SESP Hosts 2020 Alumni Networking Event

SESP Hosts 2020 Alumni Networking Event

SESP stairwellAfter graduation, sit down with a piece of paper for 10 minutes and write down what you did for those four years, School of Education and Social Policy alumna Tabitha Bentley (BS10) said during a virtual networking event with undergraduate students.

“Was there was a class that you loved? Write down why and do some personal reflection,” Bentley told students. “You’re getting unique opportunities at Northwestern and it will be really important to take some time to think about what just happened and what you learned, whatever that step is.”

Bentley was among 20 alumni who returned via Zoom to give School of Education and Social Policy undergraduates a chance to ask questions and learn about life at Northwestern and beyond.

During the event, students chose from several different breakout rooms, which included three or four alumni, a student host, and a SESP staff member. They discussed everything from favorite classes at Northwestern to making the transition from college to the real world.

“A career really ebbs and flows; there’s not just one thing you can do with a degree,” said Marci Goldberg, president and founder of K-12 Market Advisors, and a member of the School of Education and Social Policy's Board of Advisors. "Try different things. People go through multiple careers before they settle on one, so don’t be afraid to try something. And if it doesn't really resonate with you try something else.”

During introductions, School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio emphasized that 40 percent of the classes now offered at the School didn’t exist two years ago. The overhaul means alumni have new opportunities to be part of the curriculum, including serving as a guest speaker for a class or developing a mentoring relationship by supporting students at a practicum site.

“As a returning member of the SESP family, we really believe that family members help one another out. That's the reason you're here,” Figlio said. “We really want to make sure that our students and our forever SESP family members are connected in meaningful ways."

Read more about participating alumni:


Kwei Akuete (Social Policy/Econ95)

Akuete is a federal contractor in Washington, D.C. At Northwestern, his interests included social policy, political science and foreign languages. He also participated in a leadership program that brought these elements together by visiting and working with a community organization in Chicago. At SESP, he appreciated "the variety of classes especially the mix of interdisciplinary courses/topics. These made for a richer understanding of issues that people face; how they influence decision-making; and policy," he says. 

Can discuss: Pursuing your primary interest early and building your own unique career on that.

Pro tip: "Know what you really want to get out of your experience in consulting in the government space. Be clear so that you increase your chances of success based on your definition of success."

Let's Talk: What do you want your legacy to be?

Tabitha BentleyTabitha Bentley (Soc Pol ’10)

Bentley is director of research and policy at The Education Trust- Midwest – a nonpartisan education policy, research, and advocacy organization. She's researched and written about the past 50 years of change and commitment to cross-sector work in communities of color, and she uses her historical knowledge to inform organizational and social impact strategy. She was the first strategy director for Washtenaw County My Brother's Keeper (a collective action initiative aiming to serve boys and men of color), and has also held positions as a research facilitator, Education Pioneers Research Fellow, and teacher. Bentley, who earned her PhD in Education Policy and Master's in Public Policy from the University of Michigan, is a skilled facilitator and has consulted on school and organizational challenges such as district consolidation, racial disproportionately, complex and multi-modal data use, and innovative evaluation processes. She has written multiple articles that have appeared in sources such as Urban Education and the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Can discuss: Creating and determining what's best for your career journey.

Pro tip: "Hone your values and know who you are. Career decisions are much easier once you do," she says. "My most memorable experience was starting Promote 360 and creating a strong community that also wanted to develop in skill and serve our larger community. Ever since, I've always had a similar community around me."

Let's Talk: How are you developing relationships with the organizations and/or people you want to be connected to in your next step?

Joe BuckleyJoe Buckley (Sec. Ed/History/Poli Sci '10)

Buckley is an analyst at General Motors Co. focusing on product strategy behind the adoption of electric vehicles. At Northwestern, he was a secondary education major with a concentration in history and political science. He also captained the men's rowing team and served on the Residential College Board. After graduation, he taught social studies and held various administrative roles at a Chicago charter school. He briefly worked at an ed tech startup and returned to Northwestern for business school.

Can discuss: 1) Making mistakes in a professional setting. 2) Pivoting into roles and industries as you evolve as a learner, leader, and adult.

Pro tips: 1) Education: Spend time with children. The intellectual piece of education is important but is moot if you cannot relate to kids. 2) Automotive/Product Strategy: Constantly apply empathy for your customer. Learning happens in cycles. Keep moving between theory, practice, and reflection. Always work to bring an asset mindset.

