Professional Development

Nia Atkins is pictured on Zoom with hear Year Up coaching group

Stepping Into the Role of Coach at Year Up

Direct service is an incredibly important part of my work and everyone’s work at Year Up. Many other staff members and I engage in direct service by serving as coaches to small groups of young people—our coachees—as they progress through Year Up’s programming. No small task, coaching involves meeting multiple times a week with one’s coachees both as a group and one-on-one, providing feedback on various professional skills, presentations, and resumes, and offering consistent support through any challenges our young adults may face.

When I first joined Year Up in June 2021, I observed more seasoned coaches before becoming a coach myself. I got the opportunity to see many different coach-coachee interactions and learn about what it takes to foster and maintain a successful coach-coachee relationship. Veteran staff members talked to me about their experiences including past mistakes they may have made in their first few go-arounds and how they’ve learned and grown since then. Despite my access to a wealth of coaching resources, the thought of stepping into the role of “coach” myself, daunted me. I felt insecure about being similar in age to my coachees and worried that I would not yet know enough about Year Up programming to be helpful to them.

This past August—a little over a year into my Fellowship—I got to see my first group of coaches graduate Year Up, and all I could think about during the graduation ceremony was how proud I was of them.

In October of 2021, I became a coach for the first time. While I had lingering anxiety about my ability to succeed in the role, my multi-month tenure at Year Up had prepared me well. Additionally, I had the privilege of co-coaching with one of the most senior staff members at Year Up’s New York and New Jersey office. Together we guided a group of five students through an almost year-long journey full of highs and lows. I learned a lot about Year Up and about coaching from my co-coach. I also learned a lot from my coachees about the student experience at Year Up and about what Year Up means to them.

This past August—a little over a year into my Fellowship—I got to see my first group of coachees graduate Year Up, and all I could think about during the graduation ceremony was how proud I was of them. I had watched their shyness and uncertainty develop into confidence and authority. And I could not help but notice that I had gone through a similar journey as a coach. By the time of their graduation, I already had a second group of coachees in a new cohort, and everything had felt much easier and less stressful with them because I had done it all before. I was much more knowledgeable, confident, and commanding in my role, and as a result, I was a stronger coach than I’d been before. Moreover, I realized over the course of one year and two different coaching groups that I really love the direct service work I do! Coaching students is by far my favorite part of my Fellowship position.

This October we welcomed yet another new cohort of students, but this time is different in that it is my first time coaching by myself. I would be lying if I said I am not a little bit nervous to coach on my own, but anytime those nerves set in, I remember that my experience, commitment, and passion will continue to guide me in the right direction.

Nia Atkins

Nia Atkins

Nia Atkins (she/her) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Year Up New York | New Jersey.

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Fellows participate n the tomato harvest at the Food Project in Boston

Fellows Gather in Boston for Four Days of Professional Development

Special thanks to Jesse McLaughlin, 2024 FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon Fellow​

Current Fellows recently gathered in Boston for four days of professional development and immersion in the world of social impact.

After traveling from NYC and Philadelphia, Fellows arrived in Boston on Monday, met up at the Museum of Science for a variety of group activities, and then had dinner together at their Airbnb. One Fellow said, “it was so great to finally meet everyone in person and have time to get to know each other.”

On Tuesday, the cohort visited The Food Project in Dorchester where they participated in farm chores and learned about food security. The Fellows managed to clear an entire section of tomato plants nearing the end of their season, but not before picking the last of the harvest for distribution at local farmers’ markets. The Fellows then took time off to explore Boston’s iconic 2.5 mile-Freedom Trail, grab dinner along the water, and do a little cannoli taste-testing. When asked which iconic cannoli she preferred, one Boston Fellow exclaimed: “Mike’s!”

 

“It was so great to finally meet everyone in person and have time to get to know each other.”

On Wednesday, the Fellows met with senior leadership from Jumpstart to hear about their professional journeys and about the impact of early education on children’s lives. The Fellows learned Jumpstart’s policy work and had a tour of the Massachusetts Statehouse.  (You can read about one Fellow’s perspective on that work in a previous post.)

After lunch, the Fellows headed off to Breakthrough of Greater Boston where they learned about the organization, spoke with the Executive Director, and led mock interviews with high school seniors. The Fellows then had supper in Harvard Square and a special birthday celebration for one of the first-year Fellows who said he “felt even more supported and connected to [his] other fellows on this special day away from home.

 

Thursday’s destination was the Museum of Science where equity in STEM education and enrichment were key topics. The Fellows had the opportunity to lead activity stations in hands-on chemistry projects for high school students as part of the Museum’s High School Science Series. The Fellows met with the President of the Museum and had time to explore the Museum including touring the live animal care center. There was a lot of lively conversation and questions—NYC Audubon and Audubon Mid-Atlantic Fellows were particularly thrilled to be able to see Cobalt the Blue Jay up close and personal in the care center.

