Systematic Challenges

Earlier this week I attended a national meeting of EAB’s Superintendents’ Leadership Forum in Chicago. Admittedly, I don’t yet know a lot about K-12 outside of having friends who are teachers and the handful of folks who were in my graduate classes. What I learned should not have surprised me: K-12 leaders are challenged by many of the same things that those of us in higher ed are dealing with. Some that resonated with me are preparing students for careers, motivating students and teachers, declining enrollment, navigating politics, providing wrap-around services, and perhaps most top of mind, student safety and responding to activism.

Both the K-12 and higher ed sectors are also dealing with state divestment. EAB has many tool kits and research to help these sectors succeed, and I would urge K-12 and local higher ed partners to work together even more than they already do. It’s difficult; time and money are finite, they run on different schedules, and there are so many things that they could organize around. I’m not sure I would have said the same in 2010 when I started my first job out of my masters program. I loved so many parts of that job but the thorn in my side was a tutoring partnership with a local high school. I spent a lot of time trying to order pizza and take attendance for high school students who didn’t seem to care. If they didn’t, then why should I.

Of course now I know that that was misguided. Those students were primarily, if not entirely, students of color. They came from low-performing schools and from low socio-economic background. The tutoring was important, of course, but what was more important, was showing them that college was a possible pathway for them.  I know there are lots of these types of programs across the country, and I hope that the staff “gets it” sooner than I did. 


While in Chicago I did take time to enjoy some deep dish pizza (with butter crust, of course) and some Garrett’s popcorn. I’m a pizza purist by heart (I am a New Yorker, after all), but it was a delightful treat.


Two Weeks in

I’m almost two weeks into my new role on the research team at the Education Advisory Board (EAB). EAB has several offerings that support of our mission to make “education smarter.” In practice, this means student success and institutional efficiency technologies, enrollment management support, and research memberships. Research informs all work that we do. This research is highly qualitative and seeks gather best practices from within our membership. We then find opportunities to share back through on-campus visits and national meetings focused on areas like advancement, student affairs, academic affairs, IT, and others.

There is so much to learn, and I feel like I’m back in grad school. Right now is my “reading period,” and I am catching up on all those higher ed books I purchased and never made the time to read as well as the research done by the firm in our topic areas. It is important context that will inform the rest of my career with EAB. The good news is I seem to have become more efficient in getting through material than I was in grad school. I’m also spending time attending national meetings to learn about what our member campuses are dealing with and how our research can help.

Perhaps more importantly though, is the culture of the firm. From day 1 I felt that everyone I came into contact with was invested in my success and was there to help me succeed. I’m sure part of this is that I’m now working in the private sector and happy and productive employees hopefully means happy members and ultimately, a better bottom line. But I can’t argue with that. I feel very supported and excited about my future with EAB. I also appreciate the high priority that the firm places on community engagement. It seems genuine and they have even received recognition from my friends at Points of Light.

Additionally, I am excited to continue to learn and expand my expertise. My heart will always be in civic and community engagement, and I look forward to finding ways to continue that work in my role here. I already have some ideas on that. In the meantime, it’s important that I learn about all aspects of higher ed, not just so that I’m successful here at the firm but so that I can think about what that means for me as a higher ed professional.

Next week I’ll be in Chicago for my third national meeting. Perhaps a hotel/travel post to come!

Hotel Tip #1

I spend a lot of time in hotels, and not because I’m a guest. In fact, for personal travel I almost always opt for an Airbnb, though I know that will change once I’m travelling regularly for work.

I spend a lot of time in hotels because I attend a fair number of conferences and I live in a city. I also love visiting other cities. Two things work against me in these efforts; I have a terrible sense of direction and I am typically alternating water and coffee or later in the day, water and wine. That means I am constantly in search of someplace to charge my phone so I can use google maps and a bathroom.

Thankfully, hotels solve both of these travel issues. I don’t yet have loyalty to a particular family of hotels so I’ll choose whatever is convenient to pop into. I do try for a chain like Marriott, Hilton, etc. since they usually have a decent sized lobby and often, free WiFi. I aggressively try not to “look like a tourist, so I’ve never had any issues walking into a hotel and plugging in my phone or using the restroom. If you walk in like you belong there then you should be just fine. It helps that hotels see thousands of people each day. Whilst in London this week, I ran into the Ritz and l was, almost too ironically, treated to a piano performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Hotels are also great options for business meetings or taking interviews. Increasingly we are moving to open office spaces which means absolutely no privacy, and hotels can help alleviate the stress of having a conversation with relative anonymity.

If you’re lucky, you can also catch a free happy hour like those found in the Kimpton and Staybridge hotels. It’s a great way to meet a colleague or kill time before dinner.

This is the first of what I imagine will be many hotel tips in the months to come. Hopefully whatever I learn on the road will be helpful to others!