Let's Talk: What are the biggest opportunities you see for your generation to flourish and make an impact on the world?

Nikki ForresterNikki Forrester (Sec Ed '05)

Forrester is project services director for EHS Partners Management Consulting where she manages project logistics, data management, on-going client implementation support, and more. At Northwestern, Forrester worked in the MSEd office where she met her husband Brian (MS '04). She earned a certificate in project management and completed a two-year certificate program in arts partnerships, which included internships with CAPE (Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education) as well as Lookingglass Theater. She was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority, where she served as new member educator, social chair. She also volunteered at Project Pumpkin, Campus Kitchen, and Ronald McDonald House, where she continues to give her time. She earned a master's degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and worked at the City University of New York (CUNY) to develop capacity building programs and services for high school students. Forrester called the teaching program "rigorous and practical", and said it "literally prepared me for my first year of teaching through practicum hours, student teaching, methods courses, etc. I also remember the importance that was placed on cultural contexts which I find relevant and helpful to this day."

Can discuss: Anything on students' minds. I am passionate about self-directed time management, critical thinking skills, and self-advocacy.

Pro tips: Take some courses in Microsoft Excel.

Let's Talk: Are you ok?! What a very crazy time. Hope everyone is staying safe.

Alison Fredman (Soc Pol '10)

Ali FredmanFredman uses technology, business, and innovation to increase educational opportunities for students. She completed her MBA at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business with concentrations in social entrepreneurship and finance and is now working at Outcome, an ed-tech startup focused on redefining education financing and fixing the student debt crisis. Fredman is a Teach for America alumna and has worked in secondary education administration, non-profit, and philanthropy for nearly a decade, including her MBA internship at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At Northwestern, her practicum at the KIPP Foundation in San Francisco led to her professional pursuit of education equity. She graduated with honors after completing her senior thesis "Does Stakeholder Alignment Correlate with Higher Student Performance? Evidence from KIPP Schools." She appreciated SESP's small classes "and focus on discussion because it emulated life and challenges in the real world."

Can discuss: Networking advice and pivoting from non-profit to business.

Pro tip: "There is no one correct path – be prepared to pivot your interests many times," she says.

Let's Talk: What's been your favorite SESP class?

Barry GoldbergBarry Goldberg (Sec Ed/History '05)

Goldberg was selected as a Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Public Fellow, where he is a writer and editor at the Partnership for Public Service, a D.C. nonprofit that works on government effectiveness. Originally from Long Island, New York, he studied education, history, and social policy at Northwestern and was a volunteer tutor and peer mentor. He also helped plan convocation and participated in basketball and softball intramural sports leagues. He taught high school history in Chicago after graduation and earned his PhD in 2017, publishing several academic articles and winning numerous fellowships to fund his research.

Can discuss: Pursuing a graduate degree/life after SESP; career transitions; secondary teaching.

Pro tips: Keep building your CV or resume. There's no substitute for real work experience, and it can lead you to develop skills and networks that open doors to new career opportunities. Take advantage of internships or other extracurriculars if you can. Stay active and keep doing. SESP's practicum experience and internship opportunities were helpful. They offered insights into the professional workplace and helped inform my future career decisions (both long- and short-term)."

Let's Talk: What aspect of SESP – a class, event, project or something else – are you most excited about right now?

Marci GoldbergMarci Goldberg (Sec Ed: Mathematics '91)

Goldberg is president and founder of K-12 Market Advisors and has 20 years of experience in business, technology, and K-12 education. At Northwestern, she double majored in math and secondary education and participated in Panhellenic Council and several executive boards, including Special Olympics and Pi Beta Phi. Goldberg earned an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently serves on the Board of Advisors of the School of Education and Social Policy and has held board positions with the Deerfield Education Foundation. Goldberg also has volunteered with IMPACT Grants Chicago and Compass Pro Bono. She loves getting involved with strategic planning for the elementary and high school districts in her area.

Can discuss: Trying a variety of different careers before finding the right one.

Pro tip: If you're an entrepreneur, "build your network. Your reputation is everything," she says. "Lead with integrity. Organizational change is probably the most important course or subject area to prepare you for the world of work."

Let's Talk: What is it like going to school in the COVID era?

