The Future Education Leaders Network
When looking at prospective careers, many young people gravitate towards clear pipelines and trajectories, which don't always exist in the education field. In the absence of defined pathways, accessing opportunities for advancement relies on social capital, which is inequitably distributed. People of color (particularly Black and Latinx individuals) often struggle to access meaningful career opportunities and progress to positions of leadership within the White and male-led education sector.
The Future Education Leaders Network (FELN) aims to transform how young people, particularly people of color, are connected to and move through careers in education. Initiated and led by young leaders at the Rennie Center, it serves as a centralized hub where members can build connections, develop a knowledge base, and create their ideal career path.
FELN hosts bi-weekly sessions where more than 30 young professionals come together as they truly are to connect on personal and professional levels. The network includes young people in the early years of their careers as well as high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Members come from across the education sector, including classroom instruction, school administration, college advising, consulting, policy, research, and advocacy.
Earlier this month, FELN Planning Committee members Kristal Castro and Meghan Volcy talked with several FELN members currently working in different corners of the education space about their identities, career journeys, aspirations, and FELN experiences. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. The participants in the conversation are:
- Carlos Quintanilla (CQ), Director of Student Affairs at ALPFA Boston, a coaching & mentoring program
- Eric Shaw (ES), Development and Communication Specialist at Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership
- Madison Crosby (MC), a College Adviser at Charlestown High School through the College Advising Corps
- Morgan Tobin (MT), a Senior at Boston College studying elementary education who is pursuing a graduate degree next year
MV: Morgan, as your undergraduate experience comes to a close, how do you see your FELN experience supporting you as you step into your next role?
MT: I think FELN will contribute to my future. Beyond just the realization of the vast amount of opportunities out there in the education sector, I'd say that I am still hoping to be in the classroom for some part of my future. And I think it's become a lot more apparent how important it is to have a coordinated or collaborative effort between policymakers, researchers and practitioners to form realistic policy or have strategies that are attentive to pressing concerns in the classroom. I have an even greater awareness of the kind of demands on teachers and educators of color and the responsibility that I have as a white educator to be an ally and learner for my colleagues and students of color, and acknowledge that I don't have all the perspectives that everyone else has. I need to take on that sponge-like role, soak in all of these experiences, and bring that with me into the classroom.
KC: Eric, as someone who's currently working in the world of policy, a field dominated by white males, and as a white male yourself, what did you learn about your role as an ally in the world of education through your FELN experience?
ES: The network and speakers were very diverse. It's just proof that there are not only white men in this profession, and if you are in a room and look around a table and all you see are -- for me, all I see are other white men -- that's a huge failure. Moving forward, if I do find myself in those situations, I need to ask, “Who is or isn't here and why is that? Whose voices are being valued and prioritized and whose aren’t? Why?” It’s important to bring those issues up and take more of an active role in ensuring that those issues are discussed. We are all supported by our communities and other people, it's OK to ask other people to help you out. That doesn't mean that you're any less of a leader. I really want to be collaborative in my career and be OK with stepping aside when I don't necessarily have the right expertise so someone else can step forward, and hopefully they'll be compensated for that as well. I think that's important.
MV: Madison, you work in a high school supporting students’ college and career readiness. How can programs like FELN address the need to extend the pipeline into careers in education back to the high school level? How do we attract students to and support them on that path?
MC: We know that it is so important for students to see and know that there are people like them in the field of education and that that is a possibility for them. The other key part when it comes to a career in education is access. You have to have a higher education, and usually a pretty high level of it. We know why young students of color, especially low-income students, first-generation students, we know why they're not in higher education. The 4 year college application is incredibly complex. It's a process that relies heavily on social capital and on wealth, things our first-gen, low-income, students of color overwhelmingly have been systemically and historically denied. Whether it's the SAT, a family's inability to provide direct assistance due to a lack of knowledge, and countless other things, access to higher education works against these students every step of the way. We know where they're not represented. That prevents them from entering fields like education, where you need at least the bachelor's, if not the master’s, and additional licensure. We know the financial and social reasons that those students are kept out. This network of people in the field, this network of people passionate about it need to organize and use their own experiences to advocate for the changes that we know we need to see to open the doors for low-income students, students of color, and first-gen students into the field of education.
KC: Carlos, what led you to change your career and focus on working with youth and in education? What support did you find yourself needing when trying to make this change? Do you feel like you were supported through that by FELN?
CQ: I have found a deep passion in working with and coaching young people. I go to sleep at night thinking about it because I actually enjoy what I do. Specifically creating programming for young people’s educational growth is actually something that I feel fulfilled by. I get energized by people...by hearing people's stories. I'm a big storyteller. I can just talk about my background, whether it's as an immigrant or my struggles in public education, and you guys just get it because you've been through it or have heard other’s stories. That's the way I connect with people. And through this program, I've been able to hear different stories from speakers, the attendees, the participants, even the planning committee.
MV: What is the value in networks like FELN?
ES: I found that a lot of networking advice is focused on uneven power dynamics, like connecting with the professor, finding a mentor, that kind of relationship. And that is not something that I personally excel at, so I have found a lot of value in peer-to-peer networking and think that these peer-to-peer relationships can end up being, for me, more fulfilling. I can be a little more genuine in them.
MC: For me, networking is my worst nightmare, so I really love the way that you phrased that, Eric, and I'll definitely take that with me moving forward. I think Carlos touched upon this, it’s important to feel validated. I knew being a woman of color entering any workplace, that there is just so much systemically that I’m going to face. As I continue into my career, it’s important to find spaces where people get it, share common identity or common passions and you know that you have people who will support you. When I didn't have support networks like FELN and something happened to me I was like, “I don't think I can do anything or talk to anybody about it.” So, I just moved on and, looking back, that was very harmful to me. It’s critical to have spaces where people can validate, empathize, stand in solidarity.
MT: Regarding what Eric was talking about, the networking, I feel like because I'm still in school, I was intimidated coming into the network saying, “I don't have as much experience, I don't know exactly where I would fit into this.” But one of the great benefits of this network, as I mentioned before, is that gathering of policymakers, researchers, practitioners in different areas. I've grown in my own confidence about knowing things about the education sector because of having that practice and place to talk about education from different perspectives. That’s been really valuable.
KC: What would make it more impactful for you as a young leader/of color entering the world of education?
CQ: The first thing that comes to mind is for more people to know about it. That might be a way to increase the reach to bring more great candidates and people to grow this network.
ES: I'd be curious to work on career paths. Our panelists and guest speakers talked about their backgrounds and would go through how they got there. It would be interesting to do more on exactly that. It's been helpful to find out what actual jobs there are in education beyond just teachers and administrators and representatives. To understand better all of the options in between would be extremely helpful.
MC: People are doing the best they can virtually. But for me, I find it so hard to engage or actually connect in a virtual setting. So, I would just be really excited and hope that once it is safe, that there could be an in-person aspect to it. I’m really excited to see what kinds of experiences and connections that people will be able to make through FELN in-person.
FELN’s work has three guiding pillars: Connection, Education, and Action. These pillars manifest in informal community-building sessions, formal education sessions, and projects that empower members to advocate for change. We’ll be opening up applications for those who want to join the next cohort of FELN soon. Stay tuned for more details!