Olivia, we’re so excited to check in with you and hear about all the great things you have been up to! 

Olivia_TFAHow did you first get involved with SEI?

I feel very fortunate to have gotten involved with SEI after my freshman year through the field study to the Dominican Republic in 2011, followed by my enrolment in ENTR 2206: Social Entrepreneurship, the South Africa Field Study Program, and ENTR 3301: Impact Investing.

We know you worked on some amazing projects throughout your time here, can you tell us what type of work you did for SEI?

Professor Shaughnessy, Esther, and Emily kindly let me take on a few different roles! Throughout the years I worked as a research associate, Editor of the SE Review, Teaching Assistant and most recently, project manager, where my responsibilities included planning and executing the capstone trip to Jamaica, planning lecture series, and supporting SEI’s other operations.

Perhaps the role most aligned to experience as a teacher now was the opportunity to lead the Biz Kids program at Orchards Gardens in the spring of 2014. The role influenced my focus on injecting business and social enterprise principles in my class whenever possible. For example, I refer to my students as my “CEOs” because I want them to feel empowered to be the boss of their own education and success. I have made a conscious effort to construct that a CEO is not just a white man in a suit, but rather someone that works hard, takes ownership of their success, and shows empathy and compassion. One of my goals this year is to impart the importance of having a hard head, and a soft heart, as SEI did for me. I’m no Professor Shaughnessy, (working on it!) but I take pride in the fact that my students would be able to tell you about social entrepreneurs such as John Wood, Muhammad Yunus, and Salman Khan!

Has it been difficult leaving Northeastern and transitioning into the working world or exciting?

Overall, exciting! I miss SEI and Boston dearly, but it’s been a very rewarding experience thus far. Not too thrilled to report that my Haley House addiction has since been replaced by Bojangles, though.

What was it like trying to find a job that was the “perfect fit” for you or how stressful/ or not was the job- hunting process? Do you think this was the right choice for you?

Honestly, I didn’t know if teaching, or picking up and moving to North Carolina would be a perfect fit or not! I applied to Teach for America under the premise that teaching in a low-income area would give me the ability to have a tangible impact each day. Luckily, I do think it was the right choice for me. Everyday I find things that I need to improve or change, but I hope that I am having a lasting impact on my students.

Can you tell us a bit about the details of your job?

I’m the proud teacher of 28 wonderful fifth graders at Newell Elementary, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Newell is a Title One school, meaning that it serves students living below the poverty line (about 90% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch). My class is primarily composed of English Language learners and students that receive special education service, and we represent over nine different countries of origin!  

What would you say the biggest challenge has been since you started teaching?

The biggest challenge has been the realization that one year of academic growth is simply not enough. Most students entered my class far below grade level, and the prospect of having to move students at least 1.5 years of growth in the remaining time is daunting, but extremely necessary if they are to be positioned for further growth in middle school. Everyday must be approached with urgency; as of now, I have 127 days left to make sure my CEOs are prepared for middle school and equipped with a growth mindset to propel them to college!

Another challenge is differentiating for the wide range of abilities and languages in my class. For example, in math, my students’ scores on their first MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress) ranged from the first to the ninety-ninth percentile. As a result, I have had to prioritize personalized learning for my students coming into my class on a first grade level, as well as the gifted students in a meaningful way. I largely rely on technology to accomplish this. Each student in my school has an Ipad, so after my lessons, students are working on their areas of growth through online math platforms such as Khan Academy, TenMarks, IXL.com, or accessing differentiated articles that I post on Google Classroom.

What would you say has been the most rewarding part of teaching?

The most rewarding part is seeing my students experience success, specifically the newcomers. Whenever one of the newcomers participates in a class wide discussion for the first time, the whole class applauded. Seeing them swell with pride, and their classmates celebrate that milestone gave me unparalleled joy. Moments like these reaffirm two major takeaways for me. One, although success may look different for everyone, I truly believe every child can experience success. Second, one of the core ideas gleaned from each of Professor Shaughnessy’s courses is that every life has equal value, and in the context of my class, you cannot write anyone off.  Would it be easier if all my students were on grade level and were proficient in English? Of course, but that doesn’t make those who aren’t any less deserving of success.

And your favourite, most fun part?

Besides bearing witness to their crazy, sometimes disgusting, but generally endearing behaviour, one of the most fun things so far has been starting a college and professional pen pal program for my students. In the first week of school, I found that most couldn’t name one college. A few emails and Facebook posts later, I had about 50 professionals and current college students sign up to correspond with my students about their goals, and expose them to different college and professional pathways. A huge segment is represented by SEI students, which was so great to see! My students are extremely excited about the project too.

Lastly, what would your advice be for students currently enrolled at NU or any other university, as they start to prepare to be a part of the workforce, etc.?

From my whopping three and a half months in the workforce, I would recommend that someone interested in a career in social enterprise at least try something in direct service. I’m very interested in education policy, but seeing how my students live has helped me empathize with them and their families, and better cater to their needs. For example, after doing parent teacher conferences in some of the homes of my students, I saw that some lacked internet access, and from then on, I have been in touch with their parents and sending home paper packets instead. Developing relationships with the people you are serving really helps inform your opinions of the macro issues that affect them. 


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