Let’s Hear From an Expert: Kathy McDonald, Adult Learner Advocate

You’ve been in the field of adult learning for the last 17 years. Why is learning important, especially as we age?
Labor economists predict that by 2025, 60% of all jobs in the US will require some form of postsecondary credential, and most jobs will be disrupted by technology. Look at Panera: They have a bank of tablets to order from now; soon they will need someone to maintain that technology rather than simply take your order at the counter.

For many of us who are mid-career, we may have developed an expertise over years of working, and yet most fields are constantly changing. For instance, the marketing field has mainly moved to digital, so if you only deal in printed media, you will find your skills are less valued over time.

Seeking out learning opportunities, and at times additional certifications or other forms of credentials, demonstrates you are staying up-to-date with the trends, whether in your current field or the one you hope to enter.

 

What are the challenges and opportunities you see women facing in midlife and beyond, as they seek to continue to learn and grow?
Many times, I see people looking for the one answer, as if the clouds will part and their future will suddenly become clear. It usually doesn’t work that way. It takes the ability to try new things, meet new people, and experiment to find the breadcrumbs that begin to look like direction. If you are needing a definitive answer about your future, you might settle on something just to move forward, and miss out on a future that might have led to a calling.

 

What advice do you have for these women?
I like the idea of starting with several possible futures and conducting what author Herminia Ibarra calls mini-experiments. Try little ways to get information on whether any one of these futures is worth exploring further. For instance, you could go to the local chapter of the professional association for a future you are considering to see if the topics they discuss are interesting to you, whether you feel like you “fit” with people in that field, and whether your energy goes up when learning more about that field.

Be open to the idea that this journey is not linear. For example, let’s look at the last several moves I’ve made. I knew I wanted to focus on adult learning and thought that meant going into higher education. But I went from working for a firm that helps universities bring their programs online, to working for a small liberal arts college supporting adult learners to where I am now, with the Florida College Access Network (FCAN). FCAN is a social impact organization that works to mobilize multi-sector collaborations in communities throughout the state to level the playing field and open doors for more students, including non-traditional students. At the start, I never could have envisioned that this was my “calling” because I didn’t even know work like this existed. But through my meandering path, each step gave me more clues. Now I know I want to stay in the social impact space because it gives me the opportunity to do work that positively changes lives while supporting my own growth in the social impact space.  I really enjoy the people this work attracts, who are interested in taking on very complex, community-wide challenges.

What resources do you recommend?
My go-to guide for mid-career explorers is Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra

I also recommend Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. This book also encourages exploration and mini-experiments.

Jon Acuff’s Do Over:  Make Today the First Day of Your New Career is a funny and informative way of rethinking how you approach your career, by encouraging readers to invest in 4 things: relationships, skills, character, and hustle.

For creative types, I recommend the podcast The Accidental Creative, because Todd Henry shares some great tools and resources for those—inside and outside organizations—who need to be creative and solve interesting client challenges while remaining productive.

Other great podcasts I recommend to get you thinking in new ways are:
HBR Ideacast
Hidden Brain – they recently did a series on You 2.0 that should be of interest to your audience

I’m also a big fan of assessments to help people better understand what makes them tick. StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an obvious choice, but one that’s off the beaten path that I really like is Mind Time Maps, which helps you understand whether you are predominantly a past thinker, present thinker, or future thinker, and helps you understand how to speak to the other two.

 

Connect with Kathy McDonald
Email:  kmcdonald@floridacollegeaccess.org
Website:  FloridaCollegeAccess.org
LinkedIn

 

Kathy McDonald is the Associate Director of Network Partnerships for the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), an organization that ensures college and career readiness for under-served populations including adult learners. She is also co-author of Creating Your Life Collage:  Strategies for Solving the Work/Life Dilemma (Three Rivers Press), a book that shares work/life balance tips and strategies from nearly 1,000 women. She has delivered workshops for Fortune 500 companies including Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Accenture, and for leading conferences including Working Mother magazine’s Work/Life Congress. Kathy has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show and Fox News and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the LA Times. Prior to joining FCAN, Kathy held increasing levels of responsibility in finance and marketing at Oracle and Kraft Foods and has spent the last 17 years in talent development, helping individuals and leaders make smart choices about their career plans. She is a Certified Leadership Coach and holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

 




Let’s Hear from an Expert: Adela Mizrachi, Founder of Podcast Brunch Club

You are the Founder of the Podcast Brunch Club. What’s it all about?

The best way to describe Podcast Brunch Club (PBC) is “like a book club, but for podcasts.” Conversation and dialogue are at the heart of PBC. So, every month a theme is chosen and one member of PBC will curate a list of 3-5 podcast episodes into a listening list. The listening list is sent out via the newsletter to members worldwide. Then, people meet in smaller groups (called chapters) around the world to discuss what they heard.

We also encourage online conversations through the Facebook GroupTwitter, and by commenting on the listening list posts.

Finally, I just launched a Podcast Brunch Club podcast. Very meta, I know! The idea is to bring a variation of the PBC conversations happening around the globe directly to your earbuds. Each month, I invite a guest and we discuss that month’s listening list. Because my favorite part of PBC is the community, I’m also working on figuring out how to give PBC friends worldwide a voice on the podcast. That’s coming soon. In the meantime, you can find the PBC podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and wherever you get your podcasts.

How did this venture come about?

I am a huge podcast fan, but one day while I was listening to one of my favorites, it occurred to me how solitary podcast listening is. Much like reading a great book, you sometimes find yourself laughing out loud, crying with true empathy, or stunned by people’s (fill in the blank here: kindness, ingenuity, audacity, etc.). You’re left looking around to share it with someone only to realize that you are listening alone. For a true podcast enthusiast, you ultimately try to weave these pieces into the conversation, just for the sake of trying to connect the people you care about with the interesting content you spend so much time listening to. That is until a friend points out that the last three sentences you said started with “that’s like this one podcast I listened to….”

I was having one of those days when it hit me that a podcast club would be a great idea. I talked to a friend who agreed to be my co-founder and the very first chapter was born in Chicago. About a year later, I was talking to another friend of mine who lives in Geneva, Switzerland. She loved the idea and we decided to start another group there. I then decided to put the concept out in the world and it took off! We now have chapters in 25 cities on 4 continents and it’s growing every month.

I should also mention why “brunch” is included. The original Chicago group decided to meet once a month for brunch. Our other chapters meet when it’s convenient for them, whether that’s brunch, happy hour, coffee, etc. 

PBC Houston

How is the club organized?

We have chapters worldwide and they are open for anyone to join. Each chapter has a chapter leader who volunteers to do the on-the-ground coordination.

If a city isn’t listed and someone is willing to coordinate a chapter where they live, they can simply fill out this form and I can give them more information about what being a chapter leader means (it’s pretty easy) and I can help them launch their chapter.  We have two types of chapters: private and public. Private chapters are limited to the chapter leader’s network. Public chapters are open to anyone and are listed on the website. It’s up to the chapter leader to decide whether they’d like their chapter to be public or private. I try to make it as easy on chapter leaders as possible and I would consider quite a few of them friends even though I’ve never met them in person.

PBC Shanghai

Tell us about some of the interesting themes you’ve had in the past, and others coming up.

We’ve had such a huge range of themes over the past few years.

One of my favorites was our “Starting a Family” theme. It included episodes that talked about the wide range of ways people feel about whether or not to start a family and the lengths some will go to have one when society has made it incredibly difficult for them.

Another theme that prompted interesting discussion was “The World We’re Inheriting.” This was a very special theme because it was curated by our first-ever high school chapter. A teacher in Colorado decided to start a PBC chapter with her junior- and senior-level sociology class. They had a few lively conversations around various PBC themes over the course of the semester. Their final project was to curate the PBC listening list for January of 2017. They did an amazing job and it was so fun to partner with the students. I am hoping to start more classroom PBC chapters in the future.

In terms of upcoming PBC themes, I’m excited for all of them! Our June theme is “Creativity.” Also coming down the pike are “Climate Change,” “The Human Body,” and “Travel.”

PBC Boston

Who participates in these groups?

All sorts of people participate in the PBC groups. These days especially, I think it’s important to get people with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds to sit around a table, look each other in the eye, and talk. More than ever, we are so connected to each other, but it’s usually through the computer or our mobile devices. PBC gives people the opportunity to un-tether for a few hours once a month, sit down with people they may not have met otherwise, and discuss topics they may not have otherwise discussed.

Women in midlife and beyond are a perfect addition to any PBC conversation. The experience that they bring to the table can be very enlightening. It also provides a vibrant social network. As an adult, whether you are right out of college or in midlife, it is often very challenging to meet new people. PBC provides an opportunity for meaningful discussion with thoughtful people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

One thing I am constantly amazed by are how many wonderful people are out there. It’s so easy to hear all of the bad news coming out of the mainstream media. PBC has shown me that there are so many more wonderful people in the world than terrible people. Our NYC group is now doing potluck dinners and inviting strangers over to share in a meal and conversation. The chapter leader in Pittsburgh has started putting together music playlists to go along with our podcast listening list theme every month. A teacher in Colorado is bringing PBC to her classroom. These are just a few examples of the fabulous people I have encountered through PBC.

PBC Chicago

What are some of your favorite podcast series you might recommend?

Wow. Where to start!?!

The podcast that got me hooked was Radiolab. It’s a smart podcast that takes curiosity to the next level. And, for me, curiosity is one of the most important human traits.

I also love Invisibilia (exploring human behavior), Reply All (a show about the Internet, but not really), Sleepover (3 strangers get together to help each other with their problems), Strangers (stories about beautiful humans), The Moth (true stories told on stage, live), and Reveal (investigative reporting). I can go on and on, but I think those give a good and varied place to start.

 

Contact Adela Mizrachi at adela@podcastbrunchclub.com

Website for the club

PBC Twitter: @podcastbrunch 

Adela’s Twitter: @adelamiz

PBC Facebook Group

Adela’s Facebook

Adela Mizrachi is a curious human who is always looking for new ways to explore the world. She’s traveled all over the world, filling her passport once and living in Ethiopia for a year. Her background is international education, but she now works as a communications specialist. She describes herself as “a jack of all trades, master of none, but always trying.” Her passions include podcasts, real estate (she and her boyfriend flip houses), and travel. 




Opening an All-Girl Public School: Mary’s Story

IMG_0550A speech about the launch of a public school in New York City was the “aha” moment for Mary to bring her interests in education, children, and her city together. She and her team opened the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls in 2015, serving under-resourced, high potential, St. Louis students.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I spent my elementary school years in Jefferson City, Missouri, where my father was in state government. I went to a good public school and had something of a classic Midwestern upbringing, playing Monopoly and Kick the Can. I have an older sister, two younger sisters, and a younger brother and when I think of my childhood, I think mostly of all of them and my parents having happy, funny times.

When I was in eighth grade, we moved to Washington, D.C. as my father had been elected to the US Senate. It was a huge change for me to go from a small Midwestern town to D.C. and from a public school system to a private all-girls’ school called Holton Arms. But I was very ready for the change and for the academic rigor at my new school. I made friends quickly as the “new girl” and soon was able to take on leadership roles at Holton and loved the challenges in the classroom. During high school I was active in student government, yearbook, acting, and I loved doing my homework.

I went to Princeton as an undergraduate, majoring in religion. The four years there were full of personal growth as they are supposed to be. Overall, I’d say I was sort of tense in college about academics and social pressures, but I had plenty of fun as well. I went directly to Yale for law school after graduation, not so much because I wanted to be a lawyer, but because I wanted to continue being a student—going to class, the gym, the library. Yale Law School was a terrific place for me where I felt very much at home and ended up making my closest lifelong friends.

During a summer internship at a law firm, I met my husband Tom, who is also a lawyer. Tom and I were engaged during my third year in law school and married a few months after I graduated. We lived in Washington, D.C. and I worked for one year as a clerk for a federal judge in Baltimore and then as a junior associate at a D.C. firm called Covington & Burling, in the trusts and estates department. I enjoyed the work, but never felt as if I were totally confident in what I was doing—I suppose that is why a partner checks the work product.

Our first son, John, was born a few years into my work at Covington, at which point I began to work part time. This worked well enough—I was at the firm three days a week—but it was certainly not a partnership track. I didn’t mind that, though, and the firm was supportive enough of the arrangement.