Jan HalfJan Half (Elem Ed '75)

Half, of San Mateo, Calif., recently retired after a 40-year career in education, technology, and nonprofit management. Immediately after graduating from Northwestern, Half taught middle school in rural Leland, Ill. Her last position before retiring was the founder and director of MOUSE Squad Student Tech, for which she recruited California schools to participate in a STEM Student Tech Leadership Program and helped secure grants and donations from corporations, foundations, and individuals. At Northwestern, Half worked in the Admissions office and was interested in Women's Studies, American History, Anthropology, and Education.

Can discuss: The importance of internships and transitions between jobs in education, corporate, government, and nonprofit environments.

Let's Talk: What motivates you to study education and/or social policy?

Pro tip: "Surround yourself with people who have complimentary skills," she says. "Small seminars, a variety of school experiences, and frequent opportunities to meet with professors were all helpful in preparing for life after college,"

Austin_hunterAustin Hunter (Sec Ed: Chemistry '15)

Hunter, who taught high school chemistry for three years, is an analytical chemist for a national cannabis company, Revolution Global. He was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. He came to Northwestern planning to study chemistry, yet quickly found his way to his passion: teaching and sharing a love for chemistry via SESP. His fondest SESP memory is the love and support that he received from his advisor, Meg Kreuser. "She truly was my rock, and she always encouraged me to pursue my own truth in terms of my career and future aspirations," he says. " I owe so much of my life success to her advice and guidance."

Can discuss: Being comfortable with career transitions and diversifying career goals/ skills

Pro tip: For those pursuing teaching, be sure that you take care of your holistic health each and every day; that is the only way you can be the teacher your students need. For those pursuing a career in the lab, keep it clean, keep it organized, and put effective systems in place! 

Let's Talk: How will you care for the people you interact with, regardless of your future career?

James KellockJimmy Kellock (LOC '19)

Kellock is an incoming associate at PwC's Strategy&, a global strategy consulting business. Kellock, who is substitute teaching at his former high school during COVID, majored in learning and organizational change and economics and minored in psychology. At Northwestern, he participated in Camp Kesem and Dance Marathon. Originally from Peoria, Ill., his past jobs and internships included Saga Education, Healthbox, Nielsen, and OSF Healthcare.

Can discuss: the importance of doing a service program (TFA, Saga Education, etc.) after graduating.

Pro tip: "Always ask for help," he says. "Alumni are a great asset. I love how willing the professors are to support you when you make the effort."

Let's Talk: What is one way you think alumni can better support you as you receive your Northwestern and SESP education?

Keith LewisKeith Lewis (HDSP '85)

Lewis, a fifth-generation Texan, earned his degree in human development and social policy and is currently president of VeraSpark Consulting LLC, which specializes in leadership and team effectiveness via facilitation and executive coaching. At Northwestern, Lewis played intramural sports, was Homecoming King (1984), enjoyed being a Sargent RA, and cherished the opportunity to fill the paws of Willie the Wildcat (1981 to 1985), a gig that prepared him for life as a "professional" mascot – Benny the Bull, for the Chicago Bulls. Lewis received his MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and also graduated from Corporate Coach University. His jobs have included Leo Burnett Company (media buyer/planner), Accenture (Change Management), Dave Pelz Short Game School, and Eagle's Flight Creative Training (facilitation/simulations). Lewis has volunteered for Leadership Austin, St. Stephen's Episcopal School, and held various committee roles and chair at Temple Beth Shalom. He is the father of three "beautiful, talented, and humorous children" and has been married 25 years. His wife is a director at Citi and they successfully managed two jobs, business travel, and co- parenting responsibilities, while making many mistakes along the way.

Can discuss: leadership/personal development throughout your career and balancing work and family life in a dual income household.

Pro tip: Gain experience in your desired field by practicing over and over and getting as much feedback as you can. I did not realize how important the content of my human development classes would be in my current role as an executive coach and facilitator.

Let's Talk: What are the roles/industries you feel will be most important/critical for our nation and the world in the next 40 years?

kali_McginityKali Maginity (LOC '14)

Maginity is senior learning experience architect at Infopro Learning, where she helps corporate and government clients plan training curricula and develop web-based modules, simulations, games, and virtual instructor-led training. She studied learning and organizational change at SESP, engineering design at Segal, and business institutions at the Kapnick Center. She was also involved in marching band and Sigma Alpha Iota music sorority. "SESP teaches you more than the skills and knowledge you learn in lecture," she says. "tt allows you to develop a completely elevated mindset and inclination to be a role model and problem solver. SESP provided an opportunity to sharpen my intuition and helped me view my world as a system. This perspective gained me early recognition as a proactive, collaborate partner that my colleagues wanted on their team. SESP prepares us to go out and address the world's challenges head- on."

