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Guest Post: Why I Chose Energy by Megan Atkinson

I am happy to feature a guest post from Megan Atkinson today. Megan blogs at The Life and Times of an Energy Careerist. I loved this post and thought it would be a good edition to the Why We Do What We Do series.

Here’s Megan’s post!

When people ask me why I chose to get into energy, I have a quick answer and a not-so-quick answer:

Quick answer: It’s my passion. Because I would eat, sleep, and breathe the energy industry for free if I were independently wealthy.

Not-so-quick answer: I blame my dad.

Dear old Dad. It’s all his fault.

I grew up in a household where my mother would do her motherly thing after work and run around the house doing whatever it was she needed to do – turning the lights on in every room, at every stop. Then my father would run around after her griping about the electric bills and turning them off. I came to understand the economic value of energy efficiency at a very early age but was generally disinterested.

First I wanted to be a super model, then a forensic scientist (before all the CSI, Law and Order, and NCIS shows), then a teacher. Eventually I got into high school and actually had to assess my abilities and interests before choosing a career. Because really… I couldn’t even model rubber gloves let alone clothing.

MeganatkinsonThis is when my dad really started harping on me about finding a career I love. He would always tell me, “If you can find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m sure he stole the mantra from some super wise famous guy, but it stuck with me.

First I majored in fine art. That was idiotic. I had the skill and enjoyed creating but had zero interest in having the word “starving” as part of my job title later in life.

Then it was political science and economics. That was fine and dandy, but who wants to have their financial security hang on the re-electability of some skeezy politician? Not me.

So I took a hard look at what I loved about public policy and economic theory – energy issues, how we power (literally) our economy. So I took a wind power class and it was all over from there. I knew I was made for an energy job.

I eventually decided that though I love renewable energy, energy efficiency is where I needed to be. It was recession-proof (recession-friendly, even), an emerging industry with cutting edge technology, I understood the industry jargon much more fluently than I did Spanish, and I had so much fun learning about it.

So I pursued it. The more I kept learning and doing and experiencing, the more I couldn’t wait to get a jump start on my big energy career.
My dad was right. Turning off the lights DOES save money – and having a job you love really DOES make your job feel a lot less like work and lot more like “holy crap, you mean I get paid to learn all this stuff and talk to strangers and nerd it out?!“

Why do you do what you do?

If you’d like to guest post for The Opportunities Project about Why You Do What You Do, contact us.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Guest Post: Stretching Your Comfort Zone by Amanda Pinto

I am pleased to feature a guest post today from recent graduate Amanda Pinto, a public relations professional. I met Amanda in the #jobhuntchat Twitter chat in early Fall 2010. Amanda wanted to move to NYC and I told her to look me up if she moved. In December, she did move here and we had an in-person chat over coffee at Ted & Honey in Cobble Hill and I was really impressed at her courage and conviction.

Amanda recently decided to move back to Georgia and I invited her to write a post for our readers on the lessons she learned about job searching and relocating to NYC, as well as advice for other job seekers and recruiters who are looking to hire the best of today’s recent graduates. Here’s Amanda’s post.

Amanda PintoIt’s not easy to step out of your comfort zone but often times it is what you need to find out who you truly are. I decided to make a move to New York City shortly after I graduated from college and it was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, NY didn’t work out for me job wise so I have just recently moved back to Atlanta to continue my PR job search.

In New York I learned a ton about the job hunt. First and foremost, social networking is the best tool you can have! I can’t tell you how many people I met in person because I had connected with them online first. I made very good friends through social networking as well. I even landed interviews because of Twitter!

The next lesson I learned was the fact that sometimes no matter how hard you try certain things do not work out. It’s extremely difficult not to take it personally when these things don’t work out but if I had let that get to me I would have gone crazy. Yes, at times you can blame yourself but there are other times where it is completely out of your control.

