these two years have allowed me to enhance my policy and programming communications through direct lobbying, testimony, and community event leadership. My understanding of how to support large advocacy movements through collective action has supported my passion for impacting the lives of children and families through educational equity.”


    Upon completion of her Fellowship at Museum of Science in Boston, Kira accepted a permanent role at the Museum as a Youth Programs Education Associate.

    During her Fellowship, Kira worked with Summer Youth Interns and Youth STEM Ambassadors, creating workshops about college and career readiness, leading team-building activities and field trips, and mentoring youth staff who were developing their leadership and education skills. She also facilitated science learning in the exhibit halls of the Museum through small-group, drop-in style activities as well as larger stage shows, like the Live Animal show she developed to teach about adaptations.

    She also focused on creating opportunities for youth to connect at the Museum. The Youth Programs team hosted large convening events like the High School Science Series (HSSS), where hundreds of high school students visited the Museum for free for a half day of exploration around topics like Climate Change and Mental Health. She also collaborated on the Mental Health and Women’s History Months Themed Weekend and has been able to connect with exciting external guest speakers and performers as a Museum educator.

    She shares, “Through this Fellowship, I learned that I love working with people and making a difference with my work. The social impact space is so varied, but the passion that my colleagues and peers have is energizing and inspiring. I plan to continue working in informal education, specifically with youth, and to grow my skills as a leader and communicator.”


    Upon completion of her Fellowship at Year Up in New York City, Nia accepted a role as a Research Associate at Mathematica, which uses data, analytics, and technology to address pressing social challenges including climate change, health care, education, and employment. 

    During her Fellowship, Nia led four Learning Community Lookbacks, which consisted of her collecting and analyzing significant data about students in the current and just-graduated classes, and presenting that data to staff in order to address strengths and growth areas as a program and organization. 

    She also led multiple groups of coachees through the entire program up to their graduation. She feels very fond of each of her groups, and is so happy that they have been successful throughout the program and beyond. She is sad that she will be unable to attend the graduation of her final group of coachees, but knows that they are destined for great things beyond Year Up.

    She shares, “In addition to my accomplishments I have also gained invaluable skills and experiences that will both prepare me for what is coming next and also stick with me for the rest of my life. Year Up has enhanced my public speaking skills by allowing me to present to large groups and facilitate activities with our participants. It has taught me how to lead my peers and mentor others. Over the course of my Fellowship, I have improved my spoken and written communication and my organizational and time management skills. I have also been able to practice my quantitative and qualitative research and analysis skills, as well as my data visualization skills. Each of these abilities will come in handy in my upcoming professional role as well as in my graduate school experience.”


    Upon completion of his Fellowship at Jumpstart in Boston, Ryan accepted a role in the Massachusetts Legislature as a legislative aide to Representative Marjorie Decker.

    During his Fellowship, he tested the early literacy of over 100 kids using TOPEL, contributing to the data and evaluation of Jumpstart’s program. He also built out the foundation of a new Massachusetts Community Impact (MACI) team. The MACI team held events to engage children in literacy activities, distributed literacy kits to families not served by traditional Jumpstart programming, organized material creation events with corporate and community partners, and formed relationships with other organizations to organize events with their core constituencies.

    He also led Jumpstart’s policy and government relations work in Massachusetts. He set policy priorities for Massachusetts, fostered relationships with elected and appointed officials and their staffs, represented Jumpstart on the Common Start Coalition’s Steering Committee (and served as the policy expert for the coalition, speaking about the bill at the State House and answering questions from journalists and stakeholders), and submitted testimony on bills and proposed regulatory changes.

    He shares, “This experience thrust me into a role with elevated responsibilities that often left me as the youngest and least experienced in the room. Early on, I frequently felt imposter syndrome and deferential to those around me. Over the course of the two years, however, I have developed a confidence and a voice that I am proud of. This growth is at the core of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship: leadership and competency fostered in a recent graduate who wants to make a career in social impact sector. This was only possible through impactful mentorship and incredible responsibilities that I’ve grown into and excelled at over the course of my Fellowship.”