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Our kids when they were young

My husband, who is from Minnesota, and I moved to St. Louis in early 1993 when he had a career change. We both wanted to move back to the Midwest and the timing was right. I didn’t want to practice law at that point because I could see that it wasn’t a long-term plan when I was focused on family, but I wanted to make sure that I established my “persona” in our new hometown as a working woman, so I started working right away as an Assistant Dean at Washington University. This was a big change from billing hours and being efficient to a job that involved a lot of just talking to people without a ton to show for it. I worked on freshman programming and general student advising.

Our second child was born about a year after we moved; at the time, I was working three days a week at Wash U. When she turned one, I decided to stop working altogether as the job wasn’t enough to pull me away from our two young kids. We had a third child two years later and I was a full time mom during that period, involved to some degree in the community, but mostly hanging with the kids, which I truly enjoyed.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was that internal tension of having had the education and training to be a professional and feeling like I wasn’t using it. I worked with a career counselor to explore what exactly I was looking for that would allow me to resolve this internal tension.

When our youngest started second grade, I began to teach a freshman seminar at Washington University on the Bill of Rights. This was a great gig; I had my own little fiefdom, got to think about interesting things, and only did it one semester every year. Being on campus at Wash U fulfilled my need to be out of the house, use my brain, and connect with smart young people.

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My family

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

While I was teaching at Wash U, I also was very involved at my kids’ secondary school, John Burroughs, and always enjoyed my time at school as a volunteer and a board member. I also got involved with an organization called College Bound that works with under-resourced, high achieving students. I wore a few hats there, but ultimately became their Summer Internship Coordinator. I was doing everything part-time: teaching, College Bound, boards, etc. and it started to feel both ineffective and disjointed. My kids were starting to leave for college—they are each two years apart—and I felt I needed to sink my teeth into something deeper. I loved working in education and felt pulled toward improving educational opportunities for children who did not have options or access.

My “aha” moment came during an event at Washington University that I just happened to attend. Ann Tisch, a Wash U alumnae and member of the board, gave a speech at this event. She shared the story of her founding of an all-girls’ public school in New York City that has since grown into a network of schools called the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN). I had not known that all-girls schools could be public schools and when I learned about this, I knew it merged so many things that I care about—my positive experience at Holton Arms, quality education, teenage kids, St. Louis….

I spent some time learning about the YWLN model and thinking about whether I wanted to commit the time to exploring opening such a school in St. Louis. As luck would have it, Missouri had recently (2012) passed legislation allowing for public funding of single sex schools so that was not an obstacle. I talked to my family and friends about what life would look like if I pursued this (and really, none of us could have guessed correctly). At one point, a friend of mine advised me to stop using hypothetical language and start talking about opening a school in the future tense, as if it actually were going to happen, not as if it might happen. And that’s what I did.

 

What is your next act?

hawthorn-sealMy next act is Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls. It is the first single sex public school in Missouri. We are a charter public school and all of our girls live in the city of St. Louis.

We opened in August 2015 (I was 52) with 125 6th and 7th grade girls and will add a new 6th grade each year until we are fully enrolled in 2020 with 6th through 12th grades. Nearly all of our students are African American and 75% of our students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

Hawthorn students are residents of the City of St. Louis. As a public school, we have an open admissions process. We recruit students by attending community events, hosting information sessions and open houses, media coverage on radio and newspapers, etc. Student recruitment looks very different in our second year now that we have students, parents, teachers and a program in progress to show prospective families.

Hawthorn is a college preparatory school with a particular focus on STEM. We are an affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network (the network of schools founded by Ann Tisch) and Washington University serves as our institutional sponsor.

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Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

I chose to open Hawthorn because I wanted to focus my energy on something that matters and that I enjoy. I love school and I really enjoy team building, which is a big part of what I do—building a board, building a school culture, and building relationships in the St. Louis community.

I also wanted to make sure I was fully engaged in something when my own kids all left for college so I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself. I saw that certain programs are very beneficial for kids, but that the bricks and mortar of an actual school is the best way to have real impact on a student’s growth. I was also committed to making St. Louis a better place to live, for at least a few people.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

For me the plunge was somewhat gradual. I’d been teaching and engaged in many community organizations so I wasn’t going from not working at all to working all the time. Also, the work on Hawthorn was gradual. First I pulled together a board, then we went through steps of securing affiliations, drafting the actual charter, etc. It remained part time for a few years.

The year my youngest left for college was the year I spent fully immersed in the planning stage: hiring the principal, raising funds, buying and renovating a school building, recruiting students. I could not have done that if I still had any children at home because I was committed to keeping them my priority and would not have had the time or focus that I was able to have once I became and empty nester.

We named the school Hawthorn because the hawthorn is Missouri’s state flower—a flower that blooms on a tree. The image of something beautiful growing from a strong and straight foundation is what appealed to us as an appropriate image for a girls’ school. Hawthorn trees also grow berries and thorns, which are appropriate images for teenage girls! Also, my own all-girls’ high school was called Holton Arms and I personally liked the Hawthorn-Holton connection.

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How supportive were your family and friends?

I’ve found my family and friends to be incredibly supportive of me on this journey. They asked probing questions while I was still considering whether to commit to opening the school, about whether I was ready to spend so much time working, giving up weekly walks with friends, time with my husband, etc. But once I decided to do it, everyone has been so positive. Many of my friends have volunteered at the school, given money, asked questions, and listened.

My family is amazing. My husband has adjusted really easily (at least I think) to my working more than full time. My kids are really proud, though sometimes frustrated that I’m not as accessible to them as I used to be. My parents and siblings are big supporters of the school. There is certainly an element of “Mary, you’re working too hard… this isn’t good for you…this isn’t sustainable”… and that is true. But I think I’ve worked hard to maintain relationships and still make dinner, know what’s going on in the lives of the people I love, celebrate birthdays, etc.

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With my mom and sisters

 

What challenges have you encountered?

There are many challenges related to the long days and the requirement that I stay focused; they do take their toll on relaxation and basic work/life balance, but I figure that will change down the road.

My biggest challenge is just not having enough hours in the day to take care of things—from a cracked window in the science lab to a grant proposal to a student discipline problem. As a new organization, we are in start up mode and stretched thin, so I wear many, many hats. Looking back, I would have hired an assistant to help me, and I will!

Another challenge is that I really knew nothing about urban education, public education, or running a business. The learning curve has been unbelievably steep on matters ranging from human resources to standardized testing.

As for the challenges the school faces, the biggest two are exactly what you would think: Many of the girls are very far behind academically and there are many behavior/discipline issues that take a ton of energy away from teaching.

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Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

I wouldn’t say there were times when I thought about giving up. There have been so many successes, small and big, along the way that it’s been easy to keep going—from having certain people agree to serve on the board, to having our charter approved, to successfully buying a building, to hiring an amazing principal, to having our students make academic and social/emotional gains. We have learned to celebrate the “small wins” on a daily basis with the students; this really helps keep the whole journey positive. Giving up is not an option once you have students and families counting on your school.

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What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I’ve learned that I have a greater capacity for long hours of work than I would have predicted. I’ve learned that I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I am at staying focused, that my real strength lies in bringing people together. I’ve also learned that my “casual” approach is not always effective or appropriate and that sometimes I need to put my professional hat on and leave some of the self-deprecating or uncertain demeanor behind.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife, or maybe even opening a school? What resources do you recommend?

It’s so important to build solid relationships all along the way so that when you’re ready for your next act you have people to turn to who will support you. Also, remember that while you might have chosen the work and not necessarily had to do it, that doesn’t make it a hobby or frivolous. Whatever your motivation, once you make up your mind, your work is valuable and real so don’t sell yourself short. And I would also advise women making a change in midlife to try to keep things somewhat normal or predictable for your family so that they remain supportive and not resentful.

If you’re thinking about opening a school, take time to learn about urban education before plunging in headfirst. Spend time in a lot of different schools. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do about education and trust them.

Books I recommend:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

how girls THRIVE by JoAnn Deak

Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling by Rosemary C. Salomone

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (I also like Paul Tough’s Ted Talk on the subject).

 

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What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

My next next act will be to redesign/refine my role at Hawthorn. I am very busy with the constant day-to-day tasks of getting the school up and running and too much involved in the operations of the school. What I am looking forward to is stepping away from the weeds and become more focused on the mission and future of Hawthorn and its students.

 

Contact Mary Stillman at mstillman@hawthornschool.org

Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls

Facebook

Twitter: @HawthornSTL

 




Encouraging Teens to Change the World: Yumi’s Story

YMK_PhotoAfter more than two decades in corporate and private Finance, Yumi was looking to contribute in a meaningful way outside her work and family endeavors. After much research, she founded Global Citizens Initiative, which brings teens from around the world together to find concrete ways to solve local problems—and implement these plans back in their home communities.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a 25+ year career on Wall Street (Bear, Stearns and Morgan Stanley), people may think that my path has been smooth. It was not.

 

1964_AUG_YUMI_PEABODY_TERRACEI was born in the USA, raised by Japanese parents, and blessed with a solid family foundation including two brothers. My parents—my father was a professor with a Ph.D. from Harvard—fostered in me a deep respect for education and discipline. I lived in Japan from the ages of 8 to 18 and later, 29 to 38. My personal experience of growing up in Japan and the USA, with exposure to people from around the world, has profoundly molded me. Receiving an education in two leading countries with two very different educational systems and cultures has allowed me to become bilingual, bicultural, and defines my identity.

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With my cousins in Tokyo, 1973

However, life was not always easy. I felt like I was always trying to catch up rather than feeling confident and comfortable in my studies or my peer group. My dual education opened up windows into each culture, but it also exposed blind spots. Because of this unusual background, I was bullied when I first arrived to Japan at age 8 as I did not speak Japanese fluently—and again at age 13 because I spoke English better than the teacher! As the saying goes, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered.” However, this was a type of character building and developed my “grit” for persevering through tough situations. It has also helped me gain empathy and flexibility in my approach to people and situations.

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1981, in Tokyo

As a teenager, I tried to assimilate and become American rather than to acculturate and pick the best of both cultures. It was difficult to understand what it meant to be both Japanese and American. During my youth, this confusion and lack of self-confidence in my own identity affected me. It was only as an adult that I started to embrace and appreciate both countries and cultures and find my own unique identity.

1986_MAY_YUMI_GRADUATION

College graduation, with my parents, 1986

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I founded Cook Pine Capital LLC (CPC) in 2004 with my husband, Eiichiro Kuwana (we met at business school), which leveraged both our experience in finance. At CPC, we create customized hedge fund and private equity portfolios for ultra-high net worth families. Over the years, as we gained these families’ trust and confidence is our services, they started to ask us for assistance in more intimate, family-related issues.

Around this time, I began to feel that my career in finance was not really fulfilling my heart and soul and that I wanted to do something more meaningful vs. “shuffling money” and dealing with investments. As much as it was interesting, it was not touching lives in the way I hoped to. As I was consulting with wealthy families through Cook Pine Solutions, LLC, I thought, they can use my help but they can actually get anyone’s help. I wanted to help others too without such means, including economically disadvantaged kids.

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Marrying Eiich

 

What is your next act?

GCI_Logo_2My next act is to engage, educate and empower our next-generation teens to be globally conscious and competent citizens by educating them and encouraging them to become change agents. This is done via my social education enterprise and nonprofit organization, the Global Citizens Initiative (GCI). GCI’s mission is to globalize education, mobilize youth into action and create an ecosystem to nurture our next generation of globally minded citizens to lead our world in hopes for a better and more peaceful world.

Our flagship program is our yearly summer GCI Youth Summit (GCYS), where 24 high-caliber students (called scholars) from around the world, ages 16 to 19, gather together in the US for 9 days of engaging lectures and activities. Upon arrival, they participate in an Outward Bound program that helps to break down barriers and build trust, then take part in small academic classes led by Phillips Exeter faculty, on the topics of engagement, ethics, excellence, and leadership. The format of these classes is based on the Harkness pedagogy of discussing issues on engagement, ethics, excellence, and leadership around a table, with 12 scholars and a faculty member. Lunch is with faculty or peers, followed by exploration time, service projects, and thought-leader lectures and discussions led mostly by Harvard faculty. It is a very high-touch program and truly transformative in nature as our scholars create lifelong friendships.