If I had any advice for people trying to recruit my age group I would say open communication is key. For me, I want to be kept up to date on where the hiring process is and not kept in the dark. I’d rather know that I’m up against this many people and that they have this amount of experience. Just tell me how it is. I feel like that is something my generation wants in this job hunt. It’s beyond frustrating when you have multiple interviews and then your contact person just falls off the face of the earth. I completely understand that they probably have many candidates but if you take the time to interview us more than once, please just let me know that you don’t want me.  I give a lot more credit to the places I applied to that gave me straightforward answers than the ones who beat around the bush.

I wouldn’t say my expectations were too high about finding a PR job in New York but I do think I should have been a little more realistic when it came to this economy. I wish I could somehow have gotten more experience in college but then again I literally did everything I could. I put myself out there countless times and I don’t regret it at all! As difficult as it is right now you won’t get anywhere if you don’t try. Therefore I know something will work out for all of us hard workers out there!

Don’t give up! Keep your passion!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


Would I Recommend Teaching as a Career?

Almost two weeks ago, Monica Ross Williams interviewed me on Reach Out Job Search Radio as a career expert. Monica was an excellent host and I really thank her for giving me the opportunity to speak with her on her show. One of the questions she asked was “Would you recommend that young people become teachers in today’s economy?” I was surprisingly floored. Strangely, no one ever asks me that question. Since I spent almost ten years recruiting teachers and principals in New York City, people generally assume that my answer to this question would be yes.

But when Monica asked me the question, I realized I couldn’t unequivocally say yes.  I wanted to give a fair and actionable answer as someone people can count on to give trustworthy advice on career options, especially if they are giving me money to do so. So I thought about it and here’s my answer: Yes, but with caveats and two pieces of pragmatic advice.

Create a back-up plan in case teaching doesn’t work out.

Would I recommend teaching as a career?When deciding on a career, everyone should think about their potential return on investment (ROI) for it. Your ROI doesn’t just include what you’ll earn as a salary against your initial education costs, but the value you put on your time. If you’re going into teaching, it should be because you believe your personal satisfaction, or your return, will be worth your investment, including all the financial, time, and emotional costs you’ll experience in preparing for and doing it.

What many people don’t understand is that the cost to become a teacher in our country is extremely high for an entry-level profession that pays little. The barrier is high because certification is expensive. In many states, certification requires at least one semester of unpaid labor in the student teaching experience and a master’s degree after a few years of teaching. It also takes more time to become a good teacher compared to other entry-level professions where the learning curve is shorter. If you go through all that …and then can’t get a teaching job or decide it’s not for you, your options may be limited as an education degree doesn’t have the same market value of a liberal arts degree. If you read the I TEACH NYC Facebook page, you’ll see that many of the recent graduates who did not find teaching jobs were forced into retail positions because they couldn’t convince other employers of the transferable value of their experience and education. Did you really spend all that money on your BA to now only be qualified to work at Forever 21 as a clerk or as your neighborhood barista? (I’m asking Justin to do some research and find more information on what education majors do besides teaching for a future blog post.)

Though our country’s private sector has recovered, it takes a while for that recovery to trickle down to the public sector in the form of taxes to support education. Consumers also don’t trust that the recovery is real so they’re not spending, affecting incoming sales tax. The fact is that no matter how you wish it to be different, districts are not hiring teachers in great numbers and I am not sure the perpetual “teacher shortage” is ever coming back. The National Association of Colleges and Employers issued a survey that found that for the class of 2010, journalism graduates were more likely to find jobs than teachers. I never expected to see data like that in my lifetime, but it’s reality.

So if you’re thinking about teaching, double major in something else you like in addition to education. That doesn’t mean that you have to pick something like accounting if you hate numbers, but something that could get you a job that pays a market-rate college graduate salary. Spend at least one of your college summers interning in that field or take a virtual internship during the school year with flexible hours. When graduation approaches, doggedly pursue teaching, but if you’re not finding anything after a reasonable amount of time, start pursuing that back-up plan. You can always pursue teaching when the economy changes.

