In this Q&A with two Education Pioneers leaders — Melissa Wu, Chief Program Officer and Sara Guderyahn, Vice President, Partner Strategy and Engagement — we dive into why EP has launched the Impact Fellowship and its vision to accelerate educational excellence and equity for all students.
Editorial note: Melissa Wu became CEO of Education Pioneers in June 2018.
EP: Let’s dive in. What is the Impact Fellowship?
Melissa Wu (MW): The Impact Fellowship is an opportunity for aspiring changemakers to support equitable educational opportunities for all students while they grow as a leader and advance their careers — all in just 10 months. It combines a hands-on, non-teaching job placement at an education organization with leadership development training among a community of peers. It’s a program that will I believe will challenge rising leaders to grow as as an individual, as a professional, and as a leader for equity.
Sara Guderyahn (SG): For our Partner organizations, the Impact Fellowship is an extension of EP’s services to access high-potential, long-term talent with the skills that are most in demand in education. Partners can access highly diverse rising leaders with experience and skills who are supported to grow and achieve during 10 months. These organizations gain critical capacity and skills like data analysis or strategic project management to accelerate their work. It’s an efficient and cost-effective way to add significant value in service of their mission.
MW: Big picture, the Impact Fellowship is a program that we think will have a big influence on rising leaders’ careers and accelerate the impact of education organizations and the education sector.
EP: How did the Impact Fellowship come about?
SG: EP has always been committed to building the leadership pipeline in education — and we consistently improving our programs in service of that pursuit. In fact, “transformation” is one of our organizational core values.
MW: EP first offered only a Summer Fellowship program, but beginning in 2010, we’ve offered longer-term placements for Fellows, too. The Impact Fellowship is the latest evolution of that opportunity, learning from the most successful parts of our previous programs like the Analyst Fellowship and the “career track” arm of the EP Fellowship, which most recently connected talented people with permanent education roles and included leadership programming.
The career track worked for a lot of our Fellows and Partners — helping them find their dream jobs and employees — but it didn’t work at scale. So some of the structures we’re excited to incorporate include a return to time-bound opportunities and a strong focus on leadership development for our Fellows so we can provide consistent, valuable experiences to our Partners and our Fellows.
SG: We want to ensure that education organizations can get the people they need on board seamlessly. We’ve seen a high need for data experts and strategic project managers in education, and the Impact Fellowship is designed to meet those needs quickly and meaningfully so that organizations can move important initiatives forward in the short and long-term. EP has a strong history of matching the right Fellows with the right Partner opportunities, so we expect that many of our Impact Fellows will continue to serve beyond their placement.
EP: How will the Impact Fellowship help support equity in education?
MW: The Impact Fellowship is an infusion of capacity and skills for education organizations that are already leading the push for equity. More than ever, we need to work together to unravel centuries of inequity, inequality, and injustice in education. There’s so much complex data and information in education, and we need to be able to navigate it smartly and separate the signal from the noise -- all to drive action that will make meaningful change on behalf of students and communities. By identifying future leaders who are committed to transforming results, the Impact Fellowship supports education organizations so that we can create an equitable education system.
SG: I talk to our Partners daily — major school districts, charter school organizations, education nonprofits, and more —and they all want to accelerate their results. And they need people who are eager and capable of driving decisions with data, evaluating results, launching special projects, coordinating stakeholders, and managing change across teams and organizations. Finding great analysts or strategic project managers isn’t always easy in education. For our Partners to gain access to a broad, deep bench of professionals from all walks of life means that we’re able to add diverse perspectives to solve our nation’s most pressing challenges in education.
EP: How does the Impact Fellowship benefit Fellows?
MW: Our Fellows are exposed to and learn about the education sector in three key ways: through their work experience, through EP’s programming, and from their peers at different organizations and in different roles in their cohort. This can be especially transformational for someone who’s stepping into education for the first time or looking to transition within the sector. Our Fellows learn together in diverse cohorts, dive into the complex issues that have led us to where we are today in education, and build team and collaboration skills. They also reflect on their own leadership and practice skills like managing through change to become influential and skilled leaders who are ready for their next big challenge -- in education or any sector that is complicated, political, or challenging.
SG: Through their work and their programming, Fellows get to see and learn about so many different types of education organizations. They get exposure to school districts, charter schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and more through their work experience, in hearing from expert speakers during leadership development sessions, and through collaborating with their peers who are working sector-wide. The Impact Fellowship is an incredible — and incredibly unique — opportunity.
EP: Who should apply to the Impact Fellowship?
MW: If you’re committed to personal growth as a leader and if you have a few years of work experience in data or strategic project management, let’s talk about what a challenging, exciting, and essential opportunity there is in K-12 education! We’re looking for people who are committed to helping advance equity in education, and to learning and listening. The education sector doesn’t need saviors. We need people who are curious, creative thinkers, who are driven to seek solutions collaboratively, and who are ready to step in and support the high-stakes work that’s already happening.
SG: I’d add urgency here, too. We’re looking for people who want to make a difference for young people now, and who have the courage to try the Impact Fellowship, even if they aren’t 100% certain that education is the right fit for them permanently.
EP: And why should Partners get involved?
SG: If you’re looking to secure talented professionals — smart, dedicated people who are passionate about working alongside other education leaders and community members to effect meaningful change together — who have skill sets that you need on your team, reach out to your local contact. We’d love to discuss how Impact Fellows can help advance your most strategic work.
For professionals: Ready to take on the challenge and opportunity of being an Education Pioneers Impact Fellow? Apply today.
For education organizations: Looking to boost your team’s success with hard-to-find skillsets? Partner with us today.