From the Field: Simone Gordon Shares Her Experience as an Intern in the Distict of Columbia Public Schools

Working in the nation’s capital – one of the country’s most diverse and highly watched school districts – I have had the opportunity to learn and contribute to the work of managing an urban school district.  Through the Urban Educators Leadership Initiative Program (UELIP) I have spent the last three months interning in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Central Office.  It is great, as a future educator, to witness how reforms are made at the district level and then communicated and implemented at the school level.

This is an exciting time to work in DCPS – there have been a number of reforms and initiatives rolled out recently and educators all over the country anxiously await the results.  The DCPS stands in great contrast to those looking on with uncertainty; the office is vibrant, busy, and transformative.  The DCPS has a five year plan to improve public education by pursuing five academic goals:

  • Seventy percent proficiency in reading and math test scores
  • Forty percentage point increase in proficiency at the forty lowest performing schools
  • Four-year high school graduation rate of 75 percent
  • 90 Percent of students saying they like their schools
  • Increased enrollment over the next 5 years

My work on the transportation team in the Office of Special Education supports these goals by bettering access to education, resources, and assistance for special education students.  I assist in tracking and recording student eligibility for our transportation programs.  I make sure students are able to get to school on their first day.  It is my duty to work with parents, special education coordinators, and school administrators to navigate an ambiguous resource process.

Working in the DCPS has been both rewarding and eye opening.  I have explored a number of offices, projects, and programs and learned that education reform can be compared to a game of tug-of-war; there is much push and pull, from the district, to the parents, to the students and teachers.  It is challenging to navigate these demands; the district has to be innovative.

Being on the inside of this process has given me a new lens to review and challenge my own opinions on education.  This experience has changed how I define reform and what it should look like.  I will carry the knowledge I have gained and the autonomy and confidence that UELIP has given me to initiate and participate in future educational reforms.

Simone Gordon is a Colin Powell Leadership fellow (2011-2013). Read more about her and our other contributors here.

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Helping Students on the Way to College, a Fellow Learns about Herself

colin powell center college access ccny

I had the opportunity to work with the College Access Center during the year. While there I worked with high school juniors on college access and college applications through group workshops held at least twice a month. Workshop topics varied from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to theCollege Board, to finding what major is best for you. Before stepping into the doors of the Center, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to help the students or if I would be able to make them feel comfortable. While at the Center, I learned to be honest about my limits and be both flexible and relatable through conversations with students individually and as a group.

Recognizing Potential

During one special event I had the opportunity to join the 30-40 of the College Access Center’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors for two days during spring break on visits to Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College and Syracuse University.  At Syracuse, students attended classes in groups of three to five. Working in these small groups was my most memorable moment because I finally began to realize how much of an impact I had on the students.

My group attended an immigration and public policy class, where they asked questions ranging from “What is the purpose of this class?” to “What is my opinion of classes in college compared to high school?” At that point I realized I had the opportunity to help guide them. Working within that small group made me realize how outspoken they are compared to our typical interaction in bigger groups when you can’t appreciate everyone’s personality.

Learning from Students

I learned that just because they were quiet doesn’t mean they don’t have thoughts. They were thinking about why the students on this campus are taking this class and how taking this class affects the world, which they continued to be curious about when they asked the professor and me questions at the end. During that time I was able to learn more about the students and their interests, including one high school freshman who sat down and told me he wants to learn Swahili. I told him that I too want to learn the language. Another student told me that she wondered if some of the students in the class had prejudice towards immigrants and if they realized that none of our forefathers owned this land.

I learned that although a big group is sometimes necessary, it is often the smaller group that can catch your heart and make you want to help more. I want to be able to have an impact on another group and for them to become just as outspoken as the students I had. They didn’t allow their egos or their being shy to get in their way of expressing themselves; they were simply themselves fully.  What I will take from this experience is a desire to guide more students in conversations where they are able to express themselves freely. – Whitley Jackson

More on the Colin Powell Center’s college access work:
Center Fellows Reflect on the Meaning and Challenges of Service (Part I)
College Access Advocacy: the Bridge Builders Forum at John Jay College

Whitley Jackson is a Partners for Change fellow and a psychology major and English minor at City College. Read more about her and our other contributors here.

Eyes on Her Future, a Fellow Reflects on an Inspirational Trip


In October, 32 fellows of the Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Public Service traveled to Washington, D.C. There, they met with General Colin L. Powell and attended presentations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security. Afterward, fellow Emie Lomba reflected on what she learned during the trip, and how to apply it to her life. Today, she is drawing on those lessons as she prepares for a future beyond the Center.

November 2011 – The road to success is bumpy, so we have to hold on tight, develop a sense of discipline, and keep persevering. These were the words of General Colin L. Powell’s that I took to heart during our small group conversation with him. Drawing from his life stories, General Powell demonstrated that aspiring leaders have to be ambitious, open to new experiences, hungry for knowledge, and most important, humble. We must always remember, he told us, that success needs to be shared.