Can discuss: the difficulty of first jobs. "While there's a certain amount of discomfort that you might need to tolerate in order to get your foot in the door, it's important to always voice your values and know when it's time to leave a poor working environment," she says. "A toxic work culture is more likely to change you than you are to change it."

Pro tip: This is a great time to break into the training industry! Most companies are working to digitize their training in response to COVID; many are also expanding their learning assets to help cross-train employees due to workforce downsizing. The first decision is whether you'd like to work for a consulting group that support many companies vs. working in the L&D department for a single company.

Let's Talk: What opportunities do you see in our current circumstances to use your specific strengths, passions, and perspectives for the greater good?

Ethan MarkowitzEthan Markowitz (LOC '20)

Markowitz graduated from SESP this summer with a learning and organizational change concentration and is currently in the MS in Management Studies program at Kellogg School of Management. He's worked at Microsoft and Google in sales and account manager roles and will return to Google NYC next summer full time. At SESP, Markowitz appreciated the flexibility of the coursework. "I learned how to ask for what I needed academically and realized that with creativity I could design an academic experience that fit my needs."

Can discuss: Going to graduate school and/or career decisions and diverting from the traditional Northwestern paths (banking/consulting) while still seeking out the private sector.

Pro tip: "Take some analytics courses and learn to use Excel," he says. "This is often outside of the scope of most SESP courses, but it is very practical in the workplace."

Let's Talk: How is COVID-19 affecting the way you view your career decisions and potential practicum site?

Megan McPherson (LOC '15)

Meg McPhersonMcPherson is district sales manager for Toyota Motor North America in the Kansas City region. A learning and organizational change major, she also studied business and design. At Northwestern, she participated in the Happiness Club, Greek Life, and dance. She was also a student admissions counselor and a campus tour guide for three years.

Can discuss: Quality customer relations. Handling internal and external customers.

Pro tip: Learn the basics of customer relations. "I didn't know anything about automotive specifically, but I showed my willingness to learn in my interview," she says. "LOC 391 Organizational Planning & Analysis with Professor Kevin Murnane was a great introduction to consulting. Much of my job today is helping solve problems for the dealerships in my district like a consultant."

Let's Talk: What are some of the most interesting classes you are taking today (they don't have to be SESP specific)?

Anisa MianAnisa Mian (HDPS '15)

Mian recently earned her master's in public health from Columbia University and is project manager at the New York City-based non-profit Clinical Directors Network. She majored in human development and psychological services and minored in Global Health Studies. Outside of class, she spent much of her time with the Global Engagement Summit (GES) and was also part of the first year of the SESP Leadership & Programming Board.

Can discuss: Searching for professionals in your field and reaching out to request informational interviews.

Pro tip: Don't be afraid to use the resources that are around you and to try new experiences, even if you don't think it's something you are going to want to do forever! SESP􏰄s collaborative environment and network prepared me to work well on teams in professional contexts (and when I went back to school).

Let's talk: What is a change you would like to see at Northwestern, or in higher education in general?

Anya PatelAnya Patel (Soc Pol '18)

Patel works for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta as a Public Health Policy Fellow. After graduating from SESP with a degree in social policy and certificate in Civic Engagement, she earned a master's degree in public health from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. She credits SESP's emphasis on cultivating relationships between faculty and students with preparing her for graduate school and for working on her current team at the CDC. Anya was born and raised in Illinois and has worked at a number of Chicago-based organizations, including the Obama Foundation and the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.

Can discuss: Public health, health policy, health equity, program design, program evaluation, and qualitative research.

Pro tip: For students interested in pursuing a career in public health and/or health policy, get involved with community-based health organizations through volunteer or internship opportunities. These organizations truly illuminate how built environments serve to hinder or enhance healthcare delivery and access.

Let's Talk:  What topics are you studying in your courses that you find incredibly interesting and how do they relate to your future goals?

ameesha_sampatAmeesha Sampat (Soc Pol '10)

Sampat works at the Public Justice Food Project, helping build power with farmers, workers, and communities directly affected by pollution from industrial agriculture facilities to address extractive and exploitative food production, worker justice issues, and environmental justice. At Northwestern, she was on the fencing team and took a wide variety of classes, including courses on race, class and gender, literature, and psychology. "SESP allowed me to cobble together a variety of courses and think about how they might come together into a career for me," Sampat says. She studied abroad in Argentina and pursued a human rights track that led to an internship at a nonprofit in Buenos Aires. "I did my practicum at Bread for the City in Washington, D.C., and got a sense of what social services work might feel like," Sampat says. After graduation, Sampat returned to Argentina, but after working in executive-level recruitment and luxury travel, moved to D.C. and entered the world of nonprofits at the intersection of LGBTQ and immigrant rights, working in communications.