Scholars participating in Outward Bound

Scholars participating in Outward Bound

Faculty have included Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, expert on global leadership; Howard Gardner, founding father of multiple intelligences; Jack Meyer, founding partner of Convexity Capital; Maggie Hassan, Governor of New Hampshire. They all contribute pro bono.

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Jack Meyer of Convexity Capital speaking to our Scholars, 2014

The Summit emphasizes a “glocal” approach: Think global, act local. Each scholar identifies a pressing issue in the area of equity, education, or environment (the 3 E’s), identifies a solution in their home community while collaborating with their teammates, and formulates a plan of action around their idea, one that can be implemented back home in the next nine months. The program culminates with student presentations of these plans.

We are nurturing our scholars to take action and be a change agent when they return home. All 24 scholars are matched with business professionals, including mentors from McKinsey, BCG, and the private equity/hedge fund world. These mentors guide them through the implementation of their local service project.

We rely on our network of over 300 heads of schools and educators around the world to recruit scholars. Tuition is $5,500 but there is financial aid available for applicants, on a need basis. I appeal to my community, including family, friends, and the network I’ve developed through my career in finance, for funds to pay for scholarships for the economically disadvantaged.

Our Youth Summits are hosted at the Harvard Faculty Club, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and our 2015 session included students from Afghanistan, India, China, Rwanda, Somalia, Belgium, Japan, and the United States. We really try to identify each and every scholar’s personal talent and passion and filter that through to their projects. Our goal is to encourage our scholars to believe in themselves and know that their actions will make a difference.

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With our Scholars, from all over the world

Watch these 3-minute videos to see our youths in action:

The Summit is rewarding to me as it is truly touching teen lives around the world by giving them a chance to interact with other teens they would otherwise not have met, expose them to thought leaders and experts, and provide them with unique opportunities to make a mark in this world. I also love getting to know them and I learn so much from them; they give me new energy and inspiration. Having three teenagers myself, I have a deep desire to nurture them as global citizens.

GCI is also meaningful to me because the rewards of helping others are so much greater than helping myself. I receive so much joy and happiness by helping young leaders. I feel that GCI is my legacy and contribution to this world and it touches my soul. This project is a culmination of all my experiences put together: My path until now (mother, finance, education) is all coming together into one mission through GCI. This is truly my passion, my calling in life, and I feel I am moving from greatness to significance through this journey. However, there is so much more I need to learn as I evolve and become a better person.

Here are a couple of examples of GCI scholars who are having an impact back home through our program:

Karishma from Kenya is working on an affordable water filter (under $10) to provide clean water to her Mombasa, Kenya community. She has filed a national patent with the assistance of GCI and we are now working on an international patent together.

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Karishma’s project

Krissy from New Hampshire has created a nonprofit organization, “Solar for Our Superheroes,” where she provides the superheroes (local civic citizens, i.e firemen, teachers, and policemen) with a solar panel. This will allow for these superheroes to save energy and pay less on their electric bills. Good for all: Save the environment and save money for the superheroes.

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Krissy’s project

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

While it was not hard to take the plunge, it was an interesting journey to get to the launch stage of GCI: A seed planted in my mind, lots of research, then the support and encouragement of many mentors. It took more than two years for me to launch GCI, which was approved as a nonprofit in April, 2014, when I was 50.

GCI came about after I heard this concern from some of the wealthy families I was advising at Cook Pine Capital: “How can we nurture our kids to be bilingual and bicultural kids?” Given my own experience, both personally and as a mother raising three multi-cultural kids, I decided to delve into this issue, ultimately researching and writing a discussion paper about raising “Our Next Generation Global Citizens.” This work benefitted from the input and support from academics and thought leaders including those from Harvard Business School, Harvard School of Education, Harvard College, Phillips Exeter Academy, Hackley School, and my communities in Tokyo and the greater New York area. I loved researching this topic, both for myself and to be able to share my new knowledge with others who will find it useful, mostly parents.

I also sought out mentors and advisors for further learning and attended the Think Tank on Global Education and Future of Learning (FOL) Conference at the Harvard School of Education.

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With my senior advisors Ms. Mary Catherine Conroy and Mr. Thomas Hayden, plus Ms. Shino Matsumoto (Y-Sapix, Japan Sponsor and Collaborative Partner)

My in-depth research—and encouragement to take action on that research—inspired me to launch GCI in order to share my knowledge and put the research into action. My resulting proprietary Global Citizens Roadmap is a framework to assist parents as they nurture their children for the 21st century; it is a guide to raising kids intentionally in our globalized world. Emphasis is placed on the importance of family as a foundation. I feel blessed to have the support and guidance of my family, friends and mentors as I continue to research this field of global education with emphasis on family, language acquisition, cultural sensitively and character development.

 

What challenges have you encountered?

There are so many challenges as a start-up:

  • Money factors and fundraising (I hate asking for money)
  • Without much funding, I have to do most of the work, so I am working on this 24/7 (I finally have been able to hire a full time person, which is helping a lot)
  • Organizing and running a Summit is all new to me so I am learning on the job

After our first Youth Summit in the summer of 2014, I was over-exhausted and stuck in bed for two weeks. I thought, can I do this again?

The psychic value and rewards of empowering youth and making a difference to their lives has kept me going. Also, a very supportive husband and my three kids, now ages 19, 18, and 15.

They are my treasure and my life. Family and friends also give me valuable input, moral support, and donations. And my mother especially is a pillar in this project: She passed away three years ago but gave me the strength and might to get this far; she said “have a dream, dream big and follow that dream.” This is my passion and dream!

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What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I’ve learned that I have perseverance/grit and an addictive personality.

My experience in start-ups—I helped start Giftken.com, the Japanese branch of GiftCertificate.com, during the Internet bubble—showed me that start-ups require 150% of one’s focus and attention. The project becomes a huge part of one’s life in order to be successful. This experience was a good foundation to GCI.

To get GCI to its current level has required me to be persistent and not take no as an answer. It has required grit and perseverance to come through on things. There are many days where I am focused 100% on GCI and do not sleep much. It really requires full dedication and passion as money cannot really motivate one to take it to this level. It requires the heart to be involved and a collaborative team. I am a micro-manager and like to be involved in every detail of GCI. However, I have been learning that it is time to delegate by hiring more members and creating a supportive team to move forward. The magic happens when we are able to tap into each team member’s “slice of genius” and combine this to create the “collective genius,” as my professor and mentor Linda Hill states often.

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What advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife or who might be interested in starting a nonprofit?

There is good value in thinking carefully and planning. However, sometimes you just need to get going and do something and this will evolve over time. You may not have the perfect job or work at the beginning but over time (including some reflection time) you will be able to identify something that touches your heart and you are passionate about. However, you need to stick with your gut and remember to not ignore that “sixth sense” that can be more important than your rational side. Women have a strong sense of gut feel but oftentimes ignore this, but we need to listen to that inner voice carefully.

If you are thinking of starting a nonprofit, talk to others who have done so and do a lot of research. Then find a good accountant and lawyer. Make sure to get some of the funding and backing first before you launch. And while any start-up requires an engine and leader to bring the idea forward, it then also requires a transition; that leader must collaborate and delegate tasks in order to make an organization sustainable in the longer run. This transition is tricky. In addition, the biggest success factor in any organization is the human capital. It’s all in the execution!

 Listening carefully to Jack

What resources do you recommend?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Howard Gardner’s website and YouTube video: 8 for 8 

Multiple Intelligences Around the World by Jie-Qui Chen, Seana Moran, and Howard Gardner

Wealth in Families by Charles W. Collier

Robin Sharma’s blog: The 8 Forms of Wealth 

For empowering change: Changemakers

 

What about resources focused on women reinventing themselves in midlife?

Myra Hart’s resources and this case study in particular: Professional Career Reentry

iRelaunch

McKinsey Resources

 

What’s next for you?

The long-term goal is to create a global citizenship curriculum and share this with schools around the world but also to create an ecosystem of global citizens including a virtual platform. We think 24 is a very good number for one session of the GCI Youth Summit but we will most likely expand the number of sessions to other parts of the USA and around the globe. In addition, we are considering reunions and increasing our age group to include college students down the road, as we are all about empowering teens.

 

Contact Yumi M. Kuwana at ykuwana@globalci.org

Global Citizens Initiative

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For those parents who have talented children interested in engaging with other teens from around the world, encourage them to apply to our annual Global Youth Summit.

For those interested in becoming a possible strategic partner or advisor, kindly reach out to me via email.

For schools interested global education and becoming a possible strategic partner school, kindly email us at info@globalci.org.

For those interested in becoming mentors to our high caliber scholars who are nurtured to be change agents, kindly email us with your background at info@globalci.org.




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Liz Brown Writes About Leaving the Legal Profession

brown_lizsquareYou have published a book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have. Tell us more about the problem you are trying to solve.

I wanted to make it easier for unhappy lawyers to figure out what they want to do next and how to make that transition successfully. The legal profession traditionally has been hostile to career changers. When I started thinking about leaving the law, I worried that everyone would see me as a failure. I worried that I was, in fact, a failure. The more I talked with people outside of law firms, however, the more examples I found of happy people who had left the law to do a fascinating range of different things, from becoming nurses to novelists to rabbis to angel investors to therapists. I wrote Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have to give more people the courage to leave unsatisfying careers, to showcase role models for doing so, and to provide a “how to” kit based on their experience and my own.

 

You write about both men and women. How are female lawyers’ issues different from men’s, when it comes to stepping away from the legal profession?

One big problem for women lawyers is the way their work is measured. The fact that most private firms gauge lawyers’ productivity in terms of billable hours is disastrous for women who are trying to balance work and home responsibilities by being more efficient at work. There is no reward for efficiency if you have to put in 1600 hours a year. That is one factor driving more women away from law practice. One advantage women have over men in leaving is that employers tend to be less suspicious of women who leave the law, especially if they have kids. Taking time off, especially to have children, also gives women more of a socially sanctioned break in which many realize that they don’t particularly want to go back, and that can spark a career transition as well.

 

You write about eight paths that current or former lawyers can take to find happiness. Can you give us examples of women you encountered who successfully leveraged their legal backgrounds into new careers—at 40 or later? 

Absolutely! Deb Volberg Pagnotta spent more than a dozen years in state government roles before developing a diversity training practice. Ten years later, she became a communications professor and now teaches at Iona College. Deborah Felton used her experience as a community volunteer to become the Executive Director of a senior residence in her community in her 50s. Clare Dalton, a highly respected legal scholar, started training for her next career as an acupuncturist around age 60 and now has a thriving practice. Every time I speak in front of a group, I hear more terrific stories about women who left the law at 40 or later. And, of course, I’m one of them. I became a tenure-track professor in my early 40s.

 

What advice do you have for women in midlife who are seeking to depart from their legal jobs or come back to the workforce, while leveraging their law degrees?

Do it! I have never met a lawyer who regretted leaving the law. Also, do it sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until you have perfect clarity about your next career, which can be very tempting given the perfectionist tendencies lawyers often have. Taking the first step usually shows you where the next one should be. You can start small, with periodic informational interviews that can help you learn more about other options. These are less scary when you think of them as a research project. Your goal should be just to ask questions briefly of another person rather than selling yourself or asking for a job. In general, there are more resources available for you now than there have ever been before, including books like Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have. If you think you’d benefit from structured support, I recommend programs like New Directions, run periodically by Pace Law School, which can be enormously helpful in both returning to law and finding alternatives.

 

LAL3D_500x700Liz Brown is a business school professor, former law partner, and the author of the Amazon best-seller, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have. Her insights on alternative careers for lawyers have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the ABA Journal, among other publications. Before changing careers, Liz practiced law at international firms in San Francisco, London, and Boston, advising senior executives at Fortune 500 companies on legal strategies and managing multi-million dollar cases from inception to successful resolution. Liz graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and is currently an Assistant Professor at Bentley University. You can reach her at lizbrownjd@gmail.com.

 

 

Did YOU leave the legal profession for a new career or pursuit in midlife? What did you do?




Making a Documentary in Midlife: Laurie’s Story

Unknown-12When she found out her daughter had a different form of diabetes that allowed her to go off insulin, Laurie vowed to get the word out, in the hopes that others could get tested and live without the burden of daily injections and constant monitoring.

