EPFP Alumni Stories
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Welcome to the EPFP Alumni Stories! Here we highlight the work of EPFP alumni around the country by featuring guest blog posts about our three pillars: Policy, Leadership, and Networking. For more information or to report abuse of this feature, please contact the EPFP national program staff at epfp@iel.org.

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Cross Boundary Leader: Brianna Aloisio (MA EPFP 16-17)

Posted By National Coordinator, Monday, November 12, 2018
Updated: Friday, August 10, 2018

Brianna Aloisio (MA EPFP 16-17)
Policy and Government Affairs Manager | Stand for Children

Career Path & Education Policy
Brianna Aloisio is the Policy and Government Affairs Manager at Stand for Children Massachusetts.  Stand for Children advocates for better and equal education standards for all children. Their mission is to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, college or career training.  In her role, Brianna supports the policy team and works closely with Executive Director, Ranjini Govender. Brianna provides policy research, data analysis, and policy and legislative tracking of trends in the news. Additionally, she works to develop and maintain strong relationships with external partners and actively expands their network through government affairs outreach. 

Cross-Boundary Leadership Lessons
My experience at EPFP has shaped my knowledge and approach to leadership.  During that time, I learned that leadership is not always a definite format. Depending on my audience, my leadership style must adapt to effectively lead that group. Throughout EPFP, learning from leaders in various roles and levels illuminated the importance of leadership styles to me.  Knowing which leadership style is best to influence specific audiences has made me a stronger and sharper leader. 

Stand for Children includes both a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization called Stand for Children, and a 501(c)(3) training organization called Stand for Children Leadership Center. This duality makes working for Stand for Children a unique experience. I work with and for parents and use the information I acquire from the community to craft legislation that inspires and empowers.  At a local level, I work with my team to organize voices of supporters who are passionate about current issues facing education. Using these stories, Stand employs our legislative arm to advocate and negotiate laws to support the needs of the community.

While many topics surrounding education policy may seem straightforward, I find that there are still barriers that exist when trying to persuade policymakers to apply legislation that we are advocating for. Building trust is a priority at the ground level of education policy. 

The time I spend in the field learning about community needs and hearing personal accounts from the members takes trust. Many times people are reluctant to share their stories. Therefore, we must concentrate on building relationships with community members to facilitate an environment where they feel comfortable and confident in sharing their thoughts and opinions with us so that we can guide them to use their own voices to enact change. 

EPFP Experience and Value
My experience with EPFP has proved pivotal and important to my professional career. EPFP gave me the political framework to work in policy. I come from an education background; however, I have never taught or worked in a school setting full time. While in college, I volunteered with various organizations serving as a program leader, community liaison, co-teacher, and tutor which introduced me to many ways to serve in education. While in EPFP, I met people who worked at various levels in the education world. The connections made, and the conversations held during EPFP have given me a broader understanding of the successes and failures within the school system. Furthermore, EPFP gave me the training, network, and leadership experience I needed to move forward with my career. After my completion of EPFP, I moved into my current position as Policy and Government Affairs Manager. Having no prior official policy training, EPFP was a boost which advanced my knowledge and made me confident to advocate for my capacity to take on a policy role.

With regard to value, EPFP offers vital leadership experience and networking opportunities that I will continue to utilize. Often those who work in advocacy do their work unaccompanied and may lose sight of the network surrounding them working towards the same goals. EPFP gives like-minded individuals the opportunity to collaborate. This collaboration builds connections and expands networks, creating stronger players in their field. The program has also reassured me that there are people in the world working for the same objectives that I am. I foresee that EPFP will continue to be necessary and valuable program because the need for more information yields the need for further collaboration.  Accordingly, collaboration will give us the tools needed for advancing the state of education policy.


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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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Cross-Boundary Leader: Robert Feirsen

Posted By National Coordinator, Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Updated: Monday, August 13, 2018

Robert Feirsen (NY EPFP '13-14)


Career Path & Education Policy
Robert Feirsen is the Director of the School of Leadership and Technology Program at NYIT. He provides an academic background with a focus on technology for aspiring school leaders at many levels. The program is unique in the organic approach to technology and its use as a strategic mechanism for conducting the work of schools.  Feirsen previously served as Superintendent of Garden City (N.Y.) Public Schools for 12 years, and has administrative leadership experience at the deputy superintendent, and school principal levels.

Education Philosophy
Throughout my career, I had overseen many aspects of the education process. These experiences have allowed me to analyze and identify barriers to success in the education process. Funding is at the forefront of the education policy matter. We have traditionally underfunded public state education, and we have not figured out how to balance the Equity=Excellence equation. In the future, I hope to see a country that is able to actualize and make a commitment the vision of equity with excellence in education nationally.