    Juan and Nia work with clay at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia

    Listening Partnerships: Making Space for Grounding and Reflection

    One of the many perks of the Fellowship is having a community that shares in each other’s growth and learning as we navigate our various fields in the nonprofit sector. One way the Fellowship helps to facilitate this is through listening partnerships. We use this time to meet with another Fellow to connect and discuss how we’re feeling about our time within and outside of our host organizations.

    Having this space allows for a time of reflection that can often get lost when you’re deep in your work. It’s a great time to center and ground yourself in the reason why you initially chose to join the nonprofit sector in the first place.

    These conversations have really helped open myself up to thinking about my future beyond the Fellowship, but also how I can best make use of my time in the Fellowship.

    The time I’ve spent with my listening partners have been refreshing breaths of air. A lot of the time, while there is a structure that we can follow, conversations usually start in finding comfort talking with someone that has shared experiences, later trailing off to new and deeper conversations.

    The listening partnerships give structure to what is an inherent human trait: listening. By creating a space for meaningful listening, the Fellowship is being very intentional in the way we are introduced into spaces with our cohort, building important relationships and making deep connections. While there is structure around the listening partnerships, it isn’t something that has a rigidity that inhibits the potential for fluid and natural conversation and connection. Rather, it serves to prevent the potential for oppressive power dynamics to be introduced into the space.

    I think it’s also important to name how these listening partnerships can serve as a vehicle for radical transformation. Naturally, this space opens itself up for the potential to share your experiences on a deeper level. These conversations have really helped open myself up to thinking about my future beyond the Fellowship, but also how I can best make use of my time in the Fellowship.

    The best case of this can be found in my two most recent listening partnerships, one with Sophie (a first year Fellow at Audubon Mid-Atlantic) and another with Jasmin (a second-year Fellow at Jumpstart). I found myself leaving our time together with important takeaways. During my conversation with Sophie, in the midst of sharing both our personal and professional updates, I found myself truly taking the time to think and process the work that I’m actively doing. Having Sophie as my listening partner allowed me to ground myself in my work and really take a few steps back to reflect and engage with the past and present experiences I’ve had during the Fellowship.

    At Breakthrough, I can sometimes find myself deeply focused on a task that I can forget to take a step back to actually reflect on all that I’m experiencing on a macro level. This isn’t to say that Breakthrough hasn’t provided me with rich and meaningful opportunities–in fact, Breakthrough has helped me learn and grow in a number of ways in a short span of time. Whether that be checking in with college students, assisting in afterschool programming, meeting and planning with our alumni committee, or sorting and updating our database. Talking with Sophie during our listening partnerships, however, I was able to step outside of my work at Breakthrough and see things at a higher level, and think about how my work there contributes to my life story, and start to question what it means for me to be in the position that I am and what I will be doing with the experiences I’m having in my future. It also helps to think outside of the framework of education, since most of our Fellows are working in different areas across the nonprofit sector, it’s interesting to see how we’re all contributing to our respective communities but in different ways.

    With Jasmin as my listening partner, our conversation eased itself into talking about what her time after the Fellowship will look like. It made me start thinking about what path I’ll choose to undertake post-Fellowship. Jasmin mentioned how she will be pursuing graduate school and it made me start thinking about how much I would enjoy going back to school to get my master’s, potentially in a field related to advancing my career in nonprofits. 

    These two conversations so far have grounded me both in the spaces I find myself in presently, and in my thoughts about my future beyond the Fellowship. They’ve sparked ideas on the multiple avenues I can pursue and helped me process how the work I’m doing now can be influential and play a part in whatever I aspire to accomplish in life.

    Juan Mojica

    Juan Mojica

    Juan Mojica (he/him) is the College Success & Alumni Coordinator FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.


    Natalia and Sydney pose in front of the Museum of the City of New York

    Career Talk with Sydney, Manager of Student Learning and Experiences

    First-year Fellow, Natalia Wang, sat down with their supervisor, Sydney Stewart, to discuss her career in social impact and education, graduate school, work-life balance, sources of inspiration, and more! 

    Table of Contents