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Why I Teach for America

Last week, I saw on Facebook and Twitter that the first members of the 2011 Teach for America corps had received their offers of admission. I think that’s amazing and congratulate all the new members of the corps!

Teach for AmericaThe Opportunities Project is a supporter of Teach for America (TFA) and its mission to ensure that everyone has the right to an excellent education. Over the last few years, Teach for America has been a force to be reckoned with in college recruiting. Last year, TFA was the largest employer of Yale graduates and 18% of all seniors applied for a slot in the corps. That means powerhouse investment banks and management-consulting firms are competing with a teaching program for the top talent. Why I think that is happening is a topic for another blog post.

If you read my bio, you know I started my career as a TFA corps member, teaching fourth grade and sixth grade in Washington Heights. I had always done well in school, but my high school experience had been very disengaging to me and I had little respect for teachers. When I started college, I was in the film production program at the Newhouse School at Syracuse and was planning my career in media domination. There were lots of little decisions and big experiences during my time at Syracuse that led me from media to the public policy program at Maxwell School and then Teach for America, but the most influential was likely my first semester in college.

Before getting to Syracuse, it never occurred to me that I would have trouble fitting in or that I would feel intimidated. But I struggled my first semester. I wondered if I really deserved to attend a private college with all of these other students- someone who had never been on airplane, someone who had never been to camp, and someone who had never heard the phrase Advanced Placement. But I realized that even though I hadn’t had all those experiences, I had advantages over other students, and they were my fourth grade teacher Mr. Brodeur and my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Desrosiers at the Wood School in Fairhaven, MA. They had taught me work ethic and the belief that I could have dreams and achieve them with focused effort and resilience. Even though my high school had let me down, the marks of the good teachers I had carried forever and I wanted to return the favor to other kids like me.

My experience with Teach for America over the last thirteen years has been up and down. Back when I did the corps, there was a tenth of the support they now offer corps members and I regularly got my ass kicked by my students. (I still talk to many of them now and I love how respectful they are in pretending this wasn’t the case). And in TFA’s efforts to set and meet ambitious goals for their alumni, they established tracks for career success (principalship, teaching, elected officials, etc.) and if you weren’t on one of those narrow tracks, my experience for many years was that I didn’t belong. However, I’ve seen in the last year that’s changing, too. Unresolved issues are my mixed emotions about their expansion in this time of municipal budget cuts and teacher layoffs, and my overwhelming desire to start a Facebook group called Shut. Up. John. Legend. But neither takes away from the benefits for students that wouldn’t happen without TFA, and the power of being part of a network of 20,000 alumni who are doing their part to make things better in this country.

Teach for America is not for everyone, even if you meet their rigorous selection model. But if you think you can make changes for young people through your relentless effort and courage, I encourage you to research the program, whether you are graduating this fall or are a professional. Their next application deadline is December 17th. Any questions for this alum, send them in.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Guest Post: A Balanced Blog- A Modern Art

Keith Petri writes about blogging.Please welcome a guest post from my colleague Keith Petri. We’re doing an event next Tuesday, November 9th at 7PM on The Art of Pull: Achieving  Career Success with Blogging. Register now!

Keith Petri, the founder of eBranding Me, is a recent graduate of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. His studies in business, economics and studio art along with strong passions for marketing, technology and entrepreneurship led him to his current interest in social media and understanding of the new rules of networking. Through his prior entrepreneurial pursuits, recent blogging and extensive networking, Keith has seen the need for educating his peers on creating a positive online presence. eBranding Me is the culmination of his efforts.


Over the past year I have mentored numerous students on the importance of building an online presence. I stress the value of creating and maintaining a personal blog to display their individual expertise in a particular field of study as a method to attract potential employers involved in the industry. Still, time and time again, I hear my students say:

“What can I blog about? No one cares about what I have to say!”

Typical social media experts are known to encourage Generation Y students to post articles and insights about their past work experiences, current events and even book reviews. However, I find myself to be one of only a few counselors to encourage students to add personal experiences to their insights and publish the content on a personal, albeit professional, blog.
With the recent growth in social media, privacy has become a growing concern. And thus, the separation of a young professional’s social life and professional career has become increasingly difficult to manage – sometimes even resulting in termination due to social conduct publicized through an online social network. The horror stories many of us have heard from peers, career advisors and parents have made many Generation Y students weary of building a personal brand.I couldn’t disagree more!

“Transparency has become the new measurement for trust.”

As covered in eBranding Me’s eBook on the fundamentals of blogging, available for FREE download here, personal experiences can allow a reader to truly connect with the author and his or her experiences. The following list outlines some topics high school students, current college students and recent gradates can discuss to intrigue their blog’s visitors.

High School Students

  • Personal Hobbies
  • After School Activities
  • Community Service

College Students

  • Respond to a Guest Speaker’s Lecture
  • Summarize a Recent Classroom Discussion
  • Re-post an Assignment for Class (received feedback)

Post-Graduate

  • Attending Networking Events
  • Industry Insights
  • Adjusting to Life in the “Real-World”

While not every blog post needs to contain a personal experience or insight, allowing your readers to get to know the “real” you will allow them to connect with your writing and respect your work that much more. I believe that Alex Blackwell said it best in a blog post, “the goal becomes how to be transparent while not being excessively personal.”

