Meet the 2018 SELI Fellows

 

On July 25 – 27, SEF wrapped up its 15th cohort of the Southern Education Leadership Initiative. This 2018 cohort consisted of ten talented and passionate young leaders from areas across the South. Over the course of the summer, these fellows worked to strengthen education equity and support school districts and community organizations throughout 8 states in the South. Hear what these fellows had to say about their summer experience.

 

Brianna Paul, Jacksonville Public Education Fund

What lessons did you learn during this experience that will carry with you in your work?

“Whether from direct conversations or from mere observations, my time here has been filled with enriched experiences that have granted me with professional development and sagacity. One major lesson I’ve learned is: diversity requires intentionality. It is not enough to just put an ethnicity and/or gender check box on an application and think the pursuit is complete. Real diversity requires work — work that sometimes forces us to recognize our own prejudices and create spaces for authentic conversations. It is not enough to want more black and brown bodies in an institute; that philosophy has become outdated. Establishments have made a point to recruit students and personnel in order to only satisfy an enforced quota. In 2018, we have to recognize that diversity exists even within same cultural communities. As a black woman who is a Haitian-American, my experience is not the same as some of my counterparts. A transgender person’s experience may not be the same as his/her gay, lesbian, bisexual counterparts. We cannot have a monolithic infrastructure on the way we go about being inclusive to all people with multiple kinds of experiences.”

 

Cameron McNeil, UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

What have you learned about what you want to do professionally from this experience?

“SELI has given me the opportunity to talk to and learn from members of the education research, policy, and non-profit communities. It can be difficult to find a summer program that offers experience in any one of these areas, but through my position at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center I was able to gain exposure to all three. After reflecting on this summer, I have been able to identify the pieces of each field that appeal to me, and I have been able to think about where my talents and skills might be most useful moving forward. I knew that I was passionate about providing all students with a quality education, but now I realize just how many moving pieces are at play in achieving that vision. I know now that I want to work with students, and that I would love to stay in the South to continue to address the persistent disparities in educational access and attainment along racial and socioeconomic lines. My SELI experience allowed me to develop necessary skills to make change in education on a systems level. I know that I still want to teach upon graduation, but talking to other SELI fellows who have classroom experience has shown me that there are lots of opportunities to advance an education equity agenda on a broader scale after teaching. The people I’ve met and the projects I have worked on have helped me to feel more confident that I can make an informed decision about how I will pursue a career in education.”

 

Jonathan Peraza, Latin American Association in Atlanta

What have you learned about what you want to do professionally from this experience?

"Working for the LAA as a SELI Fellow helped me define my career path and life’s work. I believe the educator-researcher-activist model is most appropriate for me. As a passionate educator who believes in helping youth imagine and act to build a better world, I value research, because collaborative research with local communities can produce actionable data and help us develop plans and models to use for community empowerment and socio-political change. Successful activism funnels out of critical education & community research that guides our strategies and visions for a different world by putting the spotlight on the narratives of community agents paired with analysis."

 

 

 

Chloe Latham Sikes, Center for Public Policy Priorities

What have you learned about what you want to do professionally from this experience?

“I have learned that it is my responsibility to produce and convey meaningful research to a larger policymaker and stakeholder audience about issues of education equity in policy. I want to work in an organization or institution that bridges groups across coalitions to advance a strong (evidence-based) and strategic (intentional) policy agenda. SELI helped me define how I have a unique skillset and perspective to take on this type of role in Texas educational politics and advocacy. I hope to work for a foundation, organization, or even university or institute to assume this role and advance education equity through my work.”

What questions were you left with?

“The push for privatizing education has moved us as a society away from investing in the public good. Even in public education coalition groups, it can be easy for member organizations to want to look out primarily for their own interests, even if those are at odds with the rest of the group’s collective goals. How do we change the narrative about public education—and the public good—which has been so severely disparaged? What role does research have in that effort? Can coalitions be as broad as to leverage research, political access, and electoral power?”

 


Mia Bowman, Bibb County Public School District

What had the most impact on you this summer and why?

“The thing that had the most impact on me this summer, was the willingness of other district officials to make their school district more equitable. When I arrived at my placement, I was concerned that only my supervisor and I would be pushing this equity effort forward. But after seeing that there was a Racial Equity Design Team already in place and the steps that team had made, I was excited to know that this district was intentionally trying to make a difference.”

