Professional Development

Retreat Reflections: A Second-Year Fellow’s Final Retreat

As a second-year Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston, it can be easy to get absorbed in fulfilling direct and special project work. However, the FAO Schwarz Fellowship’s bi-annual retreat provides structured time to ensure Fellows get the most out of our unique professional experience, complete with cohort bonding opportunities, professional development, and city exploration. While I usually look forward to each chance we get to gather as a complete cohort, the Spring 2024 Fellowship retreat was particularly special to me. Not only did we witness the 2024 total solar eclipse as a cohort at the Museum of Science, but it also marked my final retreat as my Fellowship draws to a close. Given that my first-ever retreat took place in Boston in 2022, this Boston retreat felt like a full-circle moment for me.

With each organization intentionally crafting professional development sessions with a diverse set of organizational leaders, I naturally found myself reflecting with other Fellows about how the experience or frameworks we had just heard could influence our professional and personal trajectories.

As a second-year, Boston-based Fellow co-leading the visit to my own host organization, I kept thinking back to the first time the cohort visited Breakthrough two years ago. Since Juan, another Fellow at Breakthrough, and I joined the Fellowship just after the retreat planning phase had concluded, we had minimal involvement in the overall planning or facilitation of our organization visit. This time around, Juan and I were involved at every stage. Crafting the Fellowship’s stop at our org was also a very reflective process as we worked together to decide which aspect of Breakthrough’s expansive program we wanted to offer to our cohort.

In the end, we organized a restorative justice circle practice, inviting all Fellows to participate. Each participant introduced an item of personal significance before transitioning into a Q&A session with organizational leaders. The day concluded with a professional development session titled “Why College Success?” During this session, we provided a platform for Fellows to reflect on their college experiences and to underscore the necessity for our direct service as college success coaches. We also explored the various social barriers that impact the experiences of underrepresented minorities in higher education.

The “Why College Success” presentation was a personal highlight of the retreat for me. While my passion for eliminating classroom inequity led me to my Fellowship at Breakthrough, I’m not as close to the research aspect I was passionate about in undergrad—I now find myself addressing educational inequity research’s findings first-hand. Being able to connect the dots between social capital discrepancies, financial barriers, social belonging, and discrimination to the nuanced experiences of my caseload of Breakthrough alumni regrounded me in my motivations to expand educational equity. Aside from being able to reach back into my undergraduate passions, engaging all the Fellows in an exciting reflective discussion felt rewarding, since the room reflected my own passions. 

Aside from leading the Breakthrough site visit, returning to the same host organizations that we spent time with on my first retreat as a first-year Fellow also provided me with a chance to reflect on who I was two years ago and where I want to be two years from now. With each organization intentionally crafting and weaving professional development and Q&A sessions with a diverse set of organizational leaders, I naturally found myself reflecting with other Fellows between the sessions about how the experience or frameworks we had just heard could influence our professional and personal trajectories.

In my reflections, I found myself frequently returning to my interactions with members of research and evaluation teams. While my interest was initially sparked on the New York retreat in the Fall when visiting Jumpstart, visiting the Museum of Science and engaging in a Team-Based Inquiry workshop reignited this interest. Team-Based Inquiry (TBI) is an approach to research and evaluation that emphasizes collaboration among a group of individuals, such as museum visitors. The session provided a professional environment where my foundational knowledge felt directly applicable. The less formal process of evaluating programming interests me as a satisfying overlap of my passion for qualitative research and nonprofit work.

Being able to engage in first-hand observations proved to be incredibly valuable for me. It allowed me to immerse myself in my intersection of interests and gain direct insight into how visitors interacted with different exhibits while I engaged with them myself. Throughout sessions like the TBI workshop, I found myself especially aware of and grateful for the network of professionals that this Fellowship equips me with, as I am connected to people who enable me to further explore and discuss potential avenues in program evaluation.

My final retreat encapsulated the essence of my Fellowship journey—a transformative blend of personal growth, professional development, and meaningful connections. Looking ahead, I carry a renewed sense of purpose and a stronger commitment to positively impacting my community and any future collectives I join after my Fellowship!

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Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali (she/her) is the Marketing & Communications FAO Schwarz Fellow Breakthrough Greater Boston.

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You and Me and Data

“They’re always surprised when I say this,” the panelist says. It’s the Head of User Research at a certain company. He’s poised confidently in his tall, white bar stool, gripping the microphone. “But here’s something I always tell the people I’m supervising: only 30 to 50 percent of a research job is being a researcher.” The other panelists listen intently, pivoting their heads towards him. “The other 50 to 70 percent are your soft skills: working cross-functionally, and storytelling with data.” Thoughts and murmurs reverberate across the crowd. He gauges the audience’s reaction. “That sort of thing.” 

