There’s no clearer illustration of what’s working and not working in social policy than education. If we’re really serious, we see that education is critical to our economy and every social indicator of individual well-being .
Where Are They Now? Five Trailblazing Alumni
Describe their achievements as you will — “breaking the mold,” “thinking outside the box” or simply “innovative” — the following five alumni are part of SESP’s tradition of fostering inventive approaches to improving people’s lives. In honor of SESP’s 25th anniversary, we asked these high-profile professionals, representing SESP’s five undergraduate majors over the past 25 years, to describe their jobs and the ways that SESP influenced them.
Though they have impact in vastly different arenas — from the White House to Chicago Public Schools, prominent nonprofits to a multinational corporation — a common passion distinguishes them: a desire to make a difference and give back because of their own positive experiences at SESP. At this School, mentors or programs forever changed the way they looked at the world around them.
Lionel Allen BS99, Secondary Teaching
In spring 2010 national news outlets hailed Urban Prep Academy, a Chicago charter high school for boys, for its impressive achievement: four-year college acceptance of every single member of its graduating class. The fact that the students came from Englewood, one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, made success all the sweeter.
For Lionel Allen (BS99), Urban Prep’s vice president of school operations and chief academic officer, the triumph validated his belief in the power of providing students with a supportive, consistent learning environment that carries high expectations.
“I’m very proud of our young men and the commitment they’ve shown at Urban Prep,” Allen says. “I’m proud of their families. We are very fortunate to have such hard-working people — the counselors, the teachers, the principals and the levels of support to make sure they have everything they need. I feel fortunate to be part of something that is helping to rewrite the narrative of African-American males in education.”
This wasn’t the first time Allen had witnessed remarkable change. In 2007 he was hired as principal to lead the city’s first “turnaround” school, William T. Sherman Elementary School, also located in Englewood. Allen and his team were charged with replacing all the teachers, staff and principal; establishing order in the school; and improving academic outcomes. “There had been a strong gang presence in the school. I had to make sure everything revolved around a strong culture and climate, and then focus on the academic piece. It was a time of great challenge but also the most rewarding time in my life,” Allen remarks.
According to parents, teachers and administrators, the school’s environment and outcomes have improved dramatically; Sherman has regained its footing as a place of learning.
Allen, a secondary teaching major, recalls several SESP mentors who gave him the support and direction he needed as an undergraduate. In particular, he names his adviser, John Lyon, who helped guide him in his decision to switch from a political science major to teaching and realize his goal of changing the lives of young people. A workshop on how to find a teaching job led by another adviser, David Renz, gave him the grounding to find his first position as a high school history teacher in Oak Park. He also credits professor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon with teaching him how to engage students in conversations that promote critical thinking.
“The program I was involved in at SESP taught me the qualities that make great schools and great teachers. Then my teachers said, ‘Now go off in the world and give these things to the students you’ll be working with. That’s your responsibility.’”
Jennifer Rickard BS00, Learning and Organizational Change
Jennifer Rickard’s longstanding passion for understanding how organizations function and encourage learning for their members has brought her to work in such places as London, New York and Hong Kong. Through her travels she sharpened her focus on one of the aspects responsible for any organization’s success: leadership development.
That insight has served Rickard (BS00) well in her current position as chief diversity officer at Hewlett-Packard (HP) based in Palo Alto, California, the world’s largest information technology company with more than 320,000 employees. Rickard drives the company’s global strategy to diversify HP’s talent through targeted attraction and development, and create an inclusive work environment where innovative, high-performing teams with diverse perspectives and skills thrive. In May she was named a “Top Executive in Diversity” by Black Enterprise magazine for her leadership in corporate inclusion.
“Developing leadership is very tied to the culture of an organization,” Rickard notes. “How organizations function, learn and thrive is highly dependent on the leaders, who are important culture carriers that exemplify and cascade company values and desired behaviors to all employees.”
Rickard got her start at Goldman Sachs’s New York office as a business analyst in the investment banking division. Within a year she transferred to the company’s leadership factory known as Pine Street, and went on to become a vice president of executive and leadership development in 2005.
With her notable achievements in the field of leadership development, how would Rickard define a good leader? “Leaders know it’s not all about them,” she asserts. “Putting others first, they surround themselves with strong talent and build high-performing teams. Leaders teach, but also seek to continue learning.”
Rickard is a third-generation Northwestern alum; her grandfather, Clare Riessen, coached the tennis team, and her father, Martin, played on the team before going pro. She was the first in her family to attend SESP, where her concentration was learning and organizational change. Rickard says she appreciated the depth and structure of SESP’s curriculum. “After doing my practicum I better understood how to navigate the corporate world — define the problem, design the solution, implement and evaluate. That’s how I approached my work, with that repeatable, holistic approach, and it has served me well.”
These days Rickard is part of a “virtual” team — all her colleagues work in different offices in several countries. Managing such a diverse, far-flung network is becoming more and more common, which makes Rickard’s mission all the more pressing. “The world today is more diverse than ever, and as corporate leaders we have to work hard to reflect a culture and workplace that encourages our employees to create tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”
Elizabeth Partoyan BS93, Psychological Services
Imagine a public school where students use the latest technology not only as a learning tool but also as a way to actually create knowledge, where community partners and professionals infuse the curriculum with their expertise, and where every learner is actively engaged in rich, inquiry-based educational experiences.