Late last year I accidentally got a Gallup Strengthsfinder coach. I was on the phone with a colleague and we were discussing another individual with whom we were both working. My colleague commented that knowing this other person’s strengths would help us move forward with the work. A few months prior I had competed my own assessment and pulled up the results for her. This was the second time I’ve taken the assessment (both times for work), and did not give them a second thought. I’m pretty self aware and so none of them came as a surprise.

If you haven’t taken the assessment before, you respond to a series of questions and are then provided with your top five strengths which are situated into one of four categories. Four out of my five were in one bucket- strategic planning. Upon learning this she generously offered to spend some time with me unpacking this, the root of my unhappiness, and how I could move forward. Little did I know she was a certified Gallup Coach.

I had never had a coach or a therapist before, and somehow this woman became both. I now credit her for helping get me through some pretty difficult times. She helped guide me through the Strengths Wheel, the Talent Map, and walked me through my Insight Report. Not only was it helpful to have someone to talk to, but it truly helped me understand how my strengths could be seen by others and how to leverage those to find positions that would allow me to draw upon them. By understanding how my strengths may be viewed by others, I was able to clearly articulate what wasn’t working in my professional life and try to address it. While ultimately that was unsuccessful, I knew that I had used all of the tools in my toolbox to the best of my ability.

When I was interviewing for the role I’ll begin in February, I was able to talk about these strengths. The role requires that I assist the firm’s members in understanding and tailoring research findings to their needs and develop a thorough, leading-edge understanding of industry trends and issues. Learner and intellect are two of my top five strengths, and I’m excited to be able to use them in this position.

Two out of my top five strengths in 2017 were the same as they were the first time I took the assessment several years ago, so I’m curious what will happen the next time I take it. I am forever grateful to my coach, and now friend for her time and encourage others to go through this process. It was a huge learning opportunity for me and hope that these learnings will continue to inform my personal and professional life for years to come.


I’m in my final days working at Service Year Alliance (SYA). I was the first Service Year employee since I didn’t come from one of the original three organizations that merged to form SYA. I’ve learned a lot about start-up organizations, had the opportunity to work closely with people and partner organizations that I greatly admire, and have learned so much about myself in the process. I’m grateful for all of these.

Transitions are difficult. For me they are hardest because relationships are important. However, I’ve never been fully able to break away from previous jobs. I communicate regularly with my first boss at the University of Rochester and make sure to highlight their great work whenever possible. I hosted students from The Washington Center each semester and accepted invitations for informational interviews while working at Service Year. I don’t know how I’ll continue to support SYA, but look forward to doing so in whatever ways make sense. While I did not do a year of service myself, it is the foundation of who I am as a professional and an academic.

In February, I will join the Education Advisory Board (EAB) as a director of member education. I look forward to visiting campuses across the country to lead presentations and facilitate conversations on research and best practices to EAB’s members. I’m excited to immerse myself in research and in a culture that is helping colleges be more successful in ways that are important to them. This is my first time working in the private sector and not working directly in civic and community engagement. Through EAB I will be able to expand my areas of practice and expertise, something that is immensely important to me as I think about my future. I will always be a champion for and advocate of the public purposes of higher education (and of course, national service in America).

My position at EAB will require about 80% travel so you can anticipate lots of travel stories on the blog and photos from all the campuses I’ll be visiting. In the interim, I’m taking a little break to visit my favorite rainy city across the pond. Maybe I’ll write another post from London discussing how I came to make this decision: Digging into my strengths through a Gallup certified coach and the support I’ve had throughout my job search process.


A New High Impact Practice?

A few months back I submitted a manuscript for consideration in a book about service learning. My work was declined and the feedback was that it referenced old research. That is a fair critique and one I run towards. We need more research from faculty, staff, students, and community members. We need to make it accessible to everyone. But I can’t reference material that doesn’t exist. In that spirit of accessibility, I’m including some high level bullets here from my submission.

But first let me say that we live in a time where cultivating good citizens is more important than it has been in decades. Recent events on campuses across the country unequivocally prove this. Yes we need well paying jobs for student loans, and cars, and rent, and groceries, but we also need young people who are engaged, in a respectful way, in the political process. We need students talking with those who have different viewpoints than their own, who understand how legislation is passed, who know that the way they interact with their neighbors matter, and who believe that the success of a democracy depends on equity. I don’t believe that cultivating good citizens should be at odds with preparing financially stable adults. I submit that a service year can serve as the connective tissue between career readiness and good citizenship.