Meanwhile, my hands fly percussively across the keyboard of my work laptop—I’ve been taking notes the entire presentation. It’s not really common to see a researcher representing their company at a panel, much less a researcher active at the intersection of technology and social impact. Yet here he is: another queer man of color who had connected the dots between his own fancy-schmancy New England education and the impact he could make in Applied Research. Of course, it isn’t statistically insignificant that he has around a decade of experience over my measly full-time months. He’s the only reason I bothered coming to a panel that, for the most part, mostly had targeted client-facing B2B professionals.  He can probably hear the clacking. I hope he understands—it’s not all that different from qualitative research, right? 

For all the research I had executed and wanted to execute, for all the rigor I had taken into Year Up and learned within it, for all the data carved into the shape of 70 colorful, animated slides and graphs: am I truly embodying a researcher?

Keyboard clacking or not, the researcher continues his thought. “It’s a human-centered practice,” he concludes. He’s referring to both research participants and coworkers. A practice that’s 30 to 50 percent research, 50 to 70 percent stakeholder management. There’s a pause. 

Another panelist flicks the switch of his own microphone. Conversation then drifts back to the Director of Sales at a Series A startup, and we start talking about product management again. 

The idea of those human-centered proportions thus haunts me for several hours. 

I don’t believe that the researcher had been wrong: even as an early career researcher and analyst, the words still ring true. Since the start of my fellowship at Year Up, I have been plunging headlong into data and its repercussions. Most of my first month of the fellowship—besides the inherently hectic nature of onboarding anywhere—had been occupied by meticulous survey design, study rollout, mixed methods analysis, workshop agenda-building, and the construction of a corresponding 80-odd slide deck. In fact, the researcher’s words align with what had been my approach at Year Up beforehand: gather your data into a nice, lean repository and do the work of extracting narrative for the data’s eventual audience. Easier said than done, and a process that stops getting faster after a certain point of skill. Doable. 

Yet that researcher ratio strikes me at a very specific time. Less than 12 hours after this in-person, after-work, Wednesday night panel comes a very special Thursday morning: I am going to be facilitating another LC Lookback, the second of four.  

I’ve been working towards this data democratization workshop since as early as October, starting with a lengthy research proposal centered on the use of semi-structured interviewing as part of market-level research. Even with semi-structured interviewing pushed to next cycle, I’ve been grinding away at participant surveys—whether attempting to eliminate all chance for respondent bias, or simply just making sure trainees respond at all. Surveys turn into results, results turn into spreadsheets, and spreadsheets turn into waves of PivotTables and flashy visualizations. With any luck, presentations transform into change– whether incremental or sweeping– that delivers a better experience for the program’s end users. It’s a continuous, delicate art of observation, adjustment, and implementation.

Even beyond the data of this study, I’ve dived into the rigor of research: I voraciously consume articles penned by researchers and rapidly absorb the language particular to different industries and facets of the craft. I consult mentors in the field and establish a laundry list of professional development opportunities for myself throughout the remainder of the fellowship. I decide that I want to embody the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative methods—and, in the process, earn a certification in User Research and Design from the University of Michigan. I interrogate my own qualitative skills, and obliterate any vaguely leading questions from my interview scripts. I pin Survey Design down to its academic science, grinding each and every distracting element away from my surveys. I grind away at quant: I master SQL, and build myself up to an intermediate degree of Python for Data Analysis. I convince IT to let me install RStudio, and I almost get them to install a Python IDE.  Request denied—security reasons, they say.  

Still, for a while, data becomes me. Rigor becomes me. Embodying the researcher becomes me. I learn what the hottest discourse among corporate researchers is this season: proving your value add. 

And a few days before that Thursday, at the suggestion of a mentor, I drop a slide from my lengthy, lengthy workshop deck into a channel accessible to my stakeholders. That’s the nature of research, right? You grow stakeholder buy-in through drops of insights. It’s a good, basic metric: it’s a Net Promoter Score, a measurement cooked up at Bain & Co for the sake of comparing quantified, popular opinion between industries and companies. It’s not very common in non-profits, but we use it at Year Up. I upload my visualization to Slack, and respond accordingly when someone asks for a bit of context. It’s industry standard—and moreover, one of our standards at Year Up: I think there’s no harm done. 