As an aside… I think this high cost to enter the teaching profession is an important point for people who are following all the Wisconsin rhetoric to understand, even if you’re against public sector unions. Since new teachers have to work a long time at a low teacher salary to break even on what they paid to get that certificate, stability and easy entry into the job market become more essential to the livelihood of a teacher than it does for other professions. 
While there may be reasons for private sector employees to be on Scott Walker’s side, the argument that removing tenure rights will make teachers “more like us” does not hold economically. It’s more complicated than the sound bites make you believe.

Understand what teaching is and what it’s not.

Teaching is about setting high goals for your students and doing everything you can to help them meet those goals. That means instruction, as well as helping them find ways to limit the obstacles they face outside the classroom, whether it’s building up their coping and other soft skills, working with their parents, or collaborating with professional partners outside your classroom. It requires significant leadership and analytical skills. Teaching is not working with kids, or imparting your wisdom, or solving problems of social justice and if those are your main motivations, the job is not for you. Those are parts of the jobs, but they serve to support your daily mission to do things in your classroom that will make your real-life students- like my Glendy, Anthony, Kayla and Stephanie- become people in their 20s doing things that satisfy them and help them support themselves.

Before applying to a teacher certification program, go shadow a teacher that you respect for a day. Can you do this every day? Will you be able to filter all the political noise around teaching to concentrate on your students short and long-term needs?

On Monday, President Obama gave an education speech and made references to teachers’ role as nation builders. I agree with him, but inspiration is cheap (with all due respect, Mr. President). So please, be a teacher because we need smart and dedicated people like you, especially in science and special education. Just do all the hard planning work you need to do BEFORE you send in that application to the teacher certification program of your choice. As a career coach, I help people change their career directions all the time so my point is not to make you think that you’re wedded to teaching for the rest of your life because you study it. Just don’t underestimate the costs before making an initial commitment.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Q&A with Team Member Justin Mathews

The Opportunities Project Team Member Justin Mathews

The Opportunities Project has been more than just one person the last few months! I am pleased to work with Syracuse University student Justin Mathews who is working on a number of research and marketing projects with me through the beginning of May. Since joining us almost two months ago, Justin has already co-authored our first paper, The Economic Achievement Gap.

Justin and I met because we were in the same major at Syracuse University, even if we’re 14 years apart. Just a reminder to all the students and recent graduates out there that keeping in touch with your professors is an important aspect of career management. Not only can it help you find a new position, but when you’re hiring, it can provide a great pipeline of talent.

Here’s a Q&A with Justin.

What interested you in working with The Opportunities Project?

The thing that interested me most was the prospect of working with a new business and having a fundamental role in its growth. Because of this, I knew I’d be able to apply my experience in market research to the company’s benefit but also gauge my effects and turn it into a learning experience for myself.

What will you miss about college?

For me, college is a 24/7 aggregation of resources. I’ll miss having a question and finding the answer on my doorstep; I’ll miss needing late-night study company and knowing there’d be someone nearby who’d join me; I’ll miss the free student bussing; and I’ll miss the always-delicious subs from Jimmy John’s (open until 3AM every night).

What is your biggest strength that you’ll bring to our work together?

I’d say resourcefulness. I’m a big proponent of maximizing value of the tools made available to you. When I can’t find the information or help I need, I find creative alternatives that use what information I can find.

Give me a fun website or twitter account that you consult to break up your day?

Going to Syracuse University and being a member of the athletic bands has made me a huge fan of the Syracuse Orange. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician (@NunesMagician) is a blog dedicated to Syracuse fans. The author, Sean Keeley, has plenty of hilarious posts and even published a book, “How to Grow an Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Becoming a Syracuse Fan.”

Alright then. Let’s go Orange and win the Big East this weekend!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


Teach for America #TFA20 Recap and Reflections: Part II

Based on length, I am now separating my TFA posts into three parts. As a result of a conversation I’m having on another blog, I’ve decided to address something in the interest of transparency. Class and ideological assumptions about who participates in TFA and why is a prickly thing for me. Once people hear that I’m a TFA alumna, many will start talking to me as if they know what type of family I grew up in, what schools I went to or what I think politically. So you don’t have to make any assumptions, here is what you need to know: I grew up in a working class family in a Massachusetts fishing town and graduated from a high school that lost its accreditation because our building didn’t have a proper gym or library, among other reasons. Both the valedictorian and I (3rd in my class) were lucky enough to go to Syracuse University based on generous scholarships. I’ll never be a graduate of an Ivy League school and after interviewing several of them for jobs over the years, I’ve become okay with that. Politically, I am all over the map, depending on the issue.