 

 

 

Edward Wiggins, Foundation for the Mid-South

What have you learned about what you want to do professionally from this experience?

“My time spent studying the assessment data at my placement site this summer has prompted me to stay in my home community and work toward improving the education of students. At this present moment, it has reenergized me to seriously pursue my undergraduate studies so that I can be a viable candidate for graduate work in education. In the long-term, I want to become an educator in my community working toward promoting equity for marginalized students. I have learned that making change in education extends beyond the traditional public education systems and into the larger communities. Nonprofits, business owners, and many other diverse stakeholders have influence on education, be they implicit or explicit, and these influences are worth leveraging for equity.”

 

 

Monica Flamini, Southern Education Foundation

What have you learned from this experience about affecting education change and what role you want to play professionally?

“This summer, I have learned that change is a long and methodical process. There is no direct way to manifest a policy desire; it takes careful calculation and strategic planning on behalf of countless key groups. Therefore, creating and uplifting coalitions of advocacy groups are an imperative element of making education reform. Knowing this, I plan to take these sentiments into my community and coalesce a greater awareness of educational inequities amongst voters. I believe this is a paramount step in the legislative process, as it will inspire more grassroots advocacy around education issues and manifest into equity-minded policy from our elected officials.”

 

 

George Keller, Alabama Possible

What had the most impact on you this summer and why?

"I had the privilege to sit in on two board meetings. The members on the board are very passionate about education equity in Alabama and were very supportive of Alabama Possible and everything that they do. Alabama Possible is also starting a Junior Board for leaders in the community who range from 25-40 years old. This will allow for younger leaders to have a chance to express their ideas about Alabama Possible and its future. It is encouraging to see so many people passionate about Alabama Possible and its mission to break down barriers to equity in Alabama."

What questions were you left with?

"High school guidance counselors need more recognition. I have had a lot of interactions with high schools counselors and the work they do in their schools should be praised. During our Cash for College celebration, many of the school counselors were celebrated for their dedication to their students. One of the most important aspects of their job is to assist students in completing their FAFSA so that they can attend college. One thing that I think SEF can really be influential in promoting going forward is FAFSA completion. Students who complete the FAFSA are much more likely to attend a post-secondary institution."

 

Iwinosa Idahor, UnifiEd

What lessons did you learn during this experience that will carry with you in your work?

"Upon having an opportunity to survey the landscape of where I would be working, I realized that there is still much work to be done in addressing the inequities that exist within schools and the communities that they serve. My site’s approach to addressing these inequities focused on galvanizing community members and empowering them to seek answers, take action, and remain informed about what is happening in their community. In this work, I learned and saw the impact of taking time to establish relationships and build rapport. I also learned that to expect change to happen overnight is futility at work, but it takes consistent and collaborative effort to sustain progress that has already been made. Through this experience, I learned that it is just as important to maintain a seat at the metaphorical table of progressive dialogue, as it is to build new tables, but as an emerging leader, having the wisdom and discernment to know which is more appropriate for the situation at large."

 

Aston Patrick, Arkansas Public Policy Panel

What lessons did you learn during this experience that will carry with you in your work?

"The SELI trainings gave me a good foundation of information on the state of education in the South and provided me with inspiration going into my fellowship this summer. From working at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, I learned that community engagement is necessary to make real change happen in education. Without the support of parents and community leaders, any initiative or reform will lack the driving force behind it to have a positive effect. The other key is to have accurate data, both quantitative and qualitative, to inform your decisions as an activist or the creation of programs. This ensures that the work a non-profit completes is actually beneficial to the communities that it is trying to help. Each district or school has its own issues that need to be addressed in whatever way is best suited for the students they serve."

What have you learned about what you want to do professionally from this experience?

"The experience I gained over the summer has taught me that I am really passionate about improving public education, but it has also taught me that being the voice for community organizing is not my strong suit. Instead, my skills are better suited for working with teachers and administrators or non-profits to collect data and create programs to accomplish the goals that each organization has set. My talent is in problem solving and in figuring out feasible and specific ways to achieve broader goals or ideas. This affirms my belief that graduate school is the right decision for my career path, so that I gain more knowledge and experience with research. Afterwards, my plan is to work in academia or a non-profit to put knowledge gained from research into action."          

 

Join Our Mailing List
Sign Up Now