As an EP Fellow, I had an incredibly transformational experience. Choosing the EP Fellowship was the right choice because it gave me a chance to turn my firmly-held beliefs about fairness and opportunity into a career. If you’re considering taking the leap -- and considering a new city to make an impact -- here’s why I think you should.
1. A little discomfort can be a great thing.
Was becoming a Fellow risky for me? Ostensibly, yes. I had a great job as a market research analyst in Austin, Texas where I worked with Fortune 100 companies on their communications and messaging campaigns. Plus, I lived in a vibrant city, biked to work, and was surrounded by friends. From the outside, you might have thought I was a little nuts to give it up.
But the thing is, I’ve seen the data. I know that in Dallas County where I went to school, of the nearly 31,000 kids who started 8th grade in 2000 (my peers), only 15% earned a degree or certificate within 6 years of high school graduation. To me, these kids aren’t numbers; they are my classmates, teammates, and friends. So breaking out of my comfort zone to try and change dismal statistics for future generations hasn’t felt risky at all. This experience has solidified for me that education is where I need to be working.
2. You might find your place where you never expected it.
In 2015, after my Fellowship, my now-fiance asked me to take one more risk: move to Kansas City, MO (which I had never visited) for her own great career opportunity in education. I took a role as Senior Analyst for Education Cities. In KC, I found rich history to appreciate, a downtown with a thriving arts district, and tree-lined streets with historic homes (one of which I proudly own and wrestle with daily). We are putting roots in a place where people are genuinely proud of all things KC -- far beyond the BBQ and sports teams we’re known for.
My Fellowship helped prepare me to take this next leap -- to another city and another organization. As a Fellow, I’d already moved to a place I didn’t expect, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Even though I knew no one personally or professionally when I arrived, moving to a new place to get my foot in the door and build a career in education was an incredible professional boost. (Plus, the thorough and intense EP application and interview process gave me confidence that I was being directed to the best place for me, and helped me continue to take professional leaps.)
The Fellowship provided an opportunity to explore, participate in, and lead all aspects of work has been an unmatched opportunity to find out what I really like and want to do.
3. You make meaningful connections with other EP leaders that are deeper than other professional relationships.
It was tremendously helpful to get to know and connect with the other Fellows in my cohort. In fact, our shared personal and professional experiences have enabled us to strip away the small talk and ask each other the hard questions right away.
In my cohort, there were two other Fellows who are doing similar work in Washington, DC and Memphis, Tennessee. When I saw them during EP convenings or other conferences, I didn’t hesitate to get right to what I’m struggling with, and they did the same.
It’s been invaluable to have a network that gets it to rely on -- both during and after the Fellowship. This work is high stakes, and it isn’t easy.
Connecting with my EP cohort was an important part of the experience as well as a perfectly timed opportunity to push pause on my work, take a breath, and talk with peers about challenges, opportunities, and successes.
Where do you want to go in your career? If you want to make a meaningful impact in this world, try education. The challenges we face in the sector are very real. But you can also play a real part in creating and advancing solutions. The outcomes of this work are unlike that in any other sector, but to be a part of them, you have to jump in.
Dan Tesfay was a 2015 Education Pioneers Fellow. He currently serves as Senior Analyst for Education Cities, a network of 31 city-based organizations in 24 cities working to improve public education, in Kansas City, MO. At Education Cities he helps organizations identify the most impactful policies, practices, and programs through data analysis. As an EP Fellow, he worked with RGV FOCUS, an Educate Texas initiative, to connect public and private partners across four counties in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas to identify barriers to student success and develop creative solutions that benefit a growing population of over 410,000 students. Dan chose to become an EP Fellow to use his analytic and research skills at an organization committed to improving education for the children who need it most.