The day ended with dinner at the Boston-area home of a Trustee, a chance to meet several alumni Fellows, and to enjoy the company of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship community over a delicious meal and s’mores cooked over a fire pit. One alumna Fellow who attended said that she “enjoyed getting to meet the new fellows and reconnect with everyone. I’m forever grateful for the fellowship and how it helped set me up for many amazing years at my non-profit.” 

On Friday, Fellows reflected on what they learned and took part in closing activities before heading home. “Inspired, committed, rejuvenated, and connected to the FAO Fellowship community” were some of the words Fellows used to describe how they were feeling about the retreat.

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Finding Hope in State Policy

Ryan reflects on the impact of his project work in state policy.

The past two years have been incredibly difficult—all have suffered deep trauma, grief, isolation, and fear. An unfathomable number of lives have been lost, and an unquantifiable number more have been forever altered from the loss of family, friends, or health because of the coronavirus. Graduating in May of 2021 – soon after the first anniversary of the pandemic-induced shutdown of the country – I felt hopeless as the polarization and political stagnation in Washington D.C. made the long road to recovery feel nearly insurmountable. However, I have found reasons for hope over the first nine months of my Fellowship through my special project work, where I have witnessed the potential of state government to step up where the federal government was lacking.

My Fellowship is at Jumpstart, a national early education non-profit that advances equitable learning outcomes for young children in underserved communities by recruiting and supporting caring adults to deliver high-quality programming to children and drive systems change through teaching, advocacy, and leadership.

At Jumpstart, I have gained an entirely new perspective on the power and importance of lobbying in the social impact sphere.

My special project work at Jumpstart is focused on early childhood education (ECE) policy and advocacy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Lobbying and advocacy tend to not have the best reputation among the American public. When I graduated from my small liberal arts college, I could not have anticipated that I would become a registered lobbyist just a few months later.

At Jumpstart, I have gained an entirely new perspective on the power and importance of lobbying in the social impact sphere. Political advocacy feels like an impactful extension of my direct service; I build off Jumpstart’s successes in direct service and workforce programming with the intent to create monetary and legislative investment by the government, both for Jumpstart and ECE as a whole. The collective power coming from the incredibly engaged, collaborative, and supportive advocacy community that I work with is a major highlight of my work.

I have had many amazing opportunities to make contributions that impact the Massachusetts legislative process and elevate early education priorities to legislators. The range of issues that I am involved with varies from a bill focused on tax breaks for early education providers who received federal relief money, to a group of bills focused on exclusionary discipline reform, to a statewide campaign working to systemically change the ECE structure in Massachusetts. My duties have included testifying in front of two legislative committees, contributing to coalition work and organizing events, participating in a Lobby Day at the State House, and personally conducting many meetings with legislative staffers to advance Jumpstart’s priorities on Beacon Hill.

I am incredibly grateful for the support and mentorship from my supervisor and colleagues on Jumpstart’s Policy and Government Relations (PGR) team who have worked with me to clarify our policy priorities and to prepare me to enter meetings on behalf of our organization. Massachusetts and the country at large are starting to recognize the importance of ECE in the lives of children and families, and for the economic well-being of the community. It is an exciting time to be involved in this advocacy space, and I look forward to continuing my work with Jumpstart’s PGR team for the next year plus.

Ryan Telingator

Ryan Telingator

Ryan is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in Boston, MA.

A person's red sneakers are shown ascending blue stairs.

Opportunity Beyond the Fellowship

When I became an FAO Schwarz Fellow I didn’t have a firm view of my path forward. I knew a few key things, that I cared deeply about the social impact space and that I wanted to do whatever I could to better the world around me. The Fellowship was a great way to take those key tenets of what I cared about and start to develop tangible ways to achieve my goals. As I worked in direct service at Breakthrough Greater Boston, I began to peel back the layers of what made a non-profit successful.

Learning about the range of nonprofits that others in my Fellowship cohort worked in allowed me to look beyond my organization and at the needs of the social impact sector as a whole.

When I was in college, I always assumed that if the direct service was strong, then that would be directly linked to success. However, as I watched leaders grapple with strategic issues such as funding and organizational culture, I began to realize that direct service was just a part of a larger machine, and I was extremely interested in how that machine worked.

As I began to dig deeper into the strategy of my work, and started to develop key questions and then eventually think through potential solutions, I wondered how my organization had grown it’s strategy in the past. This was how I discovered the world of social impact consulting. As I explored the work, I found myself so excited by the solutions and tools that now were essential to how we operated. It was motivating to know that I could work somewhere where my impact was bigger than just one organization.

After countless case studies and a few interviews, I can now say that my work as an FAO Schwarz Fellow allowed me to land a job as an associate consultant next fall. My close proximity to both direct service as well as strategic thinking exposed me to a side of nonprofit work I never knew existed.

