Snapshots from the 2023 Philadelphia Professional Development Retreat

Current Fellows gathered in Philadelphia for three days of professional development and  immersion in social impact work.

The Fellows traveled from New York City and Boston to Philadelphia for the spring retreat in April. After arriving on Wednesday, Fellows headed to The Clay Studio where they had a rooftop lunch and reconnected with the cohort.

After lunch, Fellows went on a tour of the studio with Jennifer Martin, the Executive Director of The Clay Studio and then attended a professional development presentation with Adrienne Justice, Community Engagement Manager about the importance of social-emotional learning in curriculum development.

Fellows then transitioned into a ceramics workshop where they explored their identity and social-emotional themes. To finish out the day Fellows interacted with the after-school program and engaged in a project together where students and Fellows made tiles to be made into a collaborative piece. 

On Thursday, the Fellows visited The Discovery Center to engage with Audubon Mid-Atlantic. The day began with a bird walk where we explored Audubon grounds and identified birds with Center Manager Damien Ruffner. Fellows then engaged in conversation with Suzanne Biemiller, Executive Director and Angie Wenger, Director for Southeastern Pennsylvania Centers. Afterwards, Fellows participated in a mussel measuring workshop where they learned how mussels were used in watershed education. We then traveled to Reading Terminal for lunch and city exploration.

Some of the sites we visited were City Hall and Love Park. One Fellow noted that “the bonding time and conversations were so crucial in building relationships” Fellows returned to Audubon Mid-Atlantic for team building activities with Outward Bound and canoeing on the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir. 

Thursday evening was full of celebration and connection as the graduation for second-year fellows commenced. Speeches were held and graduation books given to Fellows as they reflected on their experiences in the Fellowship. This led into the alumni dinner where current fellows connected with alumni Fellows in Philadelphia. The dinner was illuminating as  alumni Fellows to share their career journey, current Fellows found points of connection and collaboration among organizations. As one Fellow said, “I feel like during this retreat we bonded as a group, and the activities played a big part in that.”

On Friday, Fellows returned to The Clay Studio for wheel throwing and reflections on the retreat before heading back to their respective cities after a tiring, but inspiring week.


Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson (she/they) is the After-School Program Coordinator and FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

A Look Inside a Virtual Training Session with Host Organization, NYC Audubon

In early February, I had the privilege of leading a virtual training session for the other Fellows on the work of my host organization, NYC Audubon. Prior to the session, I worked with Priscilla Cohen, Executive Director of the Fellowship, and my supervisor Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of NYC Audubon, to craft an engaging hour and a half training that would give Fellows the ability to understand and articulate the mission of the organization and what they can do to help wild birds in their host cities.

In preparation for the virtual training session, I asked the other Fellows to spend 15 minutes looking for birds outside, encouraging them to take a photo or draw, if they’d like. I also asked them to reflect on the geographic landmarks of their “life journey.” For example, I was curious to hear where they were born, where they grew up, where they went to college, etc.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to share the work of my host organization with the other Fellows and broaden their perspectives to the incredible world of birds.

On the day of the virtual training session, Jessica started things off by giving context to the work of NYC Audubon and why understanding wildlife and habitat conservation as social justice is integral to the success of the movement. Once Fellows were settled in, they were prompted to map their “life journeys” on a shared Jamboard world map. We then spoke as a group about our geographical connections and the ways in which those journeys – much like the journeys of migratory birds – had been thrilling or surprising or difficult.

Fellows were then led through the seasonal migration of an Ovenbird (lovingly named Dimitri), through the Atlantic Flyway, the migration path that connects each of the three host cities: Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Along the way, Fellows shared descriptions, photos, and sketches of birds they noticed on their individual bird outings. Boston Fellow, Kira Azulay (Museum of Science), saw Double-crested Cormorants resting on wood pilings. Philadelphia Fellow, Sophie Becker-Klein (Audubon Mid-Atlantic) saw wintering Hooded Mergansers while walking the Discovery Center’s trails. And New York Fellow, Jasmin Norford (Jumpstart), saw the ubiquitous Rock Pigeon.

Along his migration, Dimitri the Ovenbird came up against several challenges, such as navigating Artificial Light at Night (ALAN), habitat loss, and glass windows. In response to these threats, the Fellows brainstormed ways they can help birds in each of the Fellowship host cities.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to share the work of my host organization with the other Fellows and broaden their perspectives to the incredible world of birds.

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement Associate FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon in New York City.


Abi reads a children's book to a Fellow at Reading Partners NYC.

Dear Future Fellow

H'Abigail Mlo (Fellowship '22) shares her perspective and advice with college seniors.

Dear Future Fellow,

Whether you’ve received an offer or are a prospective applicant: congratulations! You’ve come a long way from where you started, a doe-eyed college first-year, and you should be proud. You’ve worked hard, spent countless hours across countless desks, offices, and libraries, to be here. You’ve turned your tassel, or you’re about to, on an accomplished college career. The question of “What’s next?” has come up again and again from friends, family members, and professors. They mean well, but I’m sure it’s only making you more nervous for the future. I’ve been there.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary.

If I could describe my senior year in a word, it would be frenzy. Not only did my year stop short because of the pandemic, but I was also juggling several things at once. Classes, work-study, an internship, an honors thesis, two student leadership roles, and, of course, job applications. Seemingly everyone around me had secured jobs by winter break. Perhaps you can relate. Prior to submitting my application for the FAO Schwarz Fellow role at Trust for Public Land, I submitted applications for six other fellowships and three full-time roles.