I also believe that service years are the next high impact practice (Kuh, 2008), but we need more proof points. What we know:

  • Service years build on the foundations of high impact practices, especially internships and service-learning;
  • like other HIPS, service years increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves;
  • corps members reported high levels of civic engagement (connection to community, community problem identification, neighborhood obligations, civic obligations, personal effectiveness of community service, personal growth through community service, local civic efficacy, grassroots efficacy, community-based activism, and engagement in the political process);
  • more than service-learning, service years can create a depth in the relationship with the community, working to solve for challenges of time commitment, unprepared volunteers, and time spent on on-boarding; and,
  • like internships, service years connected to academic credit allow young people to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world (think teacher preparation or nursing and social work practicums).

I’m asking colleges and universities to take the lead and consider how a service year can address some of the challenges we’re facing as a nation, and how it can solve for the challenges they face in college readiness and student persistence. Then we need to evaluate how we’re doing and how we can get better.

CLDE 2017 Conference

I’m a little behind in blogging, but head over to Service Year to read my thoughts on the CLDE conference. It was a great opportunity to connect with former colleagues (especially those I used to work with at Rochester Youth Year), meet new colleagues, and discuss advancing civic engagement in higher ed. Many thanks to the conveners of the meeting- American Democracy Project, The Democracy Commitment, and NASPA!

I got to present with my lovely friend Alexis from Averett University. Here we are in our Kate Spade!


I’m currently finishing up a week in Italy, spending much needed time away from the American news and the monotony of adult life. To be honest, Italy was never at the top of my travel bucket list. I don’t LOVE pasta (I know, I hate to admit it too but I may have turned a corner here), and I feel as though I’ve had my fill of churches and museums to last a lifetime. Of course, there’s much more to a culture than those things, but that’s where my head was. Now, even though I’ve only spent a few days in Rome, Florence, and Bologna, it’s easy to see why people fall in love with Italy and I will most certainly return. There are many more cities to visit, and much more wine and food to be enjoyed.

I haven’t taken a complete break from real life though. It’s hard to when technology makes it incredibly easy to stay connected. Part of me misses the days when I traveled to Europe without the benefit of my iPhone, MacBook, and iPad. I think I probably spent much more time being lost in foreign cities, but I wasn’t concerned about checking email or posting photos immediately. I wonder what happened to all of those internet cafés?

There are some interesting connections to my real life here. My professional career has been built on the belief that communities are better when there are associations amongst people and when those people play an integral role in governing the polity. Italy is home to one of the first republics, and I appreciated the reminder that republics and democracy can indeed, endure for centuries.

It was an especially welcomed reminder when I woke up this morning to the news that President Trump has committed to ending AmeriCorps. It was rumored in the “skinny budget,” and now we know that the proposal in the FY 2018 is to provide minimal funding to support the shutdown of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), presumably making it obsolete in the coming year. As I’ve written before, support for AmeriCorps and Peace Corps is bi-partisan. These programs strengthen communities, support veterans, provide critical support after natural disasters, and foster the skills and attitudes that we all want in our young people. They also lead to long-term civic engagement.

Leaving the news behind for a just a bit, I took a day trip to visit to Bologna to visit the Archiginnasio, the first seat of the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, this is the oldest university of the Western world. Much like when I visited Trinity College in Dublin, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, I felt incredibly humbled. There’s nothing like walking the grounds of a university that is thousands of years old and knowing that people infinitely smarter than you walked those same halls. Higher education was very different back then, of course, but there’s something both familiar and awe-inspiring. And there’s a sense of coming back just a little bit better and smarter for having gone. Until next time, ciao!

Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Putnam)


See you in Denver!

Earlier this year I joined the board of the American Gap Association. This organization maintains standards for gap year programs and works to ensure that students have a high quality experience through their accreditation process. The Association also conducts research. I happily support their mission for both personal and professional reasons.

While I didn’t take a gap year myself, I did have the chance to study abroad three out of my four years in college and they were experiences that continue to shape my world view. My masters thesis reviewed the history of study abroad, and I can only imagine if I had done so for a year. While gap years are perhaps more common in Europe, these activities are certainly gaining traction in the United States for a number of reasons.

Students don’t always feel ready to tackle college. Some are burnt out from high school (I was one of those students), don’t have the funds, or simply don’t know what they want to study. This is simplifying the challenge, but it rings true for thousands of students across the country. Students are also taking gap years after college and before graduate school or career. This is often the case for students who enter into AmeriCorps.

I also support AGA from professional standpoint. Not all gap years are service years, but together we can advance the awareness of opportunities and the number and scope of options. Gap year programs also tend to be international and we are continuing to explore how international service year programs fit into our offerings.

Gap year programs can have a significant impact on those who take one. An alumni survey found the following outcomes:

4b Gap Year Outcomes

Alumni of service year programs have similar outcomes, though less so on language acquisition and more so on activities related to citizenship and democracy. At the annual AGA conference next week, I will present on Service Years as Gap Year Option. Please come say hello if you’re there.