Additionally, learning about the range of nonprofits that others in my fellowship cohort worked in allowed me to look beyond my organization and at the needs of the social impact sector as a whole. I’m excited to begin the next chapter of my journey and can’t thank the FAO Schwarz Fellowship enough for the experience I’ve gained over the past two years.

Serena Salgado

Serena Salgado

Serena Salgado (she/her) is the College Success and Alumni Support FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

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Clara working on her laptop at her desk

Learning from COVID-19 at Reading Partners

One of the most exciting parts of my fellowship right now is the opportunity to participate in summer strategic planning for the upcoming academic year. As a rising second-year fellow, I’ve had one year to learn the ropes at Reading Partners and play an integral role in the adjustments we made to transition our previously in-person tutoring program to an entirely virtual model. Last year was tough: we had to figure out how to manage tutor expectations and effectively communicate uncertainty, support tutors in learning a new virtual platform, and change several of our processes to adjust for the fact that location is irrelevant when tutoring online. Our task now is to take all of our learnings from the past year and make improvements across all areas of our operations that will set us up for success in this upcoming school year which is proving to be just as unpredictable as the last. In this blog, I’ll share some of the issues we are working to tackle this summer!

Communications

Communicating nuanced plans to stakeholders in the midst of uncertainty is hard. There’s just so many unknowns, last year and this year. Last year, we spent the year gradually pushing back the date of a possible in-person start. We also told tutors that they would start sooner than they actually did (due to delays in student enrollment), and continued to ask them to wait patiently. This year, we’re going to stick with planning virtual tutoring until we know more. Once again, we’re asking tutors for their flexibility and patience and not making premature promises of in-person engagement and tutoring start dates. We’re so grateful for the support of our amazing tutors!

Tech Tutors

Switching to online programming inevitably presents tech challenges, especially for some of our older adult volunteers. Last year, I developed our tech tutor program, where I worked with some of our federal work study college students to organize a system where they could provide one-on-one tech support to tutors that needed it. This year, I’m trying to formalize the tech tutor training: tech tutors need absolute expertise in all technical elements of our system (trust me, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong), as well as training on how to coach others on tech. I’m also working to streamline the scheduling and booking process by which tech tutors provide their availability and tutors book slots. We use a very helpful website called Calendly to allow tutors to select the time that works for them. Calendly then sends out an automated confirmation email and a reminder email before the session that includes the zoom link. We are so grateful to our tech tutors for making online tutoring possible!

How do we accurately show remaining availability for tutors that tutor many hours a week? How do we manage data when some tutors are placed at multiple schools? How do we prioritize which tutors get scheduled?

Tutor Availability

One of the trickiest challenges we have is making sure we are collecting tutor availability in a way that is efficient, clear, and most of all beneficial to our students’ needs. If we have 1,200 students that need tutors and 1,200 tutors ready to tutor, that’s great, but it only works if the tutors can tutor when the students are available. On my team, we’re finding new ways to identify when students will need tutors by tracking enrolled students’ availability in our school center schedules, and using our data system and anecdotal info from our program managers to predict when students that are currently being enrolled will be available. We’re using a new Google Form to collect tutor availability, which allows us to receive their availability into one big spreadsheet, and adjust the Google Form week to week to indicate to tutors what our highest need times are.

Tutor Scheduling

One of the benefits of switching to virtual tutoring is that all tutors can tutor at any school (for example, a tutor that lives in the Bronx can tutor a student in Bed-Stuy). This means we don’t have to deal with shortages of tutors in specific neighborhoods, and tutors with very limited availability have lots of schools they can be placed with. To adjust to this new reality, we switched mid-year to a system that allows any tutor to be scheduled anywhere instead of having separate pipelines for each neighborhood. Right now, I’m working on optimizing this system to minimize things that were tricky last year: how do we accurately show remaining availability for tutors that tutor many hours a week? How do we manage data when some tutors are placed at multiple schools? How do we prioritize which tutors get scheduled?

To conclude, I’m excited for another dynamic year at Reading Partners and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to be a leader on our regional team in these areas. COVID-19 has caused every organization to adapt, and with change comes first challenge, then learning, and now growth and improvement!

Clara Monk

Clara Monk

Clara (she/her) is a Fellow on the Community Engagement Team at Reading Partners in New York City.

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Tips on Applying For The FAO Schwarz Fellowship

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

Is the Position a Good Fit?

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

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

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

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

 

Putting Together a Resume

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

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

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

Writing a Cover Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewing

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

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

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

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

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

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


Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte Blackman

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

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Black tiles with white letters spelling out Work From Home on a brown background

Becoming a Young Professional During a Pandemic: One Year In

When I applied to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship in the winter of 2020, life was different. I submitted my application before heading over to a friend’s house to have a gathering of 15+ people, no masks involved. In late February and early March, as I was interviewing for my position, sanitizing surfaces was a new normal, but still, I did video calls from a classroom at Northwestern, not knowing that I wouldn’t return for a spring quarter. 
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