Fighting Poverty with Passion
Last week, I had the chance to sit in on the Cowen Institute’s first Board of Advisors convening. There was a board previously, but the new advisory board has mostly new members, and this is the first time we have had so many meaningful thought partners helping to guide the Institute’s work. The eponymous Scott Cowen gave us a little historical context for how the Institute’s role has changed; chronicling changes was our forte. Reporting on public education as a private institution gave the Cowen Institute a unique voice in the education arena. Many voices you hear from today are purchased by powerful interests; we were solicited, but we were not bought. Our research and policy work aimed to make the public aware of what was going on by stating the facts, and subsequently making recommendations to try and improve systems and processes. Due to the expansion of our programmatic work, we are now in a position to mitigate the problems we used to just report on. Our focus has shifted to Policy (awareness), and we have expanded our Reconnecting Opportunity Youth area with the Earn and Learn career pathways program, and College and Career Readiness is still going strong with our phenomenal Upward Bound program at Tulane.
Some things have stayed the same. We still put out a great yearly publication, State of Public Education in New Orleans, which gives context for the education climate as well as detailing changes over the past year. This year, the web version has even more interactive content, as well as video interviews with 16 influential political and educational leaders in New Orleans, and takeaways that show how New Orleans’ education system is unique. There’s also a timeline listing and elaborating on the changes New Orleans has gone through from the days of its very first schoolhouses in 1718 to the present day, which is a completely innovative feature comprising 115 entries of educational history.
The VISTA role has definitely evolved. As staff members left to pursue other careers, or as part of our organizational transition, my day to day work has changed to fill gaps, as well as working to build capacity in our new Institute. Looking back at the assignment description that the first VISTA, Carol Chen, left me, nearly nothing in that document is pertinent to my work now. Although I’ve assisted in ‘youth programming’ with Earn and Learn, I haven’t planned events on my own. I couldn’t help with organization building on the Organizational Development Task Force, because there hasn’t been a single meeting during my term. Many general VISTA-type activities pertaining to growing organizations hasn’t been possible for me, since Cowen Institute has had some turbulent times, and because we are embedded in the much larger institution of Tulane University.
In the past, I’ve lamented some of the transitions, and expressed concern for what is to come. Looking back at my VISTA year, I realize that change is inevitable, and necessary to progress. As we put out new work, fill in spaces with great new talent, and adopt our new vision, and evolve as an organization, I feel confident that the future is bright for the Cowen Institute.