Field Report: Carol Chen and the Cowen Institute
Putting in Work
In the past four months, a lot of changes have happened for the Cowen Institute! We’re an education think tank that’s involved in research, policy, college access, and opportunity youth reconnection. We’ve recently taken Tulane’s Upward Bound program under our wing, and we’re starting a completely new program called Reconnecting Opportunity Youth (which will lead disconnected youths through jobs and coursework to get the reconnected.)
Most exciting is that we moved from our old offices at 200 Broadway, which were about as glamorous as the former shoe store in a strip mall that it was, to 1555 Poydras right across the street from the Superdome. It’s the Tulane Medical Center building, and even have a snazzy Wikipedia page. I get to make my arduous
ten minute walk commute every day in the bright sunshine. We’re also on the seventh floor so I can even see the storm clouds rolling in sometimes. We share the seventh floor with nine other education-related organizations such as TNTP/TeachNOLA, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
The new view
In less exciting news, our AdvanceNOLA program giving high schoolers access to Advanced Placement classes is going to be completely different next year and exist in a much smaller capacity. We’ve lost funding for it through a litany of events out of our control.
Before I started at Cowen, the organization was in the midst of creating a multi-year strategic plan. The strategic plan codifies our philosophies and mission statement now that we’re no longer a “start-up” and are heading towards the stage in our growth where we’re honing in on our “key competencies.”
I’ve joined the organizational development team which meets with an outside consultant every fortnight-ish to talk about the type of structural things that I quite enjoy. Recently, we’ve covered how to conceptualize a Prezi to showcase all our different work, a complete rebranding, and creating a database of our strategic partners.
A random fun thing I did: since I’m now the person who’s de facto in charge of acquiring stuff, I ordered a spread of toiletries for our floor’s bathroom so we get some nice amenities. Nice soap and mints in the bathroom? Don’t mind if I do. Also, I got to do some minor interior design hanging up pictures and arranging the eclectic assortment of furniture we have.
My upcoming projects are going to be pretty varied. We’re currently doing a grant-funded study on the causes of disconnection among opportunity youth (kids 16-24 who are neither in school nor working.) A graduate assistant and I are helping transcribe interviews and pull out themes. Through this, I’ve heard a lot of wisdom and insight from school leaders around New Orleans.
In addition, I’m also creating a spreadsheet that tracks school changes post-Katrina. This will allow us to get a handle on how districts, grade configurations, and schools have changed over time. It’ll also let us update the giant map of New Orleans with all the schools that we have in our front lobby.
We’re hosting an open house for our funders and partners at the end of September, and I get to do a lot of event planning for that – everything from designing the invitation to updating the website. In doing a website audit, I’ve come to the realization that there’s a lot of things to update, like our list of partners – but what is a “partner”? Ah, questions…