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Unaa' Holiness Talks Networking (MI EPFP '17-18)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Unaa’ Holiness

Human Resource Specialist Lansing School District

Unaa Holiness is an Alum of MI EPFP ’17-18. She currently serves as the Human Resources Specialist for the Lansing School District. Previously, Unaa’ Holiness served as Director of Telemarketing Services at Phone Bank Systems, Inc. She came from private sector fundraising.

New to Education Policy

When I submitted my application for EPFP, I was originally very nervous. Although I had done my research about the program, once I was selected I was doubtful of my ability to succeed in the program. The Fellowship was about a field that I was unfamiliar with and I was unsure on how my background would fit into the program. After I expressed the concern with my Coordinators, they assured me that they picked me because they were confident that I would be a good candidate.

I have worked at the Lansing School District for almost 4 years, but before that, I knew little about schools. EPFP gave me a broader understanding about the challenges teachers dealt with. It opened my eyes and showed me places where I could be more active, more understanding, and more vocal for my staff.

Throughout my experiences at EPFP, I feel that I was satisfied with my growth in each of the three pillars, however the networking portion of the experience has been the most memorable and significant to my personal and professional life.

New to Networking

Before EPFP I was terrified by the idea of networking. Although I am a very social person, I typically become more outgoing the longer I know someone.  In school I was that kid who hated group projects, and those feelings continued into adulthood.  Nevertheless, I still went in with an open mind. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me stronger.

I appreciated the actionable tips that forced us together and gave me skills to be a better networker. One of the best tips they gave me was how to start a conversation. I felt that starting a conversation was always the hardest part about meeting new people. I always wanted to talk to people but I wasn’t sure what to say.

I was able to use these skills at the Regional Leadership Forum, where 5 EPFP sites met together for a tour of Gettysburg Battlefield followed by a reception.  Typically in a large setting I would talk to the people I knew, but using the tools I learned at EPFP, I was challenged to break out of my comfort zone and began starting conversations with new people. My biggest trick would be to look at their name tag, which would include their position and probe them using the information I had. For example, if I met someone who works in a school I would began asking them about their job experience and look for ways to connect with them. Initially, I was shocked by my results. A simple switch in perspective really changed my view of networking. No longer did I think of networking as an annoying or uncomfortable task. It became more of an opportunity for me.

Unaa’s Tips and Tools Learned from EPFP

Another tool that I learned from EPFP was about joining conversations. I used to feel weird about adding my two cents into someone’s conversation, but after I jumped in and engaged I found that I was usually welcomed into the conversation. I also found that I had valuable knowledge to share with my peers.

These kinds of connections reinforced for myself how much knowledge I had to share and I still keep in contact with those people I’ve created connections with. My advice? If someone has something you could benefit from, don’t be afraid to ask them for coffee and pick their brain. At first, I believed that my network only existed in my field, but I have found that my network is larger and more diverse than I realized.

Top tips:

  • Use the information you have about someone as an opportunity to learn more about them. For example, you know that someone works as a teacher use this information to learn more about their role and find out if you have a similarity or some type of shared interest.
  • Never excluded people from your network, although you may know someone as a community member they may play a role in their professional life that you can partner with.
  • Be willing to make the initial conversation with a stranger because your next opportunity may come from that person.

Networking in Action

After my EPFP experience, I am still using the skills I learned. Recently, I attended a conference and my recent success at networking made me more confident in my abilities.  Additionally, I now have connections at the Michigan Department of Education so when I have a question about an application I can go farther than just reading the information online, I can call those contacts and ask the questions firsthand.

When it comes to policy, it can be kind of who you know in order to get your foot in the door. This year I met a state Congressman. I shared about my EPFP experience and he actually knew all about the program. He even invited me along to a meeting with him.

Networking is important for educational policy because if you don’t network, you limit your impact. It is important to know who to talk to or who oversees the area you’re advocating in so you can make an informed and collaborative difference.

In conclusion, networking is about mutual advantage. For every person you meet you open the door to access more opportunities. I’m grateful for my growth in networking from my EPFP experience. 



Tags:  alumni  networking 

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