Tell us about your background…

I grew up in Indiana and went to Asbury College for my BA in English Literature and Wheaton College for my MA in Communications. I live in Glencoe, Illinois with Mike, my husband of 23 years, our three teenagers, and two golden retrievers.

My professional background is in communications, strategic planning, and public affairs for national non-profit organizations in Washington, DC and Chicago. This includes media relations (educating reporters, producers, and editors about various timely issues, as well as producing news releases, press kits, position papers, and press conferences) and media appearances and interviews with national and local outlets (major networks, C-Span, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, etc.)

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1985, meeting President Ronald Reagan

I also trained leaders and activists on how to effectively deal with the media and how to design media/public affairs plans to support their political and legislative initiatives. I organized and spoke at press conferences from the National Press Club and the steps of the US Supreme Court in DC to many venues throughout Chicago. I have extensive background in writing and editing policy papers, guest editorials, news releases, monographs, and more.

I have done extensive public speaking throughout the country on a variety of public policy and legal issues. I testified at platform committee hearings for the Republication national conventions.

One of my most thrilling speaking opportunities was a gathering of public policy and political leaders in San Francisco in the late 1980’s. Former Attorney General Ed Meese introduced me and moderated the Q&A after my speech. Economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman was in the front row and asked me the first question. It was mind-blowing that a small town girl from the Midwest could be considered an authority!

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1986, speaking in Chicago

During my DC days, I cut my political teeth. Although I disliked the Machiavellianism that drove most politics, I learned the importance of coalition building, networking, finding common ground, and doing so with integrity and respect. Some of my best friends, then and now, are those on the opposite side of the political aisle. I learned that building authentic relationships fueled by kindness, honesty, and respect go a long way in working for the common good. The high road is the only road to achieving enduring success.

When I married Mike, at 32, I chose to stop working. With my job requiring me to travel 50 percent of the time, I knew it would be difficult to be a newlywed. My parents were divorced and I knew I didn’t want to go down that road so I wanted to do everything I could to nurture a healthy marriage.

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1990, on steps of Supreme Court

 

When I left work, I had a huge crash because my identity was connected in a very unhealthy way to my career. This identity crisis forced me to do some deep soul searching about who I am apart from what I achieve.

Since leaving the workplace, I have volunteered to advise and support a number of organizations near and dear to my heart, including the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago (I am a Founding Leadership Board member), By the Hand Club for Kids (a Faith-based inner city after-school program for Chicago’s most at-risk kids) and the Guild Board of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

 

What is your next act?

I am an advocate raising awareness of monogenic diabetes. Our youngest daughter, Lilly, was diagnosed with diabetes as a newborn during a routine visit to her pediatrician. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 25 million Americans (347 million worldwide) suffer with various forms of diabetes. It is a chronic disease in which the body cannot control blood sugars resulting in serious, and sometimes deadly, health consequences including blindness, heart disease, amputation, and kidney disease.

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Insulin supplies

My husband and I were devastated and felt swallowed up by a disease that we knew nothing about. In time, we learned how to prick her tiny heels and test her blood sugar (10-15 times, day and night), monitor her food for carbohydrates and give her insulin shots. Lilly had two night-time seizures when she was four, caused by seriously low blood sugars. I brought her out of them by rubbing Cake Mate frosting on her gums. Life caring for a child with diabetes was a daunting and never-ending job, but eventually it became the new normal.

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Connecting the insulin pump

I scoured the Internet for answers, clues, cures, everything and anything that would help Lilly. And then, in June 2006, our lives changed forever. My husband attended a JDRF meeting where an expert of the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center spoke of an upcoming study in the New England Journal of Medicine involving children diagnosed with diabetes as babies. The doctor explained that most of the children did not actually have type 1 diabetes, but rather a newly understood genetic form that is best treated with oral medication, not insulin shots. Stunning, mind blowing news.

Within days we had Lilly, then 6 ½, take the genetic test—a simple spit in a tube— that would determine if she had this different type of diabetes. It’s a pretty dramatic story but there isn’t enough time here to tell it. Suffice it to say that the rest is history. Lilly’s diagnosis was changed to “monogenic diabetes.”

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2006, Lilly, a few weeks before she disconnected her insulin pump

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Lilly, 6 months after going off insulin

We experienced the gradual unfolding of a miracle as she transitioned over the course of 10 days from insulin to taking pills. It was incredible to watch Lilly disconnect her insulin pump for the last time and absolutely surreal when she handed me her lifeline to store in a closet. The experience was as overwhelmingly joyful as her initial diagnosis had been devastating.

Lilly is now 15 and has been off insulin for 8 years, with perfectly normal blood sugars and no side effects from the twice-a-day oral medication. She will take medicine for the rest of her life and, like everyone else, needs to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. She no longer needs to count carbohydrates or test her blood sugar constantly, and is no longer at risk of the devastating complications that come with insulin and uncontrollable sugar levels in her blood.

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At the University of Chicago, with Lilly’s doctor, Dr. Lou Philipso

After Lilly went off insulin, we soon learned that hundreds of thousands of Americans like Lilly have the wrong diabetes diagnosis. Although monogenic diabetes is less common than either types 1 or 2, there are as many as a half million people in the US taking insulin unnecessarily. With genetic testing and a correct diagnosis, many others could have this life-changing new treatment. I was amazed by this statistic and more amazed that people weren’t finding out about a historic breakthrough that could change their lives. Someone had to tell them by throwing them a lifeline of information. Unfortunately it wasn’t coming from the medical community.

We were grateful that our daughter was free from insulin shots, but wondered “why us, why now?” Our conclusion was that we were supposed to tell our story and bring hope to others. With my background, I knew what to do.

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With Oxford scientist Dr. Ashcroft, meeting some of the children she helped

 

We started monogenicdiabetes.org, an authoritative website now administered by the Kovler Diabetes Center. I also began, and moderate, an online discussion/support group for parents whose children were also able to switch their treatment from insulin shots to oral medication. Our close-knit group grew as parents contacted me after hearing our story, eventually meeting in person in 2010 and 2013 at “Celebrating the Miracles” conferences hosted by the Kovler Diabetes Center to bring scientists and families together.

 

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Celebrating the Miracle Conference, Chicago, 2010

In 2009, Lilly’s Law was established. It requires Illinois physicians to register all children with diabetes onset before 12 months of age with the state’s Department of Public Health. It is a pilot program to advance the understanding of the genetic cause of diabetes.

Unknown-18The capstone of this next act includes serving as executive producer and co-writer of the documentary Journey to a Miracle: Freedom from Insulin, a 5-year project which was first broadcast by WTTW-11 Chicago in January 2015, and will be broadcast again this summer and fall. We have submitted the movie to film festivals around the world and the film will be available to other PBS markets throughout 2015. It will soon be available on DVD.

 

Tell us more about this documentary…

Journey to a Miracle: Freedom from Insulin tells of a breathtaking cure for diabetes and the lives that were changed forever.

It’s a rich story about scientific perseverance that has taken decades to write. Through painstaking research, collaboration, and heart, an international team of scientists assembled pieces and eventually solved an intricate diabetes puzzle. They confirmed what they had long suspected: There are genetic forms of diabetes that are different from either type 1 or type 2. These newly understood forms are called “monogenic diabetes” and the best way to treat many of them is not with insulin.

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With one of the families whose child was able to go off insulin after hearing our story

Up to 95 percent of people with monogenic diabetes are misdiagnosed. This is because neither they nor their medical providers are even aware of the possibility of another diagnosis and treatment. With the right diagnosis—using genetic testing—many people can radically change their diabetes treatment. Rather than insulin shots, they can be successfully treated with an inexpensive and commonly used diabetes drug, a sulfonylurea. It allows the body to make and secrete its own insulin.

The discovery of monogenic diabetes made medical history but, more importantly, it created a life-changing miracle for those who have been able to break free from insulin dependence.

The film weaves together the lives and stories of scientists and grateful families who hoped and prayed for a diabetes cure, but never in their wildest dreams imagined it would come in the form of a simple pill. It is a heartwarming story that blends science and humanity with authenticity. And it’s a journey everyone is calling “a miracle.”

Our goal is to raise awareness of monogenic diabetes and reach as many people as possible. Since most are not learning about the possibility of genetic testing and a different diabetes diagnosis from their doctors, a grassroots outreach seemed logical. Through television broadcasts, film festivals, and the DVD, we hope to directly reach people who can be helped.

 

How did you make the movie? What challenges did you encounter?

We knew we were supposed to make this movie but had to take a deep breath before we took the plunge. I had an extensive background in various communications mediums, but not script writing or film production. It was an enormous undertaking to conceptualize, research, write, cast, plan, film, edit, produce, distribute, and promote the film.

Mike and I are executive producers and I guess you could say that I am the glue of the project and coordinated every aspect of the movie except the technical pieces. Rabbi Allen Secher, who married Mike and me, introduced us to the talented Ted Kay of TMK Productions in Northfield, IL. Allen and Ted had produced a powerful Emmy award-winning documentary a few years before. When Allen heard our story, he knew he had to connect us.

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On location, filming in Exeter, England

I co-wrote the script with Ted Kay, and his fabulous editor, Larissa Woodward, did all the film edits. A small but mighty team.

To fund the movie’s production, I approached Quest Diagnostics to be our sponsor. We are very grateful for their support. The Jaffe family has underwritten all the marketing and post-production costs. This movie certainly isn’t a money-making venture. PBS stations air the movie for free. The only income stream will be DVD sales—any proceeds will go to diabetes research.

The research and writing were particularly challenging because we presented the history of a very complex scientific discovery that spanned decades and crisscrossed the globe. We were diligent about making sure that our layman’s interpretation of the science and facts were correct since ours was to become an authoritative documentary on the subject of monogenic diabetes. Ironically, in one of my previous positions, I had to do the same thing by translating legal jargon and issues into lay terms.

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With the Neighbours-Matthews, filming in England. They are the family featured on the title picture.

Another challenge was to both be true to the science and history while weaving together the human aspects of the story in a compelling and heartwarming way. It was tricky to achieve the right balance between science and emotion.

Finally, it was challenging to assemble all the pieces of a complex decades-long story into a 57 minute format. We had to be strategic and clarify our mission before we could even begin to outline a script.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Only once, when a certain well-known actress bailed the week that we were to shoot her host/narration scenes in New York. Don’t want to bring bad energy by talking too much about it, but it was a blow. But things happen for a reason, and always for good. We persevered, God opened another window and we made a much better, more powerful movie.

 

How supportive was your family? How has Lilly reacted to all the attention garnered by her story?

I’ve always been a dreamer, a really BIG dreamer. And that sense of “destiny” has always propelled me. My parents believed in me, but proclamations of my next – always BIG – acts generally were met with subtle eye rolling and amusement. But then, I actually did what I said I was going to do. This time (when we announced that we were doing a movie), they believed me.

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1/20/15: Laurie, Lilly, and Mike, at the Chicago premiere of the movie

 

Everyone was wonderfully supportive, sitting through interviews and watching many rough cuts. The movie is definitely our family’s achievement, not just Mike and mine.

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With Lilly, doing a Q&A panel after the premiere

I really admire that Lilly does not want to be defined by her diabetes, but is enthusiastic about finding others who could also be helped by the breakthrough. She is an amazing young woman and is becoming an articulate spokesperson in her own right. She served on the Q&A discussion panel with me at the documentary premiere.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I really love people and thrive on helping to empower and enhance others’ lives.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Step outside your comfort zone. Educate yourself, network and consult with others in the field and don’t be intimidated by your age and/or lack of expertise. But always double check your work before you present it.

You are stronger and more qualified than you think! By middle age, women have met challenges on so many fronts. That life experience is an enormous asset.

Trust your intuition. Try to believe the best, but honor that inner voice when things just don’t feel right.

Surround yourself with people who are authentic, believe in you and support your dreams. Tune out the naysayers, toxic and envious.

If you stepped away from a career to focus on raising children, stand tall and be proud. Don’t let anyone marginalize or diminish the importance of motherhood. It’s one of the most important marks you will ever make on the world.

For women of faith: Meditate and pray for wisdom, courage and guidance.

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2009, presenting at the Royal Society in London

 

What resources do you recommend for those interested in learning more about diabetes and monogenic diabetes?

http://monogenicdiabetes.uchicago.edu/

http://diabetesgenes.org/

http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/

http://modyawareness.com/

http://jdrf.org/

http://www.diabetes.org/

 

 

What about for women reinventing themselves in midlife?

