Vi Nguyen once believed that if low-income kids worked hard, they would get the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
When she was nine years old, Vi and her family emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, and Vi enrolled in Des Moines Public Schools in Iowa as an English-as-a-Second-Language student. With help and guidance from teachers and counselors, Vi thrived and went on to earn a college degree from Yale University.
“While restarting their lives at the age of 40, and working overtime at blue-collar jobs, my parents instilled in me the belief that education was my route to improve my family’s quality of life. I had a lot of help navigating the K-12 and higher education systems—from caring teachers, counselors, grants, and scholarship programs.”
But when she worked as an analyst in the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and researched Pell Grants and Federal Student Loans, Vi realized that her success story was the exception—not the norm.
“Higher education and the opportunities attached to it remained out of reach for many low-income students—they could not afford it, or they were not prepared enough to excel, or they graduated with few job prospects and strapped with loans.
“And I knew firsthand through my tutoring work at a local school that we were losing students as early as elementary school. These experiences propelled me to look for ways to apply my management and analytical skills to helping schools serve our students better.”
The EP Fellowship was the pathway Vi needed.
- Data & Analysis
- Strategy & Planning
In looking for ways into the education field, Vi chanced upon Education Pioneers. “My friends who knew of EP spoke highly of the organization and the mission. I remember thinking then, and believe it now, that EP was created for people like me—those searching for a way into the work!”
As an EP Fellow, Vi was placed with the Strategy and Institutional Intelligence Department at the City Colleges of Chicago—the district office for the seven community colleges of the city that serve 120,000 students a year.
“The organization had just rolled out a new data warehouse and initiated a new performance management system to meet the newly-minted five-year targets,” Vi says. “My manager and I monitored metrics like enrollment, credit attainment, retention, and graduation, and engaged with managers of student-facing staff on how to use data to segment and better serve our students.”
Vi found the work so powerful that she put off graduate school to stay on at City Colleges of Chicago permanently. And to those who are considering applying to an EP Fellowship or working in education, Vi has this to say:
“We need talent in every part of the school system—in the classrooms, in human resources, technology, analytics, and leadership. There are many pitfalls for children growing up, especially in low-income neighborhoods, but there are also countless opportunities for us to help them pursue a better life through education.
“Figure out what you’re good at, and make sure those are things that you enjoy doing—then join us. There is a huge need and an even bigger opportunity to reinvent how schools, students, and whole communities engage in learning. We need all the talent we can get!”