Q&A with Terrell Garrett, EP Visiting Fellowship Alumnus

Terrell Garrett, Alumni Support Program Manager at Harlem Village Academies High School, was an Education Pioneers Visiting Fellow in 2016. Of his EP experience, Terrell says, “It was a breath of fresh air and helped me feel recharged in the work that I do.” Terrell’s mission-critical work with Harlem Village Academies High School helps to support seniors to and through college.

At EP, we were thrilled to have an opportunity to support Terrell through the Visiting Fellowship, and we reached out to him to hear more about his experience.

1 | When did you first realize you wanted to work in education, and what drew you to the work?

For me, as a student, I was extremely active in student activities, and I started a mentoring program for young men of color. While I knew education was my lane, I wasn’t sure I’d pursue it  as a career. After college graduation, I joined AmeriCorps, and my service with them sparked that lightbulb that education was my passion. I went on to earn a master’s degree in higher education, and worked with the United Negro College Fund’s Gates Millennium Scholars Program, to support students from underserved communities.

At Harlem Village Academies, my work is to support our graduates to get to and through college. Often, the bottom line is seen as the number of graduates and the degrees, but people don’t always see what it takes for students to get there. It’s not just passing tests, but also addressing family, financial, emotional, and psychological aspects.

2 | What made the Education Pioneers Visiting Fellowship appealing? Were there other professional development opportunities you were considering?

I found out about Education Pioneers after finishing my master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure if it was right for me. My colleagues at Harlem Village Academies [who had participated in the EP Fellowship] were talking about their experiences, the opportunity gap programming, and the people they met. They talked about being around those types of persons in the Fellowship who helped them take to the next step. I wanted to interact and learn with individuals who share a passion for this work, and aim to solve it from a perspective and occupation that differs from my own.

3 | What did you find inspiring about your EP Fellowship experience? What did you learn or gain that made it a “breath of fresh air”?

Our Fellowship cohort was so diverse. There were people from data and technology, some people getting their PhDs in analytics and statistics, another man who was a programmer and moving back to India to meet his wife for the first time. And we all had the same passion for closing the opportunity gap and providing resources for this most deserving group of students. Our cohort was made up of people from all walks of life, but we were all there for the same purpose.

My Fellowship experience reignited my commitment to this work. While I work on a team of two, I now have a team of support behind me from the EP Fellowship. To have the opportunity to have all of those minds collaborate on how they’d approach challenges -- instead of just my mind -- reinvigorated and reminded me why I was there.

Our cohort is still in touch -- a few of us who live in Brooklyn met at a happy hour a few weeks ago, and we’re going to try and organize something else soon.

4 | You told us that you gained some specific professional benefits from the EP Visiting Fellowship, including how to talk about how Harlem Village Academies applies adaptive solutions. Can you explain more about that? What other tangible things did you learn?

EP changed me, how my mind works, and how I approach work. From the EP Fellowship, I learned more about putting systems in place to be more efficient and maximize opportunities.

Adopting the adaptive solution base framework, rather than applying a technical solution, EP encouraged me think outside the box when resolving student issues, creating solutions that not only resolve the matter, but also encourage development and growth in the student.

The work we’re taking on is students, and students have a multitude or array of issues. I learned to create frameworks and lay the groundwork for success, so that when I leave, the work continues.

5 | How did participating in the Visiting Fellowship expand your own network, and how do you plan to use the EP network in the future?

Ironically, I was on the Exchange [an online platform to connect the EP network] earlier this week, just browsing to see who’s on there. I was trying to think of people I’d connected with at different conferences, and I was surprised to see they’re EP Fellows. I’ve met EP Partners throughout this work. It’s funny how small the world is and how interconnected we are. And we all have a commonality in EP, and in the fact that we’re all working toward the same end goal for students.

Our Fellowship cohort still comes together to problem solve. Just recently, one of our cohort members created a platform, shared it with us, and asked for feedback on how to improve it. People with data and technology backgrounds weighed in and gave feedback. We’re still relying on each other.

6 | What would you say to other education leaders who are considering the EP Visiting Fellowship?

Do it. It’s a great opportunity to step outside normalcy and your comfort zone and connect with new people in unique way.

In the Fellowship, when you talk about the opportunity gap and change management, there are so many different perspectives in the room it can change your thinking for the better. It will also challenge you and frustrate you, but nothing comes out of being content or comfortable. Change comes out of struggle.

Seeing how our cohort interacted as a group on day one, and then how we interacted after going through the experience, it was night and day. There was one Fellow with a background in wealth management and finance who felt that the problem is what it is, and that there was one way to look at it. But then to discuss the difference between the achievement gap and the opportunity gap, to have those conversations, to give personal accounts of having experienced the opportunity gap firsthand -- and say, “I went through this, I know it” -- was challenging and frustrating. But that Fellow said, “thank you for being candid and honest,” and now she’ll see challenges in education differently, and operate and act differently as well.

Coming from education, a lot of things we conversed about I was somewhat familiar with. But the space that EP creates intensifies the experience and conversations, and makes them that much more meaningful.

I’m not sure how EP selects people for the Fellowship, but it was curated very well. I know that I  approach my work from a different lens now. When you’re in education, you can think the same way. You forget there’s operations, recruitment, people on the ground, people at the executive level. And sometimes it feels like no one understands you. But to have folks from different spaces come together, who are all there to create the same change -- opportunity and access for students -- is pretty powerful and motivating.

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