The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci

The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Christian Smith

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? ( Expanded Edition) By Rick Warren

Crazy Busy by Edward M. Hallowell

Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Elizabeth Hughes

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by Strunk and White

The Associated Press Stylebook 2014

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An Easy-to-Use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes by Jane Strauss

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Laurie and family, after giving the keynote speech at the 2006 JDRF Chicago gala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future

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A long time runner, Laurie started competing in half marathons at the age of 50

From the time I was a little girl, I felt a strong sense of destiny—that God had big plans for my life. I dreamed of being an actress, but parental disapproval halted that plan, so I pursued a different career path. I have no regrets; I have learned to never look back. I have realized that “destiny” is an ongoing process, not an arrival point and certainly not linear. My sense of calling has zigzagged so much over the years. At every turn, I would tell myself “Oh, this is what I have been preparing to do…”

Now I realize that experience builds on experience, and that the collective body of life’s work prepares you for the next leg of the journey. I embrace the belief that “the best is yet to come” and that’s very exciting. I will always be a girl on a mission!

 

Contact Laurie Ramsey Jaffe at Lauriejaf@gmail.com

www.Journeytoamiraclemovie.com

www.Facebook.com/Journeytoamiracle

 

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Getting a Graduate Degree in Midlife: Susan’s Story

SOLcroppedLINKED-INHer desire for intellectual challenge led Susan to go back to school full-time, first studying creative writing, then getting her Master’s in Liberal Arts.

Tell us about your background…

I moved to Chicago in 1995 to join Doug, my future husband. I negotiated with JPMorgan to transfer from New York to the Chicago office. Initially, Chicago felt very provincial and I missed the buzz of the big city, where I had been determined to focus on a financial services career and felt supported by friends from Barnard College and Columbia Business School.

I moved on from JPMorgan to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity, leading a local, high end, interior design company. Soon after, I branched out on my own to offer strategic consulting services to entrepreneurs, start up companies and non-profit organizations. At the same time, I became involved with a number of civic organizations, usually as a board member, so my billable time began to blur with my volunteer time.

As life got busier with the arrival of Nathaniel and Grace (now 16 and 13), I liked working on projects I could manage but, slowly, my non-profit work outpaced my consulting work.

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Susan with her husband and kids

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

Looking for an intellectual challenge, at the age of 38, I enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, during which our group of mostly older adults read more than 60 “great books.” This is a certificate program with no tests, papers, or grades. While it took me a while to be able to focus on the reading, I enjoyed the professors’ lectures, the discussions, and the structure of weekly class meetings.

As the Basic Program was nearing its end, I enrolled in a twelve-week course based on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, led by a trained therapist. I had two different friends who credited this book for their career shifts—one left teaching to become a practicing artist and the other was on her way to becoming a licensed therapist as she raised her children.

Encouraged by The Artist’s Way, I began to focus more on caring for myself. During that winter, overwhelmed in my role as Treasurer for a non-profit performing arts organization, I reconsidered my volunteer positions and asked myself why I was balancing everyone else’s books and not my own.

 

What is your next act?

I decided, at the age of 42, to go back to school full-time.

I applied to the Graham School’s Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago. I had to choose a focus area between Novel, Short Story, Creative Non Fiction and Poetry. I chose Poetry because I knew the least about it, so it was another challenge—little did I know how difficult and eye opening it would be. (Unfortunately, the Poetry track is no longer an option in the program.) After taking courses, workshop-ing poems, and eventually presenting my own collection of poems entitled “Reconciliation,” I obtained my Certificate in Creative Writing.

Here is one of my poems:

The Last Drop

My daughter’s

two hundredth and

twenty seventh day.

Party’s over

beach grass grey.

The bottle poured  

one glass unscathed.

A tense beginning

to a sober holiday.

I remember that night

and all other days.

 

I felt some pressure to publish my poetry but ultimately did not seek that outside approval, partly out of fear and partly because I felt it would take away from my enjoyment and pure learning.

At this point, I decided it was time for me to get a full-fledged graduate degree. At 44, I enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts Program, which grants a University of Chicago diploma after the completion of eight interdisciplinary courses and a thesis. I was in the company of students from a wide range of backgrounds: recent college grads, retired lawyers, policemen, single working women. I chose Literature & Psychoanalysis as my first class because I knew and really admired the professor. I also took Ulysses with her and she became my thesis advisor. Last May, at 48, I presented my thesis paper titled “The MBA Degree: Feminism’s Final Frontier.”

Susan-OBrien-Lyons-graduation

Susan and her family on graduation day

 

As I look back over the last decade, I realize how fortunate I was to take courses and complete another degree as I raised my children. This period, during which I called myself “a learner, not an earner,” has paid me and my family back in many intangible ways. I found satisfaction in learning and exploring ideas while I stepped out of the paid workforce. I also liked being a student and the simplicity that implies.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

One challenge was making the time to prioritize creative thinking, writing, and editing. I kept up with the work, but always questioned if this was a real, buried, or experimental part of myself. I always seemed to be second- guessing the “practicality” of my studies.

Juggling school, home, and continuing volunteer responsibilities could be difficult at times. But being in school also allowed me the privilege and flexibility to spend the 2011-2012 academic year in Paris with my kids, Nathaniel and Grace, which was a risk well worth taking and an unforgettable family adventure. I did this after completing 6 of the 9 required courses and was able to audit a Gender Theory course at the University of Paris 8, which has a renowned center for the Study of Feminism and Gender.

The 10-15 page term papers were a challenge but, once I decided on a topic and got into the research, framing a case and making an argument, the writing became easier.

Completing my thesis was another challenge. My interest in my thesis topic had been hovering for years—women, work, education, money, marriage. I have countless notebooks, articles, and folders about the subject and really just wanted to write something that helped me work through my own thoughts and contribute to the conversation.

MLAThesis2

Susan’s desk, in the midst of writing her thesis

 

My thesis demonstrated that the experience of the female MBA is an ambiguous story still under construction with multiple interpretations. I found a lack of deep reflection about the MBA degree: Getting an MBA was not an impassioned path for my subjects, who pursued it almost as a default. I also uncovered a significant difference in time allocated to work and home tasks: The women no longer in the paid workforce spent up to three times as many hours as their salaried peers on housework, cooking, driving, and chaperoning children.

One day, I hope to articulate beyond my thesis paper the business of living, learning, growing, and getting to know oneself along with one’s children.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  What/who kept you going?  

Once I enrolled, I knew I would keep going, even though I couldn’t answer a friend’s question about why exactly I was doing all this course work…

Being in school gives me an interior life, a sense of depth beyond the everyday, a connection to interesting works and thinkers, time to contemplate many unanswered human questions. I have to remind myself to be thankful for the time and flexibility to make these myriad connections rather than obsess about not making an MBA salary.

I did eventually admit that being a student was a good “cover” for being a mom; what I meant was that, by going back to school, I felt stimulated intellectually and had a flexible schedule that enabled me to focus on our family. It was a wonderful complement to being a mother and really learning to appreciate that role. I had to pay the University of Chicago for that privilege!

SOLThesisMy husband is very supportive if not always completely interested in my mind chatter and internal dilemmas… I think my kids respected my commitment and saw my interest and enthusiasm in learning for learning’s sake. My son loves to read and it is fun to see him ask about a book and then pull it off my shelf. There are many things I would like to reread as he explores them for the first time (this semester he is reading Antigone and 2 Shakespeare plays). Sometimes I dream about getting a PhD although my daughter will question that and suggest I get a “real” job.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife, even possibly going back to school?

Manage energy, not time. This relates to the idea of flow—being in the moment, losing yourself in a task… I often approach the day with a LONG to-do list, but need to make time for not only the things I must do, but also the things I enjoy doing. An example might be The Basic Program—when someone considers four years, 60 +books, a class a week, they might feel overwhelmed, but if she wants to commit to learning and feels excited by it, it can become a priority…

Returning to school is a pleasure. I equated the MLA program to going back to college and really paying attention.

 

What resources do you recommend for women deciding whether to return to school or what to do next?

I already mentioned The Artist’s Way. I also strive to achieve one of Eckhart Tolle’s three modalities as described in his book A New Earth: acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm.

Take advantage of online webinars, networking events, women’s groups and other resources offered through your former schools and your current communities.

These are books that really had an impact on me, provided me with a new way of seeing and fed my curiosity about feminism and humanism:

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Middlemarch , George Eliot

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

On Balance, Adam Phillips

Semrad : The Heart of a Therapist, Rake & Mazer

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan

Composing a Life, Mary Catherine Bateson

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

If returning to school and completing a thesis paper count as a next act in my developing story, then I am now working on another transition to tie together what often feel like disparate pieces, as part of my ongoing attempt to accept the past, enjoy the present, and prepare for the future.

In the meantime, I have taken on a part-time consulting project helping an Education Technology start up pull together and write a comprehensive business plan. I feel energized by the project and appreciate the opportunity to apply my business background, skills, and experience to an exciting education endeavor.

This current project feels like a return to my old working self, but with a few differences. First, I need to catch up technologically and learn to manage the volumes of industry information and relevant trends. Academic work requires focused, in depth, analytical thinking and I am working to apply that approach to a tech start up. I often feel “slow” in an increasingly “fast” world.

I started this project after I got a call from a friend asking for help. That was the boost I needed to start something, because I was wavering between many ideas but no clear path. As I work on this part time consulting project, I am taking mental notes of what I am thinking, what I enjoy, what I want to keep working on personally/professionally. I hope to evaluate this inventory in a broader context in a few months, ideally with a coach who will guide and support me.

I still think about pursuing a PhD and ask myself how I could make money by reading books. I also have some small business ideas that would integrate reading books with running a business—my attempt to merge the languages and sentiments of humanism with capitalism. Of course, I still keep my notebook, full of quotes, musings and disparate ideas for that next writing project…

I want to remain flexible and keep exploring my next act(s) as my son prepares to apply for college and my daughter will enter high school next year. I have several interim goals: This year I am trying to read a book a week. So far so good…

You can contact Susan O’Brien Lyons at susanoblyons@gmail.com.

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Becoming an ESL Teacher at 54: Sheri’s Story

Sheri-Lear-headshotWith an empty nest three years away, Sheri chose to fully commit to her passion for adult literacy by going back to school in order to teach English as a Second Language.

 

Tell me a little about you before your next act?

I worked as a speech therapist in Minnesota until Steve and I had our second child, at which time I took several years off to raise our 7 kids. During my years as a stay-at-home mom, I helped my husband in his business, did some freelance writing and editing, and volunteered in my kids’ schools and in adult literacy programs.

 

When did you start to think about charting a new direction for yourself in midlife?

When I first moved to Minneapolis, in 1981, I went through the Minnesota Literacy Council volunteer training and I was placed in a program in St. Louis Park. From day one, I enjoyed being a literacy tutor and it always just felt like someplace I was supposed to be.

About 5 years ago, at the age of 52, I was doing my weekly volunteer shift in an adult ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom, when I found out that the teacher whose class I worked in was going to be on leave for a while. I asked the program administrator if I could step in as the substitute but was told that without the ESL licensure, she couldn’t let me do it.

I knew I needed something significant and meaningful to fill the void once all the kids were gone.

I had so many ideas I wanted to try out in the classroom, and I loved the work, but I realized that if I wanted to implement my ideas, I would need to earn that privilege. I signed up for the Hamline University Adult ESL certificate program. The timing was perfect as I was about 3 years away from an empty nest, and I knew I needed something significant and meaningful to fill the void once all the kids were gone. Teaching adult learners also filled my need to nurture!

 

What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing…

It took me two years to complete the Hamline program on a part-time basis, taking some courses online and others in the classroom (Hamline is very flexible about letting you work at your own pace). While there were many students in my classes who were in their 20’s, there were enough others who were in the 40+ range that I didn’t feel too out of place.

When I was taking my last class, I was at a fundraising event for the Minnesota Literacy Council, where I heard there was a part-time position open and asked about the qualifications. The next day, I was talking on the phone with my brother-in-law, who observed that he felt some adults went back to school to “hide out” for a while, rather than to actually secure a job.

If you love the work and find a great sense of purpose in what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.