The day after—but still before that Thursday, and before that Wednesday night—the Director of Program combs over my slides over a video call, and he finds himself a bit frazzled by the length. He’s especially concerned about the technical language I’ve deployed across my presentation. I’ve put in a slide explaining the history, purpose, and conventions of Lickert scales, those 1 to 5 or 1 to 7 or 0 to 10 things. I’ve put in a slide explaining response bias, and the ways in which a respondent’s context may affect their answers. There’s three, hefty slides discussing the roles of Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research, and Desk Research before any bulk of the data rears its head. “That’s the first time I’ve heard ‘desk research’ used that way,” he tells me. Then, he continues, “I think we need to make some cuts here.” 

I pause. I’ve been grinding away at these surveys, these spreadsheets, these hulking affinity diagrams of open-ended qualitative responses—to me, this is already a dilution. I think about the rigor I had so deeply immersed myself in. I think about the ways I had held myself back from including documentation of statistical significance. I think about my research, the ways I want it to grow, and how I want to grow. I wonder how, in that moment, to advocate for that growth. I wonder how to prove my value add.

I wonder how to prove my value add to myself. 

“You’ve only got 60 minutes for this, and it’s going to be a long, long day on Thursday,” the Director tells me. “I think—well, you have to consider your audience.” I see his eyes, even over Zoom, scanning across the numbers and texts and graphics. He asks, “Is everyone going to be able to understand this?” I consider his question, and hover my mouse over the delete button. “Wait,” he continues, “I think nerds like you and me can talk about this forever when we have the time.” I hover off the delete button. 

“Hide these slides—you or I or someone else can find them very, very helpful later,” he muses. I follow his instructions. That’s 3 fewer slides to sift through. “Try compressing them into one: what’s the main thought you’re communicating here? That a lot of work went into this, right?” Typing away again, I reply, “Yeah, that’s right.” The Director confirms my line of thinking, “Great. You have to make sure you’re telling a story with what you’re showing us. What’s the story we’re painting with the data?” 

We trim a slide or two off the deck, and compress and clarify where necessary. The deck actually doesn’t change very much—he muses about whether an hour will be enough time for all of the content, and I try to respond with confidence. “Hey, by the way: Great work, Avery,” he tells me, “You’ve been working hard on this.” I smile a bit and nod. He’s right, after all.

Come Thursday morning, and I’m reflecting while setting up the presentation space. I’m not so much nervous as I am jittery, and I suppose that the coffee hadn’t helped. Yet I’m still asking myself questions.

For all the research I had executed and wanted to execute, for all the rigor I had taken into Year Up and learned within it, for all the data carved into the shape of 70 colorful, animated slides and graphs: am I truly embodying a researcher? In my pursuit of not only scientific precision in my analysis, but scientific exactness in my reporting: am I managing my stakeholders’ expectations and understanding, or am I arrogantly positioning myself as a sole source of knowledge? And for the participants, the stakeholders for whom the data would matter most—yet wouldn’t be in the room of this day-long workshop—is this report going to be to their benefit? Am I making sure not to reduce them to a set of data points? 

Where am I on that scale of 30 to 50 percent against 50 to 70 percent? 

Interactives and warm-up activities come and go. My presentation—in all of its data-laden glory—comes and goes. I try not to pontificate; instead, I carve out a story through a reservoir of statistics and words, all stemming from the participants we had worked with for months upon months upon months. If I keep anything to an exact science, it’s my timekeeping: questions have their dedicated sections, and interruptions are not allowed. It’s appreciated by my colleagues. Someone compliments my sweater; it was going to be a long day, so our Site Director thought it best for us all to wear casual.

At the end of the workshop, we hold a “Plus/Delta,” an exercise to identify the strengths and growth areas of an event. One of my coworkers comes up to a whiteboard in front of the room, pops the cap off of her marker, and gestures toward the dozens of people seated. 

“Well,” she tells them, “I have a Plus to start off with.” My head pivots towards her. 

“Avery,” she continues, “Fantastic data. I learned a lot today.” She writes Avery’s Data in fat, bold letters at the top of the board, right under a plus-sign. “Check,” someone calls out, signaling agreement. “Check,” goes another voice. “Check.” Another. “Check.” Another. “Check.” Again. “Check.” It goes on like this for a little while, until there’s a stream of little checkmarks following my name. “Clarity of the data,” someone else calls out. “Check to that too,” says another. I try not to laugh. 

“Glad to hear that,” I joke. And there I am, an early career researcher and analyst. 

Even by the end of our Plus/Delta— even by the end of a day spanning all the way from 9 AM to 6 PM— I don’t know where I lie on that scale of 30 to 50, 50 to 70. I still haven’t put the puzzle pieces of my own research entirely together with that of Year Up’s national research functions. Unfortunately, I’m still 78% of the way off from completing my certification in Data Science in Python, but NumPy hasn’t been too hard to figure that out. I’ve been given the possibility of starting some semi-structured interviewing, but even that hasn’t been set in stone.