Can discuss: Not everyone knows where they want to end up – and that's okay. There are many ways to get where you want to go and there's work you will love that you don't know exists.

Pro tip: Your skills and the ability to tell a story about yourself can be more important than your concrete experience. Mastering storytelling can open doors.  Having the room to be self-directed – I distinctly remember making cases for courses to count toward my major, and that practice has served me again and again in my own work.

Let's Talk: What's your bottom line?

kathering slomanKatherine Sloman (HDPS '10)

Sloman is a family therapist and licensed professional counselor at Child Guidance Resource Centers outside Philadelphia. At Northwestern, she minored in gender studies and completed her practicum at the former Children's Hospital of Chicago (now called Lurie's Children's Hospital of Chicago) on their inpatient psychiatric unit. The experience was hugely influential for me and solidified my desire to become a therapist, something I had dreamed about since I was very young," she says. She spent her free time singing with the Significant Others a cappella group. After graduation, she earned her two master's degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. "I was grateful to not just be in a general psychology program at SESP but have a program that really specifically addressed my needs as a future therapist," she says. "My courses really prepared me, almost more than graduate school did in some ways, for the work I do now. Classes like group dynamics with professor Solomon Cytrynbaum or Adulthood and Aging with professor Gina Logan are still stuck with me 10 years later.""

Can discuss: any topic, ranging from expected salary after graduation, to ways to take care of yourself in the helping profession, to choosing the right graduate program.

Pro tip: "Learn as quickly as you can how to take care of yourself," she says. "This field is incredibly challenging, whether you are going into policy, clinical work, teaching, or something in between all of that. Good self-care is a critical skill that will serve you both personally and professionally for the rest of your life."

Let's Talk: What has been your favorite course in SESP, as well as your favorite course outside of SESP, and why?

Karen Wilber (HDPS '15)

karen wilburWilber is program director for uAspire, where she manages a team of college affordability advisors who support students of color, low income students, and/or first gen students in maintaining their financial aid. At Northwestern, she majored in Human Development and Psychological Services and completed a minor in religious studies, a certificate in civic engagement, and the SESP senior thesis. She was involved in Alternative Student Breaks and Promote 360 (a previous SESP group!). Wilber, whose mother was a Vietnamese refuge, received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship year in Vietnam after graduation. She then moved to Boston where she took a fellowship position at uAspire. 

Can discuss: the hiring process if you're interested in applying to non-profit positions. "There are some good routes to get started in either fellowship positions or regular entry- level positions," she says. "However, these can be pretty different experiences so ask around to get advice and perspective on which experience you may prefer."

Pro tip: Get support from Northwestern's Fellowship Office. "SESP is a positive and collaborative community, and just being a part of an environment like that prepared me to be successful in a nonprofit organization where the ability to create a positive environment to learn and collaborate is highly valued," she says.

Let's Talk: What's one of the best SESP classes you've taken (particularly any new ones being offered)?

Samantha Yi (Soc Pol '15)

Samantha YiYi is a second year law student at NYU Law. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Yi's academic interests at Northwestern included education policy, charter schools, K-12 program efficacy, political philosophy, and education law. She credits SESP as being "a wonderful place to be curious. I had no fear about walking into a professor's office (whether I knew them or not) and asking them about policy. The research classes were very rigorous and did a great job preparing me for the real world. I wish more people had the kind of training we did in statistics, program evaluation, and the simple skill of discerning the value of a research study." Outside of the classroom, she participated in Supplies for Dreams, Camp Kesem, and Sustained Dialogue. Samantha completed her SESP practicum with the Department of Education and also credits her experiences with PASE summer teaching corps, Heartland Alliance high school prep, and Books & Breakfast tutoring, as impacting her life beyond Northwestern.

Can discuss: Diversity and inclusion, but really happy to chat about anything!

Pro tip: Be a sponge – listen more, talk less. Take advantage of the fast-paced nature of the work to learn quickly and develop your career quickly.

Let's Talk: How can alumni help make your experience better, especially given the current state of the world?


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/20/20