I recognized a little of myself in that observation. When people would ask what I was going to do when my youngest went off to college, I could always say “Well, I’m in school.” It sounded productive in and of itself. I knew I was at risk for using school as a convenient way to impose meaning on my life; I didn’t want to do that, so I applied for the job.

After sending in the required information (application, resume, sample lesson plans), I was called for a phone interview, then was invited for an in-person interview. A week later, they called to offer me the position. After being out of the workforce for such a long time, my confidence and expectations were pretty low. My first thought was: “I bet I was the only one to apply” (I found out later that was not the case).

I am now starting my fourth year teaching beginning level ESL to adult learners. I have my own class of about 25 students and have also had the opportunity to give presentations at Minnesota Literacy Council workshops and at our statewide Adult Basic Education conference.

Sheri-Lear-student

Technically, my job is 24 hours a week, but any teacher will tell you there’s no such thing as a part-time teaching job; there is always more work to do (new activities to try, new strategies to test out), and the prep time can be endless. But if you love the work and find a great sense of purpose in what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.

Besides teaching English to help our learners navigate their lives in the US, we provide them with a sense of community: a safe place where they feel they belong. All of my learners are immigrants or refugees: 80% are from Somalia; most of the others are from Ethiopia or Latin America (Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, etc.).

Watching my learners is a constant reminder of the true value of education.

Many of my West African learners, especially the women, are low literacy, meaning they have had very limited formal education and they barely read or write. Further, because of the civil unrest in Ethiopia and Somalia, many of my learners spent time in refugee camps in Kenya or Sudan after fleeing their country and before coming to America. Many of them have lost family members in the fighting, and almost all of them are separated from many members of their family. Everything here is unfamiliar to them – the culture, the language, the weather. And still, they show up every day, ready to learn.

 I cannot imagine a more rewarding job, other than parenthood.  

I feel like I learn far more than I teach. Watching my learners is a constant reminder of the true value of education. The effort and commitment they bring to the classroom is a constant source of motivation for me. There are a million little successes that take place every day. I love when I see friendships develop among my learners, particularly if those friendships cross cultural lines. I cannot imagine a more rewarding job, other than parenthood.

 

Why did you choose this next act?  How did you prepare?

There were a couple other paths I was considering. One was writing: I liked the freedom that writing provided. I could work on projects at night or weekends, from anywhere. But it was also isolating, and that’s not an ideal situation for an introvert. Whenever I was working with students, I was energized, and I liked that feeling.

There wasn’t a lot of preparation time. It was pretty much just jump in and swim. In the few short weeks between getting hired and starting work, I observed the classroom in which I’d be teaching a few times, talked with the other teachers, and spent time in the resource room gathering ideas and materials.

Sheri-Lear-Birthday

 

What challenges did you encounter?

On a professional level, my biggest challenge was preparing daily lessons. Very little curriculum was provided although I did have access to many good resources. I was up way too late every night preparing for the next day.

The other challenge was that part of my job involved teaching a Basic Math class. Teaching math terrified me, because I’m not a math person, but it’s turned out to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job. What I teach is really more Numeracy. I define it this way: Math is the ability to perform operations with numbers; numeracy is the ability to look at your answer and say either “That looks about right” or “That’s preposterous!”

Many of my students don’t realize how much math they actually know. For example, my students will tell me they don’t know how to divide. But if I say to them: “Ok, we have 27 students today, and I want to have three groups; how many students should we have in each group?” Most students will tell me, without hesitation, “9.”  They know the math, they just don’t know that they know the math. Connecting these dots for them gives them a wonderful sense of confidence.

I think my family and friends are very proud of me and, to be honest, I’m pretty proud of myself.

On a personal level, I was by far the oldest teacher in the organization. I felt out of touch and out of place. At monthly staff meetings, I felt like the kid no one wanted to sit with at lunch. In retrospect, I know that some of this wasn’t age related at all, but a product of being the “new kid on the block.” It took a while, but eventually I started feeling like part of the team, and the generational isolation began to fade.

My family and friends were supportive and excited for me, although it was hardest for my husband and youngest daughter (who was the only bird still left in the nest). My daughter had to come home to an empty house many days. She was perfectly capable of this, but not accustomed to it. I felt, and still feel, bad about this but, on the other hand, I like that she sees me happy and fulfilled. I think sometimes youngest children feel bad about leaving the nest, because they worry about the loneliness their parents feel (particularly their moms, if they were stay-at-home moms).  I’m glad Bekah doesn’t need to feel that guilt. She knows I miss her, but she also knows I am doing work that I love.

Age should not be a barrier to following a dream.  

I think my family and friends are very proud of me and, to be honest, I’m pretty proud of myself. I hope I’ve given other women my age the motivation – or perhaps the “permission” – to forge a new path for themselves, if that’s something they want to do. Age should not be a barrier to following a dream.  

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  What/who kept you going?

Oh, yeah! I got through the first year by giving myself permission to leave if it didn’t work out. I figured I could go back to writing and continue to volunteer in adult literacy programs. But whenever I got overwhelmed, I just tried to focus on the main reason I was there: my students. Each one of them had remarkable stories of survival, loss, and hardship; if they could show up every day ready to learn, then I would stay and help them.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Do not listen to the voices – your own or others’ – that tell you that you are “too old” to start something new. If you believe those voices, you can be sure you will project it in an interview or in a new job. Instead, focus on all the things you can do now that you have a little more time and freedom.

If you’re just re-entering the workforce after spending years at home raising kids, remember all the skills you acquired and honed during those years. Capitalize on them.

 Do not listen to the voices – your own or others’ – that tell you that you are “too old” to start something new.

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

I happen to think that I have the best job in the world. I can honestly say that, in over three years, I have never once felt like I wasn’t exactly where I was supposed to be at this time. The Minnesota Literacy Council excels in training volunteers and finding a good match for their interests and talents. I couldn’t exist without my incredible volunteers; many have been with me since I started over three years ago. My best suggestion would be to contact your local literacy council and ask to observe some classes.

Find something that fills you with purpose, and find a way to make that your life’s work

Also find out what the requirements are for teaching ESL in your state. I was able to get a job with just the graduate certificate, rather than the master’s degree, because I already had an undergraduate degree in Education. Still, I am not licensed to teach in the public schools at this point, and would need more schooling for that.

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.

My work is challenging but it provides a sense of purpose beyond anything I can imagine. That’s my advice. Find something that fills you with purpose, and find a way to make that your life’s work. Like Confucius said “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I hope you find that.

 

What’s next for you?

I’m thinking about it. At some point, I think I’d like to train teachers, but not yet…

 

What resources do you recommend?

ProLiteracy

Call your local colleges to find out where to get your ESL licensure.

In the Minneapolis area, I recommend:

Hamline University ESL Licensure program

The Minnesota Literary Council

 

Thank you to Sheri Pollack Lear for sharing your story.

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Launching a College Consulting Business: Tina’s Story

Tina-Tranfaglia-headshotWhen she was ready to leave Corporate America in search of a more meaningful career, Tina followed her passion with her next act as a College Admissions Consultant.

 

 

Tell me a little about you, your family, your life, education, and work experience before your next act?

My background actually played a large role in helping me uncover my true passion for the transformative power of education that would lead to my next act. I grew up in an apartment in a primarily Italian, working-class neighborhood in Boston, where the local high school had a 50% dropout rate and many people’s aspirations reached only as far as a good job at Logan Airport.

My parents had different dreams; both became the first in their respective families to graduate from college before becoming teachers. Instead of the local schools, they sent my brother and me to a 6-year selective program at Boston Latin School, the oldest public high school in the country. And thus began an intense education that led me to Harvard for college and then to the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern for my MBA.

Tina-Tranfaglia-Harvard

Harvard University

After business school, I embarked on a 20+ year career in brand management, managing iconic brands such as Saran Wrap and Sara Lee Cheesecake, before focusing my efforts solely on new product development, which came as close to finding my passion as I had encountered up until that point. I had the thrill of conceiving and launching the Hefty® Zoo Pals® line of interactive tableware for children, among other products for which I have dozens of patents.

I found myself craving more meaning in my work and life.

It was fun, but I was burning out quickly from the long hours and travel. I also found myself craving more meaning in my work and life. Having spent 20 years in the Midwest, I took a job as a Vice President of Marketing in Boston with hopes of establishing the next phase of my career closer to family. My error in judgment in picking this particular job became obvious within the first few days, and after about 6 months of torture, I ran screaming from Corporate America and headed back to my adopted home in Chicago.

 

When did you start to think about charting a new direction for yourself in midlife?

On some level, I had always envisioned myself doing something entrepreneurial “someday.” The challenge was always figuring out what kind of business I wanted to start. One day, while serving as an alumna interviewer for the Harvard Admissions Committee, I had an epiphany. I was meeting some of the best and brightest high school students in the Chicago area, and yet they were completely unprepared for their interviews, a critical component of the Harvard admissions process. I wondered how much I could have impacted their interview outcome if I could have just coached them for an hour beforehand.

Little did I know that there was already a whole industry dedicated to coaching high school students through the entire college process, one that was still small but growing in the Midwest. I continued to work for several more years while I mulled over entering this business, and I started to lay some of the foundation for starting a practice. The leap from a high-paying corporate job to the uncertainty of a freelance college consulting business seemed too scary, especially not having the safety net of a spouse with another income.

When my ill-fated Boston adventure left me between jobs, the time was finally right to take the plunge. In fact, a friend who was training for her own next act as a life coach helped me think through my options, and I identified a college consulting business as one of many paths, one that coincided with my strong beliefs in the power of education to change the trajectory of one’s life.

 

What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing…

Tina-Tranfaglia-logoI am an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC). In 2007, at age 45, I launched College Knowledge Admissions Consulting. I help students and their families navigate all aspects of the complex, competitive, and ever-changing college admissions process. The easiest way to think about what I do is that I am like a private guidance counselor. I have a caseload that is a mere fraction of the 600 students school counselors must serve, which allows me to guide families with frequent, personalized advice. I am available on nights, weekends, and vacations when counselors are not, and I can help with things that counselors don’t have time for — such as helping students identify unique and powerful essay topics or generating college lists customized to their wants/needs.

Until you have been through the current college process, it is hard to fathom how many questions will come up, how hard it is to get into certain colleges today even for the best students, and how much stress this process imposes on families. I love that I can be singularly focused on helping students achieve their college goals.

I help students of all aspirations and abilities but, given my background, I have particular expertise helping students who are high-achieving and aspiring to some of the most selective colleges and universities. I have already helped about 250 students find their paths and, in the process, I have found the meaning in my work for which I had been searching.

 

Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

When I found myself between jobs, there were three paths I considered:

  1. Get another job in my current profession – I had no passion for this idea! I was feeling burnt out and, frankly, consumer products marketing was changing dramatically at that point, with the onset of digital marketing and social media. I was beginning to feel a bit old. My previous employer offered me a chance to go back, but this did not feel like movement in the right direction.
  2. Become a freelance marketing consultant – I actually did do a little of this while planning my business, and still do some small projects in the “off season.”
  3. Start a college admissions consulting business – this is what I felt the most passion for, had dreamed about longest, and believed would challenge me the most.

I love that I can be singularly focused on helping students achieve their college goals.

There were also a few less realistic options, such as writing a book or embarking on a comedy tour! Ultimately, I just trusted my gut that I could establish a successful college admissions practice, and I began to turn my longstanding passion for education into a career. I was also lucky in that I could turn my marketing expertise into consulting assignments, which provided income while my college consulting business was in its infancy. This also provided a bit of a security blanket in terms of keeping my skills fresh in marketing, in the event I needed to return to corporate work.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

I had really been training for this career, unknowingly, for twenty years while I was volunteering with the Harvard Admissions Committee, and for about seven years with Kellogg, interviewing MBA candidates. I was on the front lines as the college admissions process was evolving, and so I had kept current and received great training. Higher education was also a topic that I had always read a lot about throughout the years, and I have always loved seeing college campuses while on vacations.

Tina-Tranfaglia-MyPhilosophy

Tina’s Philosophy

 

Even with all that training, I still needed to ensure that I was prepared to shepherd others through the college admissions process. My timing could not have been better, as many in my large circle of friends and associates had children in high school. In fact, over the years, many of them had called me for advice simply because they knew I had devoted a lot of volunteer time to higher education. For two years, I helped my friends’ children for no or low cost, as I honed my skills and devoured as much industry information as I could. Finally, in 2009, I knew I was ready to take on paying clients outside my circle of friends.