Yet, through all of that, I know I’m a researcher with a clear value add. And I don’t think I have to perform too many tests to prove that. The data against the null hypothesis is self-evident, even to me. 

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Avery Trinidad

Avery Trinidad (he/him) is the Research & Insights FAO Schwarz Fellow at Year Up in New York City.

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Recap: New York City Fall 2023 Retreat

Boston and Philadelphia Fellows traveled to New York for the Fall 2023 retreat in October for five days of professional development and exciting social impact experiences at New York City host organizations. After arriving on Monday morning, the Fellows made their way to the Whitney Museum where they engaged in team building exercises led by Philadelphia Fellows Sophie and Kayla.

After a delicious pizza lunch, Whitney Fellow Sarika led a tour of Ruth Asawa Through Line: an exhibition highlighting drawing as the through line in Asawa’s work. Fellows were able to familiarize themselves with the more than one hundred works, many of which have never been exhibited before now. Following the tour, Fellows participated in a discussion with Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum on his penultimate day in the role.

Whitney Fellow Sarika and Dyemma Simmons, Director of Social Impact, facilitated a session on Disability, Accessibility, and Inclusivity at the Whitney for the Fellows. To finish out the day, the Fellows had the opportunity to explore Henry Taylor: B Side: an exhibition recommended to the Fellows by Adam Weinberg. 

On Tuesday, the Fellows set sail to Governors Island to explore the work of New York City Audubon. The day began with a scenic ferry ride and an Island welcome from Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of NYC Audubon. NYC Audubon Fellow Jesse then led a tour of the organization’s seasonal environmental center, including the building’s bird-friendly glass displays. Fellows then had the opportunity to hear from Jessica Wilson, Executive Director, Saman Mahmood, Director of Advocacy and Engagement, and Roslyn Rivas, Public Programs Manager in a career-focused panel discussion followed by lunch at an Island eatery.

Afterwards, Fellows competed in an Island-wide scavenger hunt inspired by NYC Audubon Artist in Residence Carolyn Monastra’s Divergence of Birds exhibit. After traipsing the 172-acre urban island, Fellows headed back to Manhattan to explore Chinatown and Little Italy. Fellows ended the day with a Cantonese, family-style dinner.

On Wednesday, the Fellows began the day at Jumpstart with a discussion with Kate Warren Barnes, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations, focusing on how Jumpstart’s direct service and systems change efforts work in conjunction. Fellows were then led in an interactive session with Anita Emama, Director of Education & Research. Finally, Adanech Makey, Director of Civic Engagement & Advocacy, led the Fellows in a “Developing Ourselves as Community Change Agents” training.

Following the site visit to Jumpstart, Fellows walked the Highline to lunch at Chelsea Market with the option to listen to a queer history audio tour created by the Whitney Museum. Fellows then enjoyed a guided tour of Inheritance, a Whitney museum exhibition, led by exhibition curator Rujeko Hockley. Fellows closed out the day with an alt-text writing workshop led by Whitney Fellow Sarika. 

On Thursday, Fellows started the day at Year Up with an overview of the organization at the national level led by Malik Williams, Associate Director of Program. Fellows then evaluated the elevator pitches of 16 Year Up trainees followed by a networking session with trainees. Wil Valezquez, Program Director and Nadine Sylvester, Site Director led Fellows in a debrief of Thursday Forum and Year Up model. 

Next up, Fellows headed to the Museum of the City of New York for a guided “field trip” of the Museum’s centennial exhibition This is New York: 100 Years of Art and Pop Culture led by MCNY Fellow Natalia. The Fellows had the chance to hear from Stephanie Wilchfort, Director of MCNY about the mission and history of MCNY and her own career path. Wrapping up at the Museum, Fellows wrote their “personal mission statements” and explored more of the exhibitions.

Thursday evening was full of celebration as the Fellows connected with Fellowship alumni and trustees at a gathering at the FAO Schwarz toy store at Rockefeller Center. Current and former Fellows bonded over shared experiences and found connections in interests and career paths. 

On Friday, Fellows returned to Year Up for a morning of professional development led by Malik Williams. The Fellows identified their personal leadership style and explored their strengths and challenges as a leader. Finally, the cohorts gathered for a group reflection on the retreat before heading back to their respective cities after a long but rewarding week.

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Jesse McLaughlin

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

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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.

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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.

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Jesse McLaughlin

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

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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.

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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.

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Ryan Telingator

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

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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.

Picture of 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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