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!

Picture of Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali Matthews

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