I didn’t really have a mentor to learn from. When I started, people weren’t too willing to speak with the potential competition. In the past few years, the consultants in my geography have gotten very well-acquainted and more collaborative. I think that has come along with an explosion in the client base, and a feeling that there is enough business for everyone.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

There have been many hurdles and I have faced many unknowns…and still do. It is impossible to know everything about every college, every major, or have an answer to every question. So I learned quickly how to find information and the resources that would help me keep learning.

It was hard to gather competitive information in order to know what to charge. I wondered if I could get clients, or if I could make enough money, or if potential clients would appreciate my credentials vs. the typical education background from which most consultants hailed. But I put my marketing expertise to work and used my extensive network to get information and referrals.

I have met the greatest kids, whose talent reassures me that our future is in good hands.

I worried that I might be lonely working for myself from home with no co-workers or peers, and quickly learned that I would be talking to and meeting with dozens of people each day, and I would soon develop a large network of all my fellow consultants in the area. I struggled with essentially being on-call 24/7, and I still have issues with drawing boundaries between my business and personal time. I feared there would be no way back into corporate life if I failed, so I kept a small marketing consulting practice alive on the side, a safety net I no longer need.

However, the biggest challenge was one that had been brewing in the background for many years. What I had mistaken for burnout and fatigue was actually the onset of a rare autoimmune disorder. I was about to embark on a journey of constant changes in my body as I established this business. In retrospect, the career change turned out to be amazingly fortunate, as it gave me the flexibility in my schedule that I needed to manage my disorder, and it also gave me something to focus on aside from my changing health. Now, seven years post-diagnosis, I have figured out how to manage both.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  What/who kept you going?

Honestly, I have never once looked back since escaping from Corporate America, nor have I second-guessed whether I chose the right next act. That said, I have made some mistakes, and I have certainly left some money on the table at times. Figuring all that out is part of the challenge that I crave.

I love that I have found an exciting new career that I am passionate about, developed entirely new professional circles, and have met the greatest kids, whose talent reassures me that our future is in good hands.

Having 100% turnover in your client base every year is scary, but knowing that people are willing to entrust me with this important phase of their kids’ lives or refer their friends to me is incredibly rewarding. And when a 17-year old boy texts me to say he just got into his dream school and that he couldn’t have done it without me, that is the only confirmation I need that I am making an impact.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

I would guess many people would say they wished they had taken the proverbial leap sooner. I don’t wish that. I think we instinctively know when it is the right time for each of us, and you will know when it is right for you. I was finally ready to leave my old career behind after having achieved what I wanted. I was prepared with the training to start this new venture, was in the right financial position, had a backup plan, entered an industry poised for explosive growth, had a network that could help me build my client base, and had a life-altering health diagnosis that made the timing all the more perfect.

I would love to tell you that I was smart enough to plan it all that way, but a lot of it was dumb luck! However, I would encourage you to think beyond your interests to some of the other factors I mentioned; although, at some point, you still have to take a leap of faith.

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

Tina-Tranfaglia-guidebooksThe two biggest barriers to entry in this field are acquiring the knowledge and having the right personality to work with teenagers and families. Perhaps a third that I would add is that, with so many people entering the field in the past few years, some geographic areas are saturated with enough consultants. For example, in the Chicago area, the northern suburbs are very saturated, particularly consultants serving Deerfield, Highland Park, and the New Trier area. However, there seem to be far fewer consultants in the western and southern suburbs, and even in Chicago proper; I imagine there are far fewer farther out and downstate.

Otherwise, there are not a lot of high start-up costs, and you can have as big or small a practice as you desire (for instance, if you are still raising your own family).

Whether the money is good depends on what you used to do before entering this field. I probably make less than half of my former executive pay, with no healthcare or bonuses, yet I would not trade it for the world. I also have no commute during rush hour, work in jeans, constantly receive positive feedback, and feel amazingly rewarded for my work.

A general guideline I have heard is that someone can make between $40-$80K annually, but it can certainly be more depending on how much you want to work and how much you charge. There are regional differences in how much the market will bear, and I personally have a philosophy of being more accessible to families, so I offer “à la carte” services instead of a flat fee per client. Some people may come to me for 5 hours of help, and some may need 20. The number of clients I can take on varies between 25 and 50 depending on how many hours I anticipate each client will need (it is a bit of a guessing game). Experience has taught me that you can’t manage more than 25 students writing essays at the same time.

I probably make less than half of my former executive pay, with no healthcare or bonuses, yet I would not trade it for the world.

There are certification and training courses for would-be consultants, as well as tons of advice books for families going through the college admissions process (see my favorites below). These can help you learn about the current admissions environment and application timing (August through the holiday season). Be sure to think through your own family situation to confirm whether working “realtor’s hours” (lots of nights and weekends) works for you.

Some people are incorporated, but many (maybe most) operate as sole proprietors.  It was important to me to be able to accept payment in the name of my company, not only so that people understand that I am a legitimate, successful business, but also to let them know I am not doing this “under the table.”

Many people who enter college admissions consulting do not have a business background and, as a result, wind up giving back a lot of their earnings in expenses that do not generate new business. Be sure you have a basic understanding of business principles and Profit and Loss statements before embarking on your next act.

 

So how do you find your clients?

This is primarily a word-of-mouth, referral business, much like academic/ACT tutoring. The best consultants are fully booked a year or two in advance, so advertising can actually backfire by announcing you are not among those. There also is a fine line between being perceived as professional and appearing to be a “factory” like Huntington or Kaplan types of organizations. Clients are looking for highly personalized services from a respected consultant, and often turn to their friends who have been through the process before for advice on whom to hire and how much to pay. By the time someone has been referred to me, they are 95% sure they are going to use my services

I do participate in Facebook and Linked In, and those have worked well primarily to help my network of friends, former classmates, and former coworkers know about my new profession. That has resulted in a few clients. Still, I primarily get new clients through referrals from clients who have used me.  In fact, siblings account for about 40% of my students in any given year (usually 2-3 years after the first child). I have owned a URL for College Knowledge Admissions Consulting for 5 years, but have never had time to build out my website! It is on my list of things to do, but I am literally at capacity without it and am reticent to generate more demand right now.

Overall, the most important thing to concentrate on as a private college counselor is exceeding client expectations with high-touch service.

 

Tell us more about how you manage your time, research schools, and work with your clients.

There used to be a definitive peak-season and off-season, but that gap has closed. Before the seniors are finished, the juniors are starting.  And nowadays, I have to push off introductory sessions with sophomore families anxious to get on my roster until at least most of the senior applications are done.

Having free time around the holidays can be a struggle in this profession.

Between late July and November 1, it is seven long days a week. After the early applications are in and the Common Applications are done, the workload stays high but manageable through January. So having free time around the holidays can be a struggle in this profession, but that partly depends on how many students you take and whether you can successfully convince them to keep working on applications steadily (you also have to work around their sports and extracurricular commitments). The real break hits in May and June, because the seniors are done and the younger kids just want to finish school for the year before thinking about college.

I spend at least 35% of my time on uncompensated tasks. I go to my clients locally, so there is a lot of unpaid driving time or downtime between appointments. However, I also work with clients nationally via Skype, so there is no commuting time with them. I offer a complimentary “get acquainted” meeting to give both me and the client the opportunity to decide if we are the right fit for each other before making a financial commitment.

Everything has a seasonality to it, and most of the administrative tasks and continuing education (conferences, college visits, invoicing, developing new handouts, revising contracts, marketing, networking, setting up new software and hardware, accounting/taxes, etc.) happen in the small off-season in the first half of the year. During the high season, there is a lot of administrative time devoted to fielding prospective client calls and making appointments, updating student information, maintaining tracking spreadsheets, etc.  There is (for me) a limit to how many essays I can edit in a row without a break, so I use that break time for administrative tasks.

Tina-Tranfaglia-catI work from a home office but I meet with my clients in their own homes (or sometimes at Panera or Starbucks). Most consultants see clients in their home offices versus traveling to them. I like getting out and seeing the students’ environment. I believe it is a value-added service because students have very limited free time, and it also makes it easier to involve the parents. I have a small house and a cat that are not as conducive to having meetings at my house. I cover a wide geography and feel that meeting at my home might also limit my client base. It is all part of a larger theme of offering more added value than anyone else.

I constantly refresh my knowledge through campus tours, professional associations, and conferences. I travel to colleges regularly, including in the course of vacations. In 2013, I drove from Chicago to Boston to see family and to visit college campuses along the way. I saw 17 colleges in 3 weeks. I try to visit the ones that my highly aspirational students would be most interested in, and I keep a log of schools visited and schools I still want to see. There are college tours offered in conjunction with conferences as well, but I do most of mine on my own.

You have to be able to get kids to open up to you, so you must be able to establish trust with them.

When college admissions representatives visit local high schools to present to students, usually in the fall and spring, they often set up meetings for college consultants and high school counselors. Some colleges invite us to their campuses for special events. There has been a lot of secrecy around IECs (Independent College Consultants) in the past; colleges knew we existed but didn’t want to acknowledge us, and high school counselors still consider us redundant (though many become IECs themselves!). In the past year or two, colleges have started to recognize that IECs influence students’ college lists and they have started actively reaching out to us. I have a huge library of brochures from meetings, presentations, and mailings. Meetings with college admissions representatives provide a great chance to ask questions about what is new with their college or how they read applications, as well as which factors weigh most heavily for them in their admissions decisions.

I love presenting and I do a lot of it, perhaps at the risk of giving away too much information for free! It is a great marketing tool and also a great way to help people start to understand the realities of the college process today versus when they went through it (if they went through it, or perhaps went through it in a foreign country). One of the best ways to sell myself without doing any selling at all is to let people meet me and decide if they like my personality (as a fit for their student/family) and my expertise, so presentations play to my strengths. I probably do 5 major presentations a year, including several coming up in Feb/March.

 

What kind of personality does one need to work as an IEC with teens and their families?

You need to have good people skills and a high level of emotional intelligence. You have to be authoritative but friendly…perhaps similar to how students view their teachers. You have to be able to get kids to open up to you, so you must be able to establish trust with them. Some kids are naturally outgoing and collaborative, some are shy, and some are wondering why their mother is torturing them by making this lady work with them. They have to view you as a credible source of information, but that seems to be the easiest part.

Tina-Tranfaglia-Presenting

Tina presenting to teens and their parents

I have found that students want someone to deal with them straight. They know the college process is hard and they don’t want to waste their time applying to the “wrong” schools, so I am very frank with them about their chances of admission and whether a school is a good fit or a real stretch. Kids appreciate open and honest feedback, even if it is hard news to take. I once had a student tell me he thought I was holding back, couching my response. I actually was not, but I am glad we had a strong enough relationship that he felt comfortable saying that.

I have found that students want someone to deal with them straight.

I work with high-achieving kids, so getting them to meet deadlines is not as challenging for me as it might be for some consultants. Of course, I do get procrastinators, those who are over-scheduled, and those who break down with anxiety over the process. I try to get to the bottom of why they are missing deadlines. I tell them that they need to own the process more than anyone else owns it for them. If they can’t get through the application process, then they might struggle getting through college. My contract sets forth expectations for their ownership of the process, and also includes a clause that allows me to drop them for repeated failure to meet deadlines, because it throws off my work with other students.

By the end of the process, many moms want to meet me for lunch, or perhaps drinks!

I find that dealing with parents can present other challenges. Some have a harder time adjusting their expectations to the realities of college admissions today; others just feel bad that the process is so hard and confusing. In my role with them, I am part consultant and part therapist. Many kids start out thinking they will wind up at community college, while many parents think their child is Ivy-bound…and the truth is always somewhere in between! The kids have a lot of peers to help calibrate their college expectations, whereas the parents have less of an opportunity to see the whole landscape. Pinning all your hopes on one dream college is a bad idea. There is a range of colleges that can meet the student’s needs and their future success is in no way dependent on getting into one particular college.

I generally have very close, warm relationships with both kids and parents.  I feel their wins and losses as my own. I am rooting for each one of them to reach his/her goal and am doing everything I can to make it happen. By the end of the process, many moms want to meet me for lunch, or perhaps drinks! It feels like we are old friends after surviving the process together. Some ask me about getting into the business too, now that they see how involved the admissions process really is.