These next reflections on the Summit focus on what I’ve called Sticky Concerns because I think if they’re not addressed, they’re going to “stick” to Teach for America’s work to meet its goal that all children will have an excellent education. Ruben Brosbe on Gotham Schools also blogged about this yesterday. Everything that follows is based on my observations, and not any conversations I’ve had with people at TFA, official or unofficial.

So my Sticky Concerns…

Our Egypt Moment, Ed Reform Assumptions, and Unions

At the Summit, there was a theme that education should become our country’s “Egypt moment.” At first, I was taken aback by the connotations of that statement, but as I’ve reflected on it, I think it’s appropriate. Schools in all types of communities are struggling and something significant and urgent needs to happen. Like most taxpayers and Americans, I have become increasingly impatient.

I think that Teach for America has the right to assume that if you chose to attend the Summit, (1) you have bought into their vision that all students deserve and MUST have the opportunity to achieve academically (and economically as adults), and (2) that collectively, we can make a difference. However, I think it’s a big leap to believe we are all in agreement on what that path looks like and this is not an insignificant assumption to make. For that reason, I had issues with the morning panel on education reform. There were people on the panel that I respect individually, but I think that featuring them together collectively was a mistake for Teach for America, especially with no alternative perspectives in the group. The fact that 80% of the panel either lead non-unionized charter schools or recently led the only two major districts that didn’t participate in the US DOE’s federal conference on Advancing Student Achievement through Labor Management Collaboration sends a message about what you need to believe if you want to participate in this Egypt moment. Having Randi Weingarten on a panel by herself at the same time that Malcolm Gladwell and Gloria Steinem are speaking doesn’t cut it as portraying that your organization is open to multiple opinions.

Personally, my opinion on labor unions has always been complicated. Here is why:

•    All four of my grandparents were union members. The three that worked for the federal and state government made important contributions to society, experienced great working conditions and retired with good pensions. My other grandmother worked her butt off for 40 years in sweatshop conditions as a member of the Ladies Garment Workers union (I speak about her on a video on my Facebook page) and died almost penniless because of a worthless pension.

•    My dad has been a union member his entire life, mostly as shop steward, and is still active as a leader. I walked my first picket line at eight years old and helped mimeograph (yes, mimeograph) materials at the union hall for my dad’s meetings. I saw first hand how my dad helped countless people who were really screwed over due to no fault of their own.

•    When I was a member of the UFT, my chapter leaders (I had three in two years) were so far up the principal or central UFT’s ass, they couldn’t be bothered with any new teacher concerns. I spent two years calling and writing letters about per-session work for which I was never compensated. I only got paid when after telling him I was giving up, my dad (unbeknownst to me) found the phone number of a high-ranking official at the UFT online and left a message for him using an AFSCME Executive Board title (a volunteer position). His message was returned in 24 hours and I had my check within ten days.

•    As a manager for over ten years, I saw the UFT defend people who they knew didn’t deserve to be teaching. I saw them ignore the concerns of a new teacher (with high student test scores) who was run out out of her school by an incompetent principal. I’ve also seen them help good teachers who were really concerned about kids, but were terrorized by poor managers.

I bring all of those experiences with me and I can’t just let them go based on a fiery speech.

One of the speakers on the morning panel spoke about how policies like LIFO (laying off teachers in seniority order) treat teachers as if they were widgets. I agree, but that’s identifying a problem, and I want to hear a good solution. There is a vague proposal that principals should make layoff decisions because they know teachers better. I’ve worked with principals in NYC for years and have seen MANY of them do wacky things when it comes to hiring and working with teachers- not here and there, but as a matter of practice. Waiting for Superman didn’t talk about how principals impact our educational problems and it was a major omission.