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To see how Keith Petri includes personal experiences on his blog, visit and read some of his latest articles. Furthermore, he features a weekly series, published every Friday morning, highlighting the concluding week’s activities and events through text, images and video called the Weekly Wrap Up

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

My Pitch: Why Career Coaching Can Transform Education

Happy Friday! After a somewhat traumatic Thursday that involved a lot of time talking to Chase bank (don’t ask!), I am now writing from Savannah, GA. I am visiting an old friend and doing more planning for our special event on Tuesday, November 9th on Achieving Career Success through Blogging. Tickets go up again on Monday, November 1 so RSVP today!

I’ve planned a four (or is it five?) part series on Why I Do What I Do, but thought I’d start the weekend with a video aligned with the “why” question. In September, I applied for a slot in the first cohort of the Kauffman Education Ventures Program. This program is for 15 entrepreneurs who want to start for-profit, multi-million dollar education ventures, K-20. My hope for The Opportunities Project is that it eventually competes on the level of Kaplan and The Princeton Review- if you graduate and you need help getting to the next step, you would turn to The Opportunities Project for guidance, so I threw my hat in the ring.

I wasn’t ultimately chosen for the Kauffman program, and to be absolutely honest, I was relieved. I was not convinced it was going to be a fit during the pre-application process conference calls, and personally, I need the space in my life to try new things on my own. That is just too important to my personal journey now. Maybe next year. But as part of the application, I had to submit a YouTube video addressing two questions- (1) what inspired me about entrepreneurship, and (2) why I thought my venture could transform education. It was the first YouTube video I ever did and it was not exactly natural or easy filming. Even more difficult was posting it publicly and seeing users named “Maneater” favorite it. Eww. I thought about deleting the video after I found out that I was not selected, but I’ve decided to keep it up for a while. I like the reminder it gives me that it’s okay to be outside your comfort zone, especially when you care about something deeply. The second part also reminds me how passionate I am about fixing the world for our graduates.

Happy Halloween!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Lessons from the Jersey Shore from the NY Times

I’ve been dying for a reason to write about the Jersey Shore in a post in a non-cliche way and the New York Times gave me a great opportunity today. They published an article about MTV and what they’ve learned about Generation Y through their experience with this show.

Why am I dying to write about the Jersey Shore? One of the struggles I am facing in writing my career coaching blog is incorporating more of the irreverent side of my personality. Coming from a huge bureaucracy where you’re encouraged to hide every personable part of you, it’s a new experience to have creative freedom and I am still tentative with it. My personal brand “General Do-Gooder,” the big-sister type expert, is authentic, but it doesn’t capture everything about me and I’ve been looking for a great opportunity to show more of the carefree pop-culture addict in me and come off a little less earnest.

So again, why the Jersey Shore?  Last night, after working on my website for seven hours, I watched a very disappointing finale on my DVR (Pauly D- why did you decide to scream constantly this season? You were charming because you didn’t notice the cameras- go back to that!), but that episode was an anomaly. I just love this show and for many reasons. First, I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, but (most of) these people are just purely entertaining. Second, I am a veteran of share houses on Fire Island, and every now and then there will be a tender moment among the cast that reminds me of the best of those times, something I treasure, but is in my past. My friends and I were older and more educated than the Jersey Shore crowd, but get close to an ocean, see stars in the sky, be 50+ miles from your “real life,” and have too easy access to alcohol and hormones, and let’s just say, things sometimes take own course. Plus, I had an amazing friend from those days that reminds me of JWoww. She was like a sister, but I eventually had to say goodbye because she was… like JWoww. Sometimes I wonder if that then made me Snooki… and then I just don’t go there.

Third, I find the little things in this show fascinating. Gawker calls Jersey Shore the most important sociological experiment of our time, and I agree. The gender issues alone would make a great dissertation- it goes beyond the quotes they make about women and the kitchen and the girl fights. It’s how the girls/women talk about each other and accept certain behavior from the men in the house. They always refer to each other in their camera interviews as “that girl” or “this girl” instead of by name, but never talk about the men that way. I find it so strange. I know. In an episode where someone made out with two girls at once, this is what stood out to me.

In the NY Times article, MTV staff talk about lessons they learned about millenials from their Jersey Shore success. One, is that there was a shift where people went from loving the fools on The Hills to the “authentic” Jersey Shore. I don’t think it’s that simple. The Hills was authentic in its own way- you knew exactly what you were getting. The world changed in the years since The Hills debuted and everything reflects that. I see that all the time in my career coaching- people operating from a place of fear about their immediate finances and not a place of faith because of the constant anxiety the world is pushing on to them. Second, MTV really discounts the importance of likeability. On The Hills, you started with a number of likeable, if unstable, girls and then had the show circle around villains. Who wants to watch that? Also another great career lesson- when the opportunity arises for you to remain likeable, even in difficult situations, take it.