By April, I’d heard back from all but two organizations with a rejection. I received an offer from TPL that month. Also that month, I moved from my college dorm to my parent’s house. There, I completed my classes and internship, defended my honor’s thesis, and ultimately graduated college. I started the Fellowship soon after.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary. Though these last two years have been challenging, I’ve had a fulfilling experience that has been necessary for my growth as a leader. I’ve learned so much about the field of environment and land protection, and about myself. I’m in a role I never imagined myself in–because I didn’t previously know it existed–and living in a city that I love. This is thanks to Trust for Public Land and the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Now, when asked, “What’s next?” I can proudly say I’m staying on at Trust for Public Land, taking on the position of Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator. I will also be closely connected with the Fellowship as an alumni mentor to an incoming Fellow.

I’m thankful to have grown alongside a cohort of incredible Fellows and to have met them in person recently for our retreat. My alumni mentor, Jen Benson, has been of immense support to me, as has the Fellowship director, Priscilla Cohen.

My advice is to cherish these next few years. Whether you’re in a Fellowship or with another employer, build strong connections within your organization and the community around you. Take advantage of the resources offered by your organization and the Fellowship, whether it’s a workshop, conference, or a coffee chat with someone you admire. Seek out learning opportunities, or ask for them. Lean into discomfort and into challenge. Take time off and rest for the sake of rest.

I’ve come a long way since June 1, 2020, just as you will in the years after you graduate. Trust me when I say time flies.

Good luck,


H'Abigail Mlo

H'Abigail Mlo

Abi completed her FAO Fellowship with The Trust for Public Land in Philadelphia in June of 2022. She has remained with the organization as Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator.

A graphic of the new Fellows

FAO Schwarz Fellowship Program announces recipients of 2022–2024 Fellowship Awards

BOSTON — MAY 12, 2022 The FAO Schwarz Family Foundation has announced the names of the seven recipients of the 2022 FAO Schwarz Fellowship in social impact.

The Foundation supports a new cohort of outstanding recent college graduates with paid, two-year Fellowship positions each year. Fellows work at leading nonprofit organizations in three cities. Alumni of the Fellowship program go on to hold leadership roles at nonprofit or public service organizations and programs, attend prestigious graduate programs, and start their own organizations. This selective, domestic Fellowship is one of a few programs of its kind focused on social impact leadership.

“We are so impressed with this cohort’s dedication to social equity, and the breadth and depth of their experiences."

In Boston, Vanessa Barragán (Pacific Grove, CA), a Biology & Society and English major from Cornell University will be a Fellow at The Food Project. Jahmali Matthews (Boston, MA), a Sociology and Creative Writing major from Hamilton College, and Juan Mojica (Dallas, TX) an Anthropology major and Race and Ethnicity studies minor from Southwestern University, will be Fellows at Breakthrough Greater Boston. 

In New York City, Jesse McLaughlin (Brooklyn, NY), who graduated in January from  New York University  with an Animal Studies, Philosophy of Science, and the Art Practice major, will work at New York City Audubon, and Natalia Wang (Chicago, IL) an Art History major and Chemistry, Art Theory & Practice minor from Northwestern University, will be at the Museum of the City of New York.

Kayla Johnson (Philadelphia, PA), a Human Development & Community Engagement major from Temple University will join The Clay Studio in Philadelphia for her Fellowship. Sophie Becker-Klein (Hockessin, DE), an Environmental Science major and Education Studies minor from American University will join Audubon Mid Atlantic, also in Philadelphia.

The Fellowship program seeks recent college graduates interested in developing their potential as leaders in the world of equity and social impact. The program provides each Fellow with a two-year paid position at a leading nonprofit host organization where they gain skills, expertise, and knowledge. The Fellowship also includes professional development experiences such as retreats, mentoring, and networking.

Jason Kelly Roberts, Associate Director with the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, says of the Fellowship program, “I love to recommend the FAO Schwarz Fellowship to my students–the Fellowship truly values the role of mentorship and community as students make the transition from full-time student to full-time professional. FAO leads the way in providing a foundation for growth and offers recipients an experience no other domestic fellowship program can match.”

“We are so impressed with this cohort’s dedication to social equity, and the breadth and depth of their experiences,” said Priscilla Cohen, Executive Director of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation. “In partnership with our host organizations, we work to design transformative experiences that allow our Fellows to develop into social impact leaders. We look forward to watching them grow over the next two years, and to see the impact they make at their host organizations.”

About the 2022-2024 Host Organizations


Audubon Mid-Atlantic’s mission—like that of its parent organization, the National Audubon Society—is to protect the places that people and birds need today and tomorrow, through science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.

Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB) empowers educational experiences for traditionally underrepresented students on their path to college and is also the largest pre-professional teacher training program in the country.

As artists, advocates, and educators, The Clay Studio is committed to ensuring the space, support, and inspiration necessary for expression and mastery in the ceramic arts. 

The Food Project’s mission is to create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system.

The Museum of the City of New York fosters an understanding of the distinctive nature of urban life in the world’s most influential metropolis through engaging visitors in celebration, documentation, and interpretation of the city’s past, present, and future.

New York City Audubon is a grassroots community that works for the protection of wild birds and habitats in the five boroughs, improving the lives of New Yorkers.


A group of fellows smiling and dressed warmly standing on a beach- Nick, Joyce, Lauren, Erika, and Annie

Shared Knowledge, Experiences and Titles: Navigating the Fellowship as a Cohort

During the last few months of senior year, I made sure to internalize and grow comfortable with the fact that my first job out of college would neither be perfect nor easy. Regardless of what might come next, I knew this next chapter would require a transition out of the lifestyle I’d enjoyed for the past 16 years as a student, and I wanted to give myself grace with that thought in mind. READ MORE