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

    FAO Schwarz Fellow Ryan speaks from a podium at the Massachusetts State House

    A Vision for Early Care and Education

    Early care and education (ECE) is a fascinating field to work in. It is so multifaceted, with a plethora of stakeholder groups including children, families and caregivers, educators, program directors, and employers. I have been able to interact with many of the stakeholders throughout my Fellowship, and learn at least one new thing every day – about brain development, teaching credentials, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s financial assistance program, and more – and anticipate that that will be the case for my entire time working in ECE. The field is so important, and I feel grateful to be a part of the early education community!

    I have the absolute privilege of working every day in service of Jumpstart’s vision that one day every child in America will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed.

    The children involved – aged 0 to 5 – are in the most developmentally significant phases of their lives. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child explains that “early experiences affect the quality of [brain architecture] by establishing either a sturdy or fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow,” with more than one million neural connections forming every second. Research finds that participating in an early care and education program as a child has positive effects throughout an individual’s life: participants are less likely to be placed in special education, have increased college graduation and employment rates, and have long-term health benefits.

    It is evident that early care and education is vital to child development and life outcomes. It thus should not be controversial to suggest that all children, no matter income or zip code, should have the opportunity to access ECE. All children can access – and are legally compelled to attend – publicly funded schools (i.e. public schools) from ages five to 16, give or take a few years depending on the state. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, that is not the case in the early years. Instead, the ECE system is – as described in a Bank Street Education Center report – a “haphazard patchwork of [publicly subsidized] resources [that] leaves the rest to find care in a severely broken private-pay marketplace that few families can afford.”

    A recent brief from the United States Department of Labor highlights the lack of affordability of early care and education. “In 2018, median childcare prices for one child ranged from $4,810 ($5,357 in 2022 dollars) to $15,417 ($17,171 in 2022 dollars) depending on provider type, children’s age, and county population size.” With such exorbitant costs, family contributions range from between 8% and 19.3% of the median family income; an already burdensome cost that only increases with each child. A Boston Globe analysis of the Department of Labor’s data found that all 14 counties in Massachusetts rank in the top 100 nationally for the cost of infant care, with Middlesex and Norfolk counties costing more than $26,000 annually—costs that rank in the top three nationally.

    Such high expenses sometimes force parents to leave the workforce to minimize the cost of child care, a decision that often falls onto working mothers. High quality early care and education is now recognized as “a critical piece of the workforce infrastructure,” and as “fundamental to the success of… local econom[ies].” The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that “lack of access to child care in Massachusetts is resulting in at least $2.7 billion each year in lost earnings for individuals, lower productivity and additional costs for employers, and lost tax revenue for the Commonwealth.”

    And then there’s the heart of ECE: the educators, program directors, and other folks associated with keeping the programs running. These folks spend their entire days educating (facilitating literacy, linguistic, and social-emotional development), navigating interpersonal conflicts over the destruction of block towers, and nurturing the kiddos so parents and caregivers can work. It is important to clarify that the high cost of care for families does not translate to high wages for educators. To the contrary—Directors know that the cost is already unsustainable, so they are loath to increase them any more to facilitate corresponding wage increases. As a result, early educators receive poverty wages. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California Berkeley, child care workers made $11.65 per hour in 2019; a wage that ranks in the 2nd percentile of all jobs. They could earn more working at a Dunkin! Early educators – who are predominantly women of color – are overworked, undervalued, and underpaid.

    The CSCCE data shows that educators could leave the field and go teach kindergarten at a public school and earn $30,000 more per year. The same goes for teaching pre-kindergarten at a public school. That’s not right.

    The United States spends significantly less per child on early care and education compared to other countries. Seen as a private market instead of a public good, the burden is on parents and caregivers to pay exorbitant amounts to get their kids into care. The system is broken. The system is in crisis. Children, families, educators, programs, and the economy are all affected because of the country’s lack of investment in the industry. This is an economic equity, gender equity, racial equity, and educational equity issue. It is easy not to see the forest through the trees amidst the compounding equity issues. However, at the core of it all, one fact remains: all children deserve an accessible and affordable early care and education experience, and educators should be compensated commensurate with public school educators with similar credentials and experience.

    In my capacity as a FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart, I have been welcomed into early education centers where I met wonderful directors, educators, and kiddos. I have also met with legislators in the Massachusetts State House and advocated for bills that would increase educator compensation, provide direct-to-provider funding to stabilize programs, and increase the state’s financial assistance to families to help make programs more affordable.

    I have the absolute privilege of working every day in service of Jumpstart’s vision that one day every child in America will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. It’s the best job in the world.

    Ryan Telingator

    Ryan Telingator

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


    Fellowship Alums Share Social Impact Resources

    We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the final part of a four-part series.

    What is the most interesting book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to on social impact?

    Julia MacMahon ‘10: 

    I just finished listening to season 5 of Scene on Radio: “The Repair”, which explores the roots of the climate crisis and what went wrong with our (the West’s) relationship with the natural world. It’s really thought-provoking and has helped me to place a lot of my feelings of ambivalence about the modern world and how many of our systems function.

    Jesse McLaughlin ‘24:

    Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway is a potent reminder of the interconnectedness of all creatures (human and non-human) in the messy struggle for justice and equity on a damaged planet.

    Kayla Hopgood ‘14:

    An important read for me was Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. The author, Hannah Malcolm, basically makes the argument that in order to make any sort of meaningful impact on the climate crisis we need to learn how to grieve. Proper grief should propel us to act. When we consider social impact we do need to consider the philosophical, religious, and psychological underpinnings many of our greatest injustices carry. That’s part of the work I do as a minister. 

    Ciara Williams ‘18:

    I really enjoyed the book Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power across Neoliberal America by Brett Story. I also enjoy The Red Nation podcast hosted by Nick Estes and Jen Marley.

    Quick Recommendations

    Fellows shared so many great recommendations, we had to include more!

    We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba – Recommended by Jen Benson ‘17, Lauren Hurley ‘20

    “My most recent favorite podcasts is a two-parter from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast about Immunity to Change with Lisa Lahey. It’s not necessarily specific to social impact, but it just a fantastic walkthrough of how to set realistic and impactful goals and then actually accomplish them.” – Recommended by Dawn Lavalle ‘16

    Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer—beautiful and eye-opening book!” – Recommended by Charlotte Blackman ‘22

    Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown (as well as the podcast they co-host with their sister, Autumn Brown, called “How to Survive the End of the World”). – Recommended by Sarah Kacevich

    “If you’re interested in starting up a business, I recommend reading The Lapsed Anarchists Guide to Building a Better Business by Ari Weinzweig.” – Recommended by Emily Vikre ‘08

    “I listen to a podcast called Code Switch that tackles topics around race, ethnicity, and pop culture.” – Recommended by Nia Atkins ‘23

    “I highly recommend listening to Maintenance Phase, which deconstructs the research behind science and health fads, and talks a lot about anti-fat bias.” – Recommended by Mariah Peebles ‘11