Gaps in understanding from the high school to college level pose a threat to the success of both institutions. Although the two institutions act as a continuum, there are tremendous gaps in understanding of what each party does. Not only do the two institutions not share the same vocabulary, their understanding of the policies and best practice is vastly different. Good conversation and collaboration between each institution will help us reduce these barriers and result in positive change for all. 

We have made strides in the advancement of neuropsychology and information about how people learn, remember, and apply knowledge. But we have not mastered implications of these understandings at the daily instructional level.  The most critical questions in education are: How can we be sure that students learn, and what assessment tools are used for measuring what they learn? As educators, we are fulfilling our goal if we can ensure that students can apply what they are learning. 

EPFP Experience and Value
The EPFP experience was a pivotal moment in my career. As a school leader, the press of day-to-day events often prevented me from looking at the big picture issues in education policy, but EPFP widened my lens.  EPFP enabled me to step back and assess the overarching education climate and fine tune my approach. 

Upon completion of the program, I was able to bring the knowledge I gained from EPFP to my job. Specifically, during a conversation with the Board of Education I was able to give recommendations of best practices I learned at EPFP for addressing policy. As a result, we created a legislative affairs committee where we could work collaboratively with other districts that felt similar education needs. Overall, the knowledge I gained from EPFP has been funneled upward and has positively impacted the scope of the work of the Board of Education, to the benefit of my staff and student community. 

Networking and Leadership 
Networking is a great part of the program, and I am grateful for the experience and the connections I made during the Fellowship. Sharing knowledge is one of the most important parts of the work I do. When I work with great people, I am privileged to know that I can teach them something and that someday they will be able to apply what they learned in their careers. EPFP has also empowered me to reflect on my leadership style and become a leader who is strong yet gracious. Our work is people-centered and when dealing with people it’s important to be helpful, compassionate, and empathetic. The people we serve are not data points. Each person we serve has a story and journey and our goal is to add quality experiences to their lives. I found that there was much value in the program. The information provided, connections made, and speakers were most significant to my experience. EPFP has illuminated that nobody does anything alone. We rely on other people, and that’s a great thing because the more voices we can get into the mix, the stronger and better our decisions will be.


Tags:  alumni 

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From Policy Project to Statewide Task Force Leader

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, January 8, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, December 20, 2017

 Jenna Masone

CT EPFP 16-17

Principal, Wolfpit Elementary School & Legislative Task Force Co-Chair

As I sat in the EPFP seminar one fall evening in 2016, the Connecticut Chapter Facilitator, Leslie Abbatiello, relayed a story about a determined citizen who worked for seven years to pass legislation designating a state polka song.  It struck me as a triumphant example of the potential impact one citizen could have, and inspired me to consider what I might be able to accomplish to positively impact my community.  

As part of the ten month program, fellows were charged with completing a project.  Left intentionally vague for our group of accomplished professionals, there were no parameters, deadlines, or grades.  What was presented was a simple invitation to engage in public service as related to education.  Diverse perspectives and areas of interest led all of us in different directions.  As the Principal of Wolfpit Elementary School in Norwalk and an avid swimmer most of my life, I was interested in public policy as related to water safety awareness.  Preliminary research revealed the rates of unintentional drowning for children ages birth to eighteen have remained relatively stagnant both nationally and locally for decades.  Drowning continues to be a leading cause of death in children.  Of note is the disproportionate representation of African American and Hispanic children that comprise two-thirds of all deaths.  In addition, ninety percent of deaths of children on the autism spectrum are due to unintentional drowning.  

There has been relatively little legislative response or public policy in Connecticut pertaining to the general issue of water safety awareness.  Given the number of preventable deaths and their profound impact on families, I was inspired to take action.  Though I had never heard of a legislative policy brief before EPFP, a quick internet search provided several templates and in two snow days’ time it was written.  I connected with the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors.  The Executive Director read the policy brief and was enthusiastic about raising awareness at the state level.  As a non-partisan arm of the general assembly, the commission arranged for a round table discussion and press conference with legislators from both sides of the aisle.  I connected with several family foundations and state agencies, and invited additional participants.  We followed with a press conference to announce the Governor’s declaration of May as Water Safety Month across the state.  

The participants’ interest in and commitment to the issue at the round table discussion was clear and broad-based. As a result, the Commission used its statutory capacity to create the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors Water Safety Awareness Legislative Task Force.  At the annual board meeting, I was appointed Co-Chair of the Task Force and charged with appointing members, developing a draft set of deliverable objectives, developing a schedule of meetings, and producing a year end report.  The Task Force is comprised of individuals representing the House, the Senate, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Office of Early Childhood, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Safety, the YMCA, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Pediatrics, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Stew Leonard III Children's Charities, and the Zac Foundation.    

The Task Force serves as a forum for water safety awareness experts and legislators to exchange their expertise, and to take meaningful action on behalf of children.  The members’ collective efforts are evolving into a statewide response with the goal of reducing the number of unintentional drownings and hospitalizations.  The path is forged and the process has begun.  What started as a fleeting idea evolved into public action in less than one year.  The EPFP experience provided the foundation, the context, and the tools for me to initiate what I hope to have a profound, positive impact on children and families.