Elizabeth Partoyan (BS93) has devoted her career to envisioning such ways to reinvent our nation’s public school system. For the past two years she has launched initiatives as strategic director at the Council of Chief State School Officers, a national nonprofit comprised of public officials who head departments of education in all U.S. states and territories. Her mission was prompted by abysmal public education statistics from numerous sources, especially for poor rural and inner-city school districts: an average of only 60 to 70 percent of students graduate from high school, and of those who do graduate, 40 percent require remediation to pass a college course.
“We’ve seen that the system as designed 150 years ago based on an agrarian and factory model doesn’t work any more,” Partoyan says. “We’ve been trying to break through the mental set of what school means and look at school as a node in the learning process.”
Now Partoyan is continuing her work as vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Collaborative Communications Group, a consulting firm focused on public education and youth development. “I am working to build the capacity of an array of organizations dedicated to education and social policy innovation to improve outcomes for children and families,” she says.
In particular, Partoyan seeks a wide range of supports for students so that they can succeed. “No matter how much we try to teach young people, there are those facing struggles that will prevent them from being ready for college and career. We need to provide them with supports and infrastructures that foster learning,” she observes.
Partoyan says that her psychological services major at SESP encouraged her to be an innovator in many ways, especially because of its flexible curriculum and her practicum as a classroom facilitator for children with special needs. “SESP gave the opportunity to investigate classes and subject matter that maybe you didn’t even know you wanted to pursue, but you learned you did. My major wasn’t about fulfilling requirements, but learning my interests and running with them.”
Partoyan’s commitment to helping children has only grown since graduating. “I believe public education should be excellent for every single child,” Partoyan attests. “I can lay my head down every night and say I worked toward that vision.”
Arva Rice BS90, Human Development and Social Policy
Since graduation Arva Rice (BS90) has advocated for the civil, educational and economic rights of African Americans and underserved communities. When she became president and CEO of the New York Urban League (NYUL) in April — only the second woman ever to do so — she was thrilled at the prospect of working for civil rights in the Obama era.
But President Obama’s election has proved a double-edged sword. “Now people often say to me, ‘You have Barack Obama as the president of the United States. You’ve reached the greatest milestone that any group of people could ever have. Why do you still have issues?’ I say to them, ‘Not until every child has the educational opportunities of [his daughters] Sasha and Malia. Until then the work of the NYUL is still not done.’”
Today, Rice and her staff of 21 continue to strengthen those opportunities for children and young adults in the New York metropolitan area. “Our organization is 91 years old, and our biggest challenge still is to provide livable-wage jobs and the money and counseling support for young people to go to college,” she notes.
Top among Rice’s immediate goals for NYUL are doubling the number of scholarships for young people and creating new employment initiatives focused on health care and the green economy. In Rice’s blogs on the Huffington Post web site (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arva-rice), she discusses other subjects near and dear to her, such as the importance of retaining collective bargaining rights and providing adequate educational funding.
Before joining NYUL Rice served as executive director of Project Enterprise, which provides business loans, technical assistance and peer support to New York City entrepreneurs. In 1999 she founded Public Allies New York, a program that develops leadership skills in young people wanting to pursue jobs in the nonprofit sector. She also regularly serves as a keynote speaker and panelist for a host of companies and organizations.
Rice says that her time at SESP, where she majored in human development and social policy, gave her the perfect foundation for success in the nonprofit world. “I really enjoyed taking classes in several different disciplines, such as child development, sociology, history and political science, because it taught me that education can come from a lot of different areas,” Rice recalls. “It was also a great training ground in my life, because being a CEO of a nonprofit organization requires you to draw on a lot of different skill sets.”
Adam Case BS05, Social Policy
Just six years after graduating, Adam Case (BS05) has tackled reform efforts in not one but four major national and state organizations and offices. Today Case works as a senior adviser in the White House Office of Management and Budget. After President Obama announced plans to streamline the federal government in his last State of the Union address in March, he tasked a small team with making recommendations about the best way to structure the nation’s trade, export and competitiveness functions, giving them a 90-day timeline. Case and other team members went to work analyzing the structure of 12 export agencies and getting input from Congress, former government officials, scholars from think tanks and universities, and small and large businesses from across the country.
Such an undertaking might provoke panic for some people, but Case’s experiences leading up to this position trained him well. The summer after his junior year, Case was an intern in Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, where he was introduced to executive director Ron Huberman. When Chicago Major Richard M. Daley picked Huberman for his chief of staff, Huberman brought Case along, giving him a unique opportunity to work in Chicago government.
“It was an incredible learning experience to see the intersection of policy and politics and government in Chicago,” Case describes. “Ron was focused on city government and reform. Our first step was, ‘How do you make government in the mayor’s office perform better, push for improvement, and reward it?’ That was a challenge.”
It was just among the first, because his next move was to the struggling Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), where he assisted Huberman, who had become CTA’s president. Case launched a new division of customer communications, making large-scale innovations in publishing transit information through a variety of digital media. When Daley hired Huberman to take over as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Case accompanied him, helping him make significant budget cuts and oversee communications.
“There’s no clearer illustration of what’s working and not working in social policy than education. If we’re really serious, we see that education is critical to our economy and every social indicator of individual well-being,” Case says.
As Case confronts his newest challenge at the White House, he keeps in mind the skills he developed as an undergraduate major in social policy. “SESP research classes gave me the tools to ask the right questions and learn from the environment,” he recalls. “I think it’s critical to be a good listener. That’s something I would stress and that has been incredibly helpful in the workplace, in being a manager and in coming to good decisions.”