 In my role with the parents, I am part consultant and part therapist.

I find that most kids and parents work on the college process together, even though there is a lot of eye-rolling going on at times. Most of our communication is shared with the exception of the essays. I do not share essays with parents unless I have the student’s permission to do so. Some kids feel it is too personal (think about getting naked in front of your parents vs. a doctor), or they only want to share it when it is finished.

 

What are different ways to enter the private college counseling industry?

People enter the industry with many different backgrounds, the most common of which is high school guidance counselors and college counselors becoming independent consultants, many of whom have a Master’s of Education or Master’s in School Counseling. Many admissions directors from colleges also become private consultants. However, there are also many who were formerly lawyers, business executives, therapists… People from all sorts of careers can transition to this path.

When you’re starting out, it may be hard to find an “apprenticeship,” as most established college counselors may be reluctant to take you on. The challenge is that we each have proprietary processes and we would wind up giving away our secrets to train our eventual competition. It is primarily a solo practitioner business, so you’ll most likely have to hang up your own shingle.

You may wish to differentiate yourself by choosing one of many sub-specialties within college consulting. While some people are generalists, others focus on helping students who aspire to enter more selective colleges (like I do), wish to play a sport in college, need to cope with learning differences or a patchy track record, want to get into specialized programs in the performing arts…and more. Often, that specialty stems from the consultant’s personal background.

There are people who only edit essays and do not advise on the other parts of the admissions process. Some mistakenly believe that being a good writer is all it takes to edit college essays. However, to do so effectively, one must understand what the colleges are looking for in an essay, how they are using it in their decision-making, and whether it is an appropriate, unique topic and the right level for a given student and college. The editor should have full background information on the student and know what else is in his/her application.

College essays are not simply writing exercises; in fact, they are about the content more than anything else. Essays should reflect a 17-year old’s authentic voice and not be heavily influenced by adult editing. Being able to bring that out of the student is where the art comes in. I use a proprietary process to draw out topics and authenticity from students.

 

Do you have any recommendations for books, websites, training programs, and other resources to prepare or get informed about your particular field?

There are two organizations dedicated specifically to Independent College Consultants (as opposed to high school counselors):

IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association)

HECA  (Higher Education Consultants Association)

You can start to learn about the field by joining some of the many LinkedIn groups focused on college admissions or financial aid. Check whether your community or your alumni organizations offer networking groups, especially women-only ones, which may help you meet fellow educational consultants (there are now four of us from my Kellogg graduating class and at least two from my college class), fellow entrepreneurs, or those who offer services to entrepreneurs. There is a women’s group for Kellogg called KEWN (Kellogg Executive Women’s Network)

There is no official certification required to become a college consultant, though there is an official certification one can obtain later in his/her career called a Certified College Planner.

Several University of California schools run online programs for becoming a college counselor, which involve 6 courses and a practicum. The UC Irvine certificate is geared specifically for independent education consultants (IECs). UCLA’s program is perhaps more widely known, but has a mix of those who work in high school guidance counseling and are seeking move into college counseling within their school, and those aspiring to be IEC’s.  I have recently become aware of one through UC San Diego as well.

The IECA also offers a Summer Training Institute, an intensive program for those hoping to enter the industry.  Finally, if you are in the Chicago Area, you could attend the Counselor Academy at Elmhurst College, which is a series of 3 weekend courses during the summer.

Here is an article from Entrepreneur that will give you a great introduction to becoming a college consultant, as well as some resources.

If you look up college admissions books on Amazon, you will be overwhelmed by the choices. Some of my favorites are:

Acceptance by David Marcus

The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg

Admission Matters by Sally Springer and Jon Reider

A is for Admission by Michele Hernandez

When it comes to college listing books, I prefer the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which is easy to browse. Some of the others read like a phone book!  I also like the Insider’s Guide to the Colleges.

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

Lately, my biggest challenge has been figuring out how to grow beyond my single capacity. This is primarily an industry of sole proprietors, and there are a lot of reasons why that makes sense as a business model. However, I think my business background will lead me to some creative solutions in the near future!

I am fairly certain I do not have another next act in me, only because I think this one will keep me challenged right up until retirement, and possibly even as a part-time gig during retirement. I recently wrote an entry in our class notes for my 30th college reunion, and I recounted how, not necessarily by design, I have really lived my life in twenty-year increments, with each twenty years bringing a big change. If I end up staying in this field for twenty years, I will be 65. We’ll see if I have the energy for another act, aside from retirement, after that.

 

Contact Tina Tranfaglia at collegeknow@aol.com or 847-331-6874

Tina will be giving her well-received presentation, Myths and Half-Truths in the College Admissions Process, several times in the coming months:

  • February 18, 2015 at 6 pm, hosted by Whitehall in Deerfield, IL with co-presenter and investment advisor Julie Shechtman
  • March 8, 2015 at 3 pm, hosted by Whitehall in Deerfield, IL with co-presenter and investment advisor Julie Shechtman
  • Late March TBD at offices of TransAmerica in Schaumburg, IL hosted by TransAmerica financial planner (and co-presenter) Cecilia Chou
  • September 2015 TBD in Geneva, IL, hosted by GenevaGEARS

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Starting a Teaching Career in Midlife: Kerri’s Story

 Kerri-Ringel-headshotA surprise request for help with an after school science program led Kerri to a new and rewarding career as an early education teacher.

 

 

 

 

Tell me a little about you, your family, your life, education, and work experience before your Next Act?

After graduating from Indiana University (1986) with a degree in Child Psychology and plans to go into healthcare, I began to work for a high-end clothing store in Chicago. When I was asked to become a buyer, I ended up staying on. I loved the people I worked with and the creativity the job allowed.

With the birth of my first child, Steven, my company was not open to my wish to job share or work part time, so I quit to stay home with my son and really loved it. The decision was for the best as my husband, Stuart, was soon diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and I was able to be home to care for him as well. We survived a tough year and a half, but I am happy to say he is cancer free and doing well.

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

Subsequently, we had two more children: David and Natalie. When my youngest, Natalie, was three years old, and I was 40, her preschool Director approached me about teaching a science enrichment class for 4-year-olds. My initial reaction was “Why me? I don’t know anything about teaching preschool!” The director told me she thought I was a great mom and very creative and that I’d be terrific for the job. She knew I had a college degree in Child Psychology, which qualified me to work in a preschool.

I had been considering going back to school for pediatric nursing and had started to look into programs. But it is really hard to get a Master’s in Nursing as a Part Time student and I wasn’t ready to commit to working or studying full time.

I went home and thought about it: I love children, I love being creative, I love to learn… Maybe this was a part-time job I could do and still be home with my kids. And it would be a good way for me to try teaching and see how I liked it.

The preschool parents who knew me were very supportive and excited for me. Those who didn’t…I do not know what their initial reactions were but, over time, I believe they were happy to have a teacher with a lot of enthusiasm and love for the kids.

I think teaching preschool and Kindergarten suits my personality well. I hope I can make preschool a happy place for children and that I can help instill a lifelong love of learning.

Kerri-Ringel-action-shot

What is your Next Act? Tell us about what you are doing…

I am a preschool teacher. When I first started, I agreed to teach after school as long as I could shadow the current science teacher before she retired. I have always loved science and had taken a lot of science classes. I also did a lot of experiments with my boys at home, because they were interested too. I loved the preschool children and teaching them science was exciting and rewarding. I worked hard to find ways to explain tough science concepts to them in a hands-on and engaging way.

I was nervous and excited about my first class. I was super prepared, with a lot more than I needed! I felt like it went well, but that I probably should have gone into less detail. I learned over time to zero in on what message I really wanted them to take away after class. That helped me focus my lessons without too much extra information.

I hope I can make preschool a happy place for children and that I can help instill a lifelong love of learning.

The director, parents, and kids were enthusiastic about what the kids were learning. A lot of parents told me “this is my child’s favorite class!” That made me even more excited. I put a lot of research and time into planning my curriculum and was thrilled that it was received that way. Registration for the next session had a wait list!

With the success of my science class, I was asked to create after school classes for art, cooking, and math. As my children grew, so did the number of classes I taught. I love the relationships I have built with the children and their families. These relationships, and the kids’ excitement to learn, are what keep me motivated and what I find so rewarding. My own kids had a lot of ideas for me. They were great at being my “testers,” helping me see where I needed to tweak my lessons so younger kids would understand the concepts.

Eventually, at age 45, I felt like I really wanted more knowledge about Early Childhood education, so I decided to pursue a Master’s degree. I needed to take a few prerequisites like Statistics and exams (Basic Skills Test and Miller Analogy Test) to gain entrance to National Louis University (NLU) in Chicago. I chose it for its reputation as an excellent teacher’s college. You can get a master’s in 2 years full time or up to 6 years part time.

 I love the relationships I have built with the children and their families. These relationships, and the kids’ excitement to learn, are what keep me motivated and what I find so rewarding.

For the last 4 years, I have taken one class a quarter. The last piece of the puzzle toward my degree is 10 weeks of student teaching, which I will do in March. I don’t know where I will be placed yet, but it will be a primary grade classroom. I am taking a leave of absence from my preschool teaching at that time, then hope to graduate in June! With my Master’s, I will be able to teach in a primary grade school, which I can’t do now. The degree also makes more more knowledgeable and credible.

 

What challenges have you encountered?

My family has been incredibly supportive of me going back to school. There have been some challenges along the way. A lot has changed since I was in college. The computer has been the biggest part of the challenge for me. My kids and husband have been very patient, teaching me how to make PowerPoint presentations, edit, post on the online website, etc. They are really proud that I am working towards an advanced degree and care about what I do so much that I want to gain more knowledge.

At first I felt a bit awkward about being an “older” student in my Master’s program. But the young students were really open minded and friendly towards me. My kids are not much younger than them and, in group discussions, I think they enjoyed hearing some of my teaching and parenting stories. We found some common ground: I was very supportive of them getting a Master’s early on and I think they looked to me for guidance, both personally and professionally. They also helped me with the computer stuff; that was the easy part for them! It has definitely been a two-way learning street…and a very positive one.

It is both rewarding and challenging to work in the same community where you live. Rewarding because I form awesome relationships with local families and I hope to be a good role model to young parents. Challenging because sometimes there can be awkward situations with parents wanting me to “get their kid in my class.” In those cases, I explain that there are procedures they need to follow and teacher child ratios we need to maintain. But I also encourage them to get on the wait list in case someone drops the class or the waitlist gets long enough that we are able to create another class. I just say I will do the best I can to help, but it is not my decision at the end of the day!

At a few points along the way, I honestly was going to quit. It is expensive and challenging to balance school, work, and family. My schedule is a bit crazy: I teach during the day and go downtown at night or take classes online. My family encouraged me to stick with it no matter how long it would take for me to get the degree. They said “some day you’ll be 50 anyway! With or without a degree-so you might as well continue!” I am eager to finish and am proud that I have stuck with it. I do think it has been good for my kids to see that I have persevered despite the bumps along the way.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

If you have a little voice inside of you that keeps drawing you to something, you should act on it. Why not? You have nothing to lose but a bit of time, and it may lead you on a wonderful journey.

For anyone looking to go back and teach, you need to decide what area of teaching you wish to go into. Special Education? Early Childhood? High School?

 If you have a little voice inside of you that keeps drawing you to something, you should act on it.

Look online and do some research about what programs are offered, at what locations, at what times, and at what cost. The program has to fit into your life… NLU offers classes face-to-face as well as online. I prefer face to face classes, but sometimes the convenience of online is terrific. I have taken a blend of classes. NLU is a private school and a bit expensive, but there is financial aid available.

Work backwards: Think about your end goal and then see which programs fit that best. Talk to a guidance counselor at the schools to get a feel for fit. And talk to current students.

Find teachers to mentor you through your journey. Two of my kids’ teachers, Wendy and Marney, were hugely helpful to me. I loved their teaching style and they were really supportive and encouraging of my goals.

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another Next Act in your future?

I am not exactly sure what I will do with my graduate degree. I love teaching where I’m teaching, but I may want to add a program that I take to inner city schools and help enrich their science and math curriculum. We will see; first I need to get that degree!

 

What resources do you recommend?

This Teaching Life by Wendy Wasserman

National Louis University

National Association for the Education of Young Children

Teach: Make A Difference

How to Become a Certified Preschool Teacher

 

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