I don’t support LIFO. But not being in favor of an existing law is not a policy solution. If we get rid of something, what are we substituting it with? For me, accepting that there will be some collateral damage for teachers and kids if principals don’t get layoffs right is a struggle I’m having a hard time overcoming. I know too many good new teachers who I personally recruited and think it would be a travesty if their students lost them, and I can’t stop thinking of a friend and good veteran teacher who had an extremely hard time transferring because countless principals balked at her salary. I am begging for someone to show me a real plan that will be fair to teachers and provide the best results for students. My concern is that we have too many people with opinions on both sides who turn passive-aggressive when it’s time to hammer out the details of how we’re really going to help kids and the people closest to them. This is not easy at all.

Finally, I am also worried about how this rhetoric plays with our current college students. The last few years, I ran a successful intern program at the NYCDOE. It was my great pride that almost every intern was inspired by his/her experience in public education and applied to Teach for America (most were accepted). This year, not one applied. When I asked them why, they said that they don’t want to join a profession that’s so “unstable.” I felt utterly startled by that statement because all we hear is how teachers have the most secure job in the world. But it’s not only my former interns. The National Association of College and Employers interviewed some of the best and brightest college students across majors about what they’re looking for in their first job and their priority is security. If the rhetoric about education continues this way, I’m afraid it’s going to be a distraction and prevent the smartest young people we graduate from considering teaching. That will have a very real impact on students.

Is there a middle road here or am I being delusional? What do you think we should do in the name of change that works?

As a PS, one of the best classes I ever took was The History of the Teaching Profession at New York University under Lynn Gordon. If you want to know more about why our teaching corps looks like it does and how unions have been innovative and improved educational outcomes, not just working conditions, I have a great reading list. I was annoyed by Waiting for Superman’s underwhelming summary of how teachers’ unions were started because the history is so rich. If you’re interested in this, email me.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Teach for America #TFA20 Recap and Reflections: Part 1

If you’ve been been following me on Twitter recently, you know that I attended the Teach for America 20 Year Anniversary Summit. With 11,000 people at a highly programmed conference, I knew connecting with people via Twitter throughout the day would be my best bet to meet people. During the conference, close to 1,000 people tweeted the conference using the #TFA20 hashtag and every 50 tweets were exposed to about 26,000 other people on Twitter.  It’s a great testament to the power of social media to reach people with a message. Below is the tweet cloud of the most common words tweeted as part of the conference. (As a FYI, the most re-tweeted message was a quote from Joel Klein, but the tweeter spelled his name “Kline.”)

Teach for America Tweet Cloud

I can’t deny that I’ve been struggling with writing about the Summit. Teach for America always riles up emotions in me and writing about them is hard. If I wrote every thought that came to me over the last few days, it would be the length of a book so there’s been much thought on how to structure this post. Finally, I am tentative about fully discussing my views on some education issues as I have consulting clients who are school districts and charter schools and I don’t want to jeopardize those relationships. My consulting focuses on helping institutions find great teachers who are dedicated to helping students achieve at high levels, something I believe in deeply and am very good at doing. What I ultimately feel about other education issues shouldn’t matter, but it will to some.

I’ve decided to split my thoughts into two posts. The first is on Pleasant Surprises and the second will be on Sticky Concerns. If you want a summary of the Summit, you can view the official videos of the conference sessions or read a play-by-play on Norm Scott’s Ed Notes Online blog.

My pleasant surprises…

Focus on Staying in Teaching and Schools

I found there was an emphasis on staying in teaching in the messages I heard and saw at the Summit. I also took a bus from New York City with mostly younger corps and I heard about how they wanted to stay in teaching. I know Teach for America has a rap for being a resume builder for young graduates and that’s why many leave after two years, but that’s a simplistic take on a complex situation. As a career coach, I work with people who change jobs and careers every few years because it’s in their DNA and they shouldn’t be judged, whether they are a TFA alum or not.