Finally, the second other important lesson MTV found was that Generation Y is family oriented and their parents are a critical part of their lives. The family aspect of the Jersey Shore was very appealing to viewers in that demo. As I work with more clients, I see that this is definitely true. More than my friends, recent graduates and students rely on their parents’ advice in their career and personal decisions. While I think that’s great, and I envy it, I struggle as a coach because there’s a fine line where your advice starts delaying your twentysomething’s adulthood. As great as it is that Vinny’s mom comes over makes them pasta, if he didn’t land this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on this show, how old do you think he would have been before he was financially supporting himself? And he is probably the cast member with the most education and skills. One of my number one questions right now is relevant to this- what is the best way for me to work with college students’ parents while getting the best coaching results with the actual client? Suggestions welcome.

I do realize I wrote three substantial paragraphs about the Jersey Shore and only two short paragraphs about lessons that I probably stretched a little. But it just felt so good! Here’s to Season Three!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Alumna in the House

Very excited about two events today!

The other 2/3 of The Opportunities Project team- Maddie and Eve- will be at the Idealist Grad School Fair today at the Puck Building in Soho. We will be having a Public Service Edition of the Cocktails and Careers Tour at Puck Bar across the street at 7:30 PM for people who want to learn more about getting into public service careers, with or without a master’s degree. The Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, where I got my MPA in public finance, is hosting the fair. I had a great education at Wagner so check our their stuff at the fair and then come talk to Maddie and Eve about what we can do for you in taking your next step in public service.

Check out the details for the Puck Bar event.

I am not attending this special stop on the Cocktails and Careers Tour because I am hosting a table at the Syracuse University SUccess in the City event tonight in midtown. One big reason I started my business for college students and recent graduates is that my experience as an undergrad at Syracuse was incredibly transformational for me. I am excited to help students and even more excited that Syracuse is giving me an opportunity to give away a coaching package to a recent college graduate at the event tonight. Even though I had a great experience at NYU, I will always primarily be an Orangewoman at heart. One look at Otto and my heart melts.

Cocktail and Career Tour Starts This Week!

I’m about to hit another first milestone in my business this week: hosting my own events! Starting September 14, 2010, I will be having a series of FREE Cocktail and Career happy hours. I really liked just talking with people at the Working NYC event we participated in this summer and want to model these events after that experience. People should feel free to come and just talk with me about any career issues they are facing over a drink at any of the four happy hours. Many of the bars where we are having these events are offering us specials and are excited to be helping people with their careers. We are also holding bar tab raffles for people who Like our Facebook page.

Setting up these events was very interesting for me. In my last job, Isomeone else set set up evnts and she was awesome at it. One thing I knew was that I was definitely NOT awesome at it, so I asked for help from one of my former students to scope out space. I taught fourth and sixth grade in Washington Heights in the late 90s and have stayed in touch with many of my former students who are now in their early 20s and pursuing their own careers. One of my amazing former sixth graders, Glendy, is now a grown-up student at Lehman College and volunteered to come out and try out places and be in some pictures to document our adventure. We saw about six bars and together we settled on The Village Pourhouse, The Copper Door Tavern, and Thunder Jackson’s (not pictured).

Here are the details on the events.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010, 4:30 to 6:30 PM @ The Village Pourhouse

982 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025

If you have a Columbia University ID and Like our Facebook page, you will be entered into a raffle to have your tab paid for the night (up to $25).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010, 4:30 to 6:30 PM @ The Copper Door Tavern

272 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010

If you have a Baruch College ID and Like our Facebook page, you will be entered into a raffle to have your tab paid for the night (up to $25).

Saturday, September 18, 2010, 1:00 to 4:00 PM @ The Copper Door Tavern

272 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010

EVERYONE who Likes our Facebook page, you will be entered into a raffle to have your tab paid for the night (up to $25).

Monday, September 20, 2010, 6:00 to 8:00 PM @ Thunder Jackson’s

169 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012

If you have a NYU College ID and Like our Facebook page, you will be entered into a raffle to have your tab paid for the night (up to $25).

Getting Ready for NACE

I’m getting ready for The Opportunities Project’s first NACE conference and am looking at the attendee list and writing down the names of people from all the colleges and service organizations who I want to meet. I am eager to talk to people both to learn about the great things they’re doing and talk about partnering. The list of people is long, as well as the list of questions I want to ask. Here are two questions that keep coming back to me.

  1. How are college career centers held accountable for the success of their services? Coming from an organization that is squarely about accountability (What is your impact on teacher and student success? How satisfied are they with your services?), I am amazed that I can’t find this easily via the internet. So far, I have only seen stats on career placement on American University’s website and only see one session on this at NACE, but I am not sure it’s going to answer my question. I am going to continue my search for data on college career center success.
  2. How do colleges design their career center websites? In my research on these websites, I have seen as much crazy, disorganized stuff as the good. No, I will not be linking to examples- I am trying to make friends!

I have more questions, but it is Memorial Day Weekend and I don’t want anyone to have to think too hard. Follow my updates from the NACE conference next week on Twitter.