Tags:  alumni  leader  principal  public service  water safety 

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Data Use Principles for Education Leaders

Posted By National Coordinator, Friday, December 1, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jordan E. Horowitz, Vice President, Institute for Evidence-Based Change

Jordan Horowitz is responsible for developing and managing new initiatives in educational collaboration, research support and technology tools, and data use. He has extensive experience in applied research methods, program evaluation, educational partnerships and comprehensive school reform. He is an alum of CA EPFP ’92-93

 In our recent book from Harvard Education Press, Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges: A New Model for Educators, my colleague Brad Phillips and I present a data use model for student success grounded in the latest research on how people and organizations process information. Educators have focused on increasing data literacy for a few decades now, with little movement on the needle for increasing student success. We argue that, with so many advances in understanding human neuroscience, judgment and decision-making, and organizational habits, educational institutions should capitalize on what we have learned about our ability to present information in ways that will maximize its use.

Educational leaders have a central role to fulfill in improving the use of information to support student success. There are many lessons to be gleaned from our book. I thought I’d present just five important ones here.

First, you know the old saw about the difference between data and information. Unfortunately, most people think they know what it means but we argue they do not. Unlike data, information is usable, useful, and actionable. To be usable, it must be in a format that is easily understood. The story must be clear. Figuring out what’s important in a table should not be like playing Where’s Waldo?. To be useful, it must link clearly to student success efforts. When we coach educational institutions we do not allow anything to be presented, “for information only.” Our rule is that everything must be presented for one of two reasons: (a) it is mandated for compliance reporting or (b) it is linked to student success efforts. The information must also be actionable; it should not be a dead end. All information should answer the question, “Are we being effective in our student success efforts?”

Second, know that different information is needed by different folks. Administrators typically focus on the big goals such as graduation rates, persistence to degree, or transition to the next stage in a student’s life (middle to high school, high school to postsecondary education or employment, two-year college to four-year university or career, etc.). These are lagging indicators, which cannot be influenced directly. Once you have this information about a group or cohort of students, they are already out the door. Faculty and program staff, on the other hand, focus on leading indicators. Leading indicators are actionable and lead to your lagging indicators. Examples of leading indicators are course success rates, formative test results, attendance, and term to term persistence. When presented with this information, subpopulations of students can be identified for supports and decisions can be made whether to modify an intervention to improve success, scale it up from an initial pilot, or abandon it for something potentially more impactful.

Third, reduce the amount of information disseminated. When we work with educational institutions we’re typically introduced to volumes of tables and charts. New student information systems come preloaded with canned reports on all kinds of metrics. However, just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Go back to the first lesson, above. All of this data causes confusion and doesn’t tell the actionable story. Educators should not have to be analysts. Find out the metrics—the leading indicators—your faculty and staff need to decide if they’re being successful and what changes they need to make. Then give it to them. We advocate for focusing on what matters rather than providing everyone on campus with an overwhelming amount of data that, ultimately, is useless to them because they do not know what information is the most important.

Fourth, focus on high-impact, research-based, scalable interventions—whether they’re student supports, policies, professional development, or others. While there are a number of high-impact, research-based interventions, the actual intervention needs to be aligned with the challenge presented. If a college has an issue with course completion, for example, a First Year Experience program can help a little, but it is really designed to help students “do college” and mostly affects term-to-term persistence. If a high school is struggling to increase success among English learners, don’t choose a support program that is geared to the general student population. Avoid implementing too many interventions at small scale; what we call the ornaments on a tree approach. Go for one or at most two big bets.

Fifth, hold folks accountable for their leading indicators. Start with a logic model that clearly describes what you plan to do and why you expect it to make a difference. Your logic model should identify the lagging indicators or big goals, typically referred to as logic model outcomes. Backward map to the leading indicators you intend to track and which, if accomplished, ensure your lagging indicators will be achieved. In a logic model these leading indicators are typically are referred to as outputs. Then hold folks accountable for these leading indicators. Holding faculty accountable for graduation rates is frustrating because they cannot directly influence that indicator. But holding them accountable for course success rates (students demonstrating proficiency) is within their control. They can use formative assessments to identify which students require extra supports. High school faculty can identify students with chronic absenteeism to implement related interventions.

Being a good data use leader means enabling focus by reducing the amount of information available, ensuring the information is easily understood and supports action, and holding folks accountable for indicators within their power to change. When it comes to using data to support student success, less is definitely more.

You can learn more about the Institute for Evidence-Based Change at http://www.iebcnow.org/.

Jordan Horowitz's recent book, Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges: A New Model for Educators, is featured in our EPFP alumni book corner

Tags:  community college  data  leadership 

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