I admire people who found teaching and have stuck with it as a long-term career because they found their passion. I only taught for two years and I have no apologies. I came to teaching with the best of intentions, and I loved working with kids, but I realized it was not my calling. I am sure it didn’t help that I did TFA back in 1997 where you were thrown in a classroom and told “See you in two years!” But ultimately the isolation, routines and structure of teaching did not make me a happy person and I knew that my strengths and talents (working with large-scale projects, for example) could be put to better use. I stayed in public education for over ten years and am confident about the good work I did, as well as the work I do today as a career coach working with college students and young professionals. I keep in touch with the kids I did teach and have helped them over the years because they were what mattered to me in the experience, not my career. That being said, I am glad more corps members want to stay teaching and feel prepared to be effective. I like that TFA is actively encouraging this, even though it’s up to each individual to decide what’s right for them.

A New Appreciation for Dave Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Deborah Bial

The Opportunities Project is about maximizing human capital and creating long-term economic success for people, especially those who face disadvantages. I founded my company because I was sick of encountering college graduates who had few tangible skills to make themselves successfully economically, but possessed unconscionable levels of student debt.

I think it’s naïve to think that college admission should be the goal of education reform when we have so much data on student debt and unemployment for recent graduates. So I was pleased to hear this message from Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg of KIPP. Both spoke about long-term student success and where our collective responsibility as educators lies. Like Dave Levin said, we have toaim higher than creating groups of smart eighth graders- no one’s going to give an 8th grader a job. We’ve broken the American promise that schools can change a young person’s life and we have to fix that. I couldn’t agree more.

I know there are people who have issues with KIPP. I am not going to take those on here. Whatever you might feel, I think that they should be celebrated for their focus on economic success as an important education outcome and not just test scores.

Deborah Bial is the President of The Posse Foundation, an organization I was only vaguely familiar with before the Summit. I heard her speak on the Ensuring Success in College and Beyond panel. She spoke about how our higher education system, especially its staggering costs, is creating a perpetual class system. I found her conviction inspiring in all her comments. My one gripe about this panel is that the moderator didn’t ask any questions about the “beyond” part of the panel’s title.

This is a non-sequiter, but right after Deborah’s opening remarks during the College and Beyond panel, I had an epiphany that I want a career that is part Wendy Kopp, part Deborah Bial and part Penelope Trunk (without all the weird personal revelations). Need to journal on that one.

The Sheer Force of 11,000 People Committed to Kids

I have a pro-union education blogger friend who I speak to quite often. He says that we probably agree on about 80% of the issues- I think it’s about 75%. However, the one thing we agree on 100% is that we want a better education system for kids in NYC, even if we don’t always agree on the same strategies we need to get there. Our agreement matters, not just the ideas. If you don’t agree with how TFA is helping to increase educational equity, you still should be impressed with their passion and energy.  I think Pedro Noguera’s tweet sums it up well.

I’ll post my Sticky Concerns tomorrow. Interestingly, I am also finally seeing Waiting for Superman tonight on a college campus. When the movie played here in the NYC area, I was in the midst of an intense entrepreneurship fellowship program and I couldn’t get to a theater before it closed. Since the movie focuses on employee performance (at least in part) I am really interested in viewing it from a wide human resources perspective so I can talk about some of the issues with the corporate human resources and recruitment professionals I work with these days. You’d be surprised what happens (or doesn’t) in corporate HR, even when they don’t work with unions.

Interested in knowing more about how the achievement gap is perpetuated after college graduation? Download our white paper on this topic and understand the facts.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Join our Career Management Webinar on Thursday

Our busy week for The Opportunities Project starts NOW!

In addition to helping people find their passion and manage a results-driven job search, I also coach and consult with clients who want to manage their current careers more effectively. For example, I’m working with a client who is very happy in his job, but has a long-term (2-3 years) goal to become an entrepreneur. We are assessing his strengths, as well as gaps, and are building a plan that will attract more success when he is ready to make the jump. You may be in the same place- wondering if you really know what your next steps are for getting what you desire in your career now and in the future.

