By Kate Hansen-Roxas, Class of 2001
Usually when I tell people what I do, I get blank stares.
“I’m the Associate Director of Network Operations at Success Academy Charter Schools!” I say.
“Come again?” they say.
So then I explain: Success Academy is a network of 22 public charter schools in New York City that serves mostly underprivileged kids in struggling neighborhoods. There are so many unique and wonderful things about the organization, but one of the best things is that teachers and administrators at the schools focus solely on teaching and learning. Everything else — policies and procedures, health and safety, reporting and compliance, implementation of tech systems, enrollment, training (really, everything else) is handled by an operations team at each school. My job, with my department’s support, is to help those operations teams figure out what to do — and how best to do it.
I never imagined that I’d end up here. I started out protesting sweatshops on the ‘Cuse Quad. But, truly, it’s not such a leap from there to here. I was fighting injustice for kids and families then, and that’s what I’m still doing — because that’s another great thing about Success Academy. We don’t just operate high-performing schools; we also advocate for education reform so that all children everywhere will have access to high-quality schooling (we’re in NYC but we share our best practices far and wide). For me, the best part so far has been finding out that just because I didn’t study education, or know when I was 12 that ed reform would be my life’s work, here I am, smack in the middle of the education world, and I love what I do.
How did I get here? Well, it was roundabout, but a common thread runs through my experiences. At Syracuse, I earned my BA in International Relations (I also served on the student government, played ultimate Frisbee, and spent a semester in Italy). Afterward, I spent five years working for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. As a nonprofit working to empower people, the organization was connected to my core interests, and it got me started in program management, a big part of what I do now. I went on to earn a Master of Public Administration from NYU. For a brief interlude, during the worst of the recession, I was front desk manager at a spa. Then I worked for a public health insurance enrollment program. That led me to Success Academy, where I started out focusing on schools’ health and medical-form issues and ended up doing so much more.
Look, I can’t play cool about it — I really love what I do. I want all Syracuse grads to feel this way about the jobs they end up with. Here’s what I can tell you about building a career: Work hard. Lay your foundation; it’s not about moving up the ladder at first. Prove yourself solid and engaged, and opportunities will come. Also, one thing will lead to another. Your experience and knowledge, whatever they are, are transferable — maybe not to every job in every way, but what you have always means something.
As far as how to land a job, here are a couple simple interview tips (I should know, because I’m in the throes of hiring for dozens of positions): Start with a firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile. These are small things, but they mean a lot. Often you’ll find yourself in a round-robin interview situation or facing a panel. Be prepared to ask each person involved a question. If you run out of job-specific questions, ask for personal perspectives: What do you think the culture of the organization is? What’s your favorite part of the job? What are the top three characteristics for success at the organization?
From my experience, it comes down to pursuing what you love; believing that your path will come clear, even if you can’t see it right now; having a sense of humor but being serious too (professionalism requires both humor and seriousness, and learning which is appropriate when); and pushing yourself to improve continually. You can do it, ‘Cusers. And if Success Academy sounds interesting to you, please check out SuccessCareers.org!
Tomorrow, April 10, Kate Hansen-Roxas ’01 will take the helm of @WorkingOrange. Follow her day at Success Academy with us!