General Powell also talked about his ambition for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and said his commitment to it helped him through college. Throughout the meeting, he talked to all 32 of us eager students in a casual yet inspirational way. After answering questions, he ended his discussion with these words: “The man cannot wear the clothes of a child.” And that is true. Learning does not end with graduation.

A Full Day

After our meeting with General Powell and a brief visit to the Martin Luther King Memorial, we had lunch with three Colin Powell Center alumni: Jessica Pierno, who works for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in public affairs; Roy Levy, a consultant at the Center for Strategic International Studies; and Melissa Frakman, a manager at the U.S. India Business Council. The alumni told us about the hardships and the benefits of working in Washington D.C., and through their career success stories, about the importance of networking and being open to new experiences. Meeting with them made the future more tangible for me.

After lunch, we visited the Center for New American Security (CNAS). I did not expect the presentation to benefit me specifically, but the words of one alumnus came to mind: “The best thing you can do is to be open-minded to the opportunities that are presented to you.” I learned about the different backgrounds of the people who contribute to CNAS, and also the ways our different majors and interests could fit in at their organization. Afterward, even though I still did not have a clear sense of how the presentation would influence my future decisions, I have a feeling that it somehow will.

emie-lomba-powell-fellow-center colin

Revolutionary Changes

Last, but certainly not least, was our visit to the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), which I knew I was going to like. I had high expectations and CSIS delivered. Scott Aughenbaugh, a research associate and multimedia manager there, talked about the notion that policy makers must begin to take into account seven revolutions that will have a major impact on the world. These are happening in the areas of 1) population, 2) resources management, 3) technology, 4) information, 5) economics, 6) security, and 7) governance. I found these groupings interesting because they are broad, yet inclusive of many changes going on in the world. Our Center alumnus Roy Levy was there and helped answer our questions, for example, on the issue of “conflict minerals” in technological innovations. The visit to CSIS was definitely my second favorite activity of the day, after the meeting with General Powell, of course.

Despite spending five cranky hours on a bus to D.C. on Thursday, October 28 and hardly getting any sleep that night, I felt this trip was well worth it. Most important, it was also fun. Beyond hanging out with a bunch of smart and talented people and listening to all the interesting things that they had to say, this trip has given me a feeling of reassurance and influenced the ways in which I think of my goals and my path to success.

New graduate Emie Lomba, CCNY class of 2012.

Now a recent graduate of the Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Service, Emie is taking into account the lessons from the trip to Washington as she prepares for her future. Her plans are not yet set in stone, but her goals and ideas for how to attain them reflect the Center’s emphasis on building leaders who work for the common good through civic engagement and service.

May 2012 – I know I want to contribute to positive change but how was a question that I have battled with for the past year. I spent countless hours interviewing, bothering and annoying Colin Powell Center staff to try to find the answers to my problems and as usual they were very supportive…and patient. I remember being afraid. I was scared of making the wrong decisions but after some very fun and interesting outings with my fellow fellows I realized that I was not the only one who felt like this. I was very surprised to find that so many of us leaned on the Center staff for support and it was comforting to be surrounded with so many like-minded peers.

Setting Goals & Exploring Options

I am not exactly sure what I will be doing within the next year. I was accepted to Teachers College for an MA in Comparative and International Education but I am not sure if I will defer my acceptance to the Spring semester. For now, I plan to spend my summer in Gabon shadowing Ministry of Education personnel and compiling research on the Gabonese education system. I want to use the skills I learned in the Powell seminar class and with my capstone to do a policy analysis on a Gabonese education policy (not sure which one yet) and make some intelligent recommendations (hopefully). I might start teaching as well.

I have three main professional goals 1) to become a professor 2) become an education consultant and work internationally and 3) open a non-profit. Hopefully this will not end as all talk and no delivery. Wish me luck! – Emie Lomba

Emie Lomba is a former Colin Powell Leadership fellow (2010-2012). Read more about her and our other contributors here.

To stay up to date with Colin Powell Center events and the work of our fellows, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

You’re invited!

Civic Engagement in the Era of New Media: A New York Life Symposium
Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Schomburg Center (515 Malcolm X Boulevard @ 135th Street New York, NY 10031)
Register Now!

One of the most pressing questions of our time is how we can join together using social media and digital tools and content to influence public policy. Everything from revolutions to the environmentand health is shaped by how we connect, document, and change our lives. Join our interactive discussion with community organizers and practitioners in the field of new media. Learn practical tips and tools about implementing digital and social media for organizations and causes you care about. Explore the challenges to the integration of media activism and direct civic engagement. At the reception following, mingle with people from a cross-section of fields and endeavors.