It’s about 45 days into the new year and many of your career resolutions may have been put on hold or are going slower than expected. Let me help you speed things up. I am hosting a FREE webinar this Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 7PM on 12 Career Assessment Steps for 2011. During the webinar, I am going to review DIY tips for anyone who is in the job search mode or thinking about how they can position themselves for success for a future change or promotion. The content is aimed at people at all levels in their career, from college students and entry-level workers to experienced professionals. Among the topics we’ll discuss on the webinar are

– the importance of setting process goals vs. outcome goals
– specific steps you can take to make yourself a better professional
– tips on how to improve your online and offline networking
– how to make a career management plan that’s doable

You can register for the webinar here.

In the meantime, watch this awesome 48 second inspiring video from Box of Crayons on 11 Powerful Words to Live By in 2011 to get you motivated to recommit to any resolutions you made this year. Box of Crayons is led by Michael Bungay Steiner, author of Do More Good Work, a book I recommend on my website. In addition, here is a blog post he wrote on strategies you can use to assess and plan for 2011. We’ll touch upon related ideas in the webinar, especially how you can introduce regular reflection into your goal setting for your career.

See you on Thursday at 7PM!

If you can’t come to this event, don’t forget to check out our News and Events page for more upcoming opportunities to learn and connect!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

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

Careers and Curly Hair- What Do You Think?

A few months ago, a sorority sister who now works for the Los Angeles Times posted a question on Facebook- is anyone with curly hair willing to talk about their struggles with curly hair to one of her colleagues? I immediately volunteered. The request was posted a few weeks after I had shot my first pictures for my website. I had chosen to wear my hair natural and it had not been an easy decision for many reasons.

First, I have struggled with thick, coarse hair my entire life, just like I’ve struggled with my weight and my curves. They go together in my mind, something that sometimes makes me lack confidence in my appearance.  In my late twenties, I would drag myself to salons in Chinatown and Bay Ridge and get it blown out pin straight every weekend. In my early thirties, I decided it was a huge waste of money and time. I liked curly hair and I had never dated anyone who preferred my hair straight so what I was doing it for? If I was now leading my business and selling myself to people who wanted authenticity from their career coach, I thought I should show people who I truly am- an independent women of a certain ethnic heritage who embraces the look she feels is right for her. Right?

Second, even though I generally like my hair curly, it’s not easy to style. I rarely get it right. I either don’t use enough product, or I use too much. If I have a little more disposable cash when the next Groupon or Living Social Deal for Keratin treatments comes out, I am there, but until that time comes, I am on my own. The night before the photo shoot I washed my hair with DevaCurl, used a ton of leave-in conditioner and combed through every inch with Miss Jessie’s (expensive) Curl Crème. I put it up in clips and took them down every 30 minutes to scrunch. And then I went to bed and hoped for the best. Luckily, my hours of preparation worked and my curls survived the next day’s humidity.

(What my photographer and I should have really worried about was makeup- nothing stopped that from melting every 10 minutes. Thank God for iPhoto’s retoucher.)

Third, when I occasionally do get a blowout because straight hair is easy for a few days, I get compliments from women, especially in the workplace. I always roll my eyes in my head when these women tell me how beautiful I look because I feel like they’re projecting their own issues with their hair onto me. But maybe they were onto something. Maybe none of the strong females that I wanted to attract as a career coach would be attracted to my services because of how I wore my hair in my pictures. Maybe they wouldn’t think I was “professional” and that I had made the wrong decision after all. I believe that fear was really what prompted me to want to talk to the reporter.

A few months have passed, but the article finally came out this Sunday. After reading it, I was so pleased to be part of it and seriously impressed with the diversity of sources that Whitney Friedlander used. The research shows that I am not alone in my issues with my hair, or my belief that curly hair is great in both personal and professional situations if you wear it confidently. And over the last few months, the fear about my photo choice has also passed after I had my first paying clients. I know that my instincts were right- being myself and wearing my hair the way I wanted has been an asset. People want career coaches who are comfortable in their own skin because it makes them trustworthy and approachable.

Do you question your style decisions in your professional dress? I’d love to hear?
Tracy Brisson talks about appearance in career situations.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog