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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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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Career Reinvention (It's Better to Wear Out, Not Rust Out)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ron Hoekstra
WIE 1973-74

Career Reinvention (It's Better to Wear Out, Not Rust Out)


I met the last member of my class as I returned to my room at Airlie House, an antebellum mansion in Virginia’s hunt country, where WIE hosted our orientation gathering. He snored softly, his beard spread atop his blanket. His unopened backpack rested against a wall. Hello, Bernard Glassman, newly arrived from Thailand. Welcome to our cadre of bright, talented, culturally and lingually diverse, extremely well-educated, and generally personable dewey-eyed change-makers.

By default, most of us aspired to improve public schooling. A few through federal agencies and policies. A couple already knew that the real action occurred at the state level. One or two carried the superintendency bug. We all sought to explore national-level policy making, hone networking skills, and learn how to effectively govern. Nearly everyone agreed that living / working / studying in Washington, DC trumped just about anything.   


My initial leadership training began in second grade. In that classroom of 13, I figured out how to extend and enhance my learning. The local post office connected me to the world beyond the corn and soybean fields of east-central Illinois. The school’s six teachers offered rich resource networks through which I leveraged the content of textbooks and workbooks into nearly limitless inquiry and discovery.

I learned that classmates esteemed me when I invited their questions and shared what I knew. Teachers actively coached and mentored me. Community leaders invested their time and wisdom in me. Donors underwrote the cost of Boy Scout summer camps and the American Legion’s Boys State. Nearly everyone in my home town of 550 helped raise me.



As I left for college, I recognized the efficacy of the three fundamentals of successful social and governance paradigms. Articulate policies that always recognize, affirm and empower human potential. Develop safe paths for use of “best practices” and trial and error where those don’t work. Model and practice networking.

A decade of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate schooling conceptualized and reinforced those three fundamentals. 2 1/2 years of pre- and post-doctoral internships confirmed and deepened their importance. The Ford Foundation’s Washington Internship in Education iced the cake.


Fast-forward through 16 years of public school leadership — always at the district level. About six months into my final superintendency I realized that I no longer sought the next job. My self-diagnosed “restless intellect” prompted me to career shift into the private sector.



17 years and three successful non-education related businesses later, I once again career-shifted. This time as a volunteer teacher in developing countries. My wife, Linda and I lived and taught for two years in Honduras and for one year in Indonesia. We returned to the US in 2013.

As expats, we lived in local neighborhoods, shopped in local markets, and ate in local restaurants. We visited cities, small towns and villages. Nearly everywhere we met missionaries and volunteers through whom churches and charitable organizations sought to provide free, in-country medical, dental, child-care, and education services to the poorest and neediest. While we noted the obvious benefits provided, we also witnessed an unexpected result of such well-intended charity — a continuing culture of dependence.

Nearly always missing was the bedrock of successful social and governance paradigms. Few policies recognized, affirmed and empowered human potential. Fewer, if any, safe paths existed for use of “best practices” and trial and error where those didn’t work. Networking mostly promoted and facilitated corruption.

2016 and Beyond

To help reduce cultural and economic dependence, we created The Foundation for Enterprise and Hope, a 501c(3) non-profit corporation, doing business as The Coffee Can Group.

Through no-interest micro-loans, we aim to enable burgeoning entrepreneurs (particularly young women) to start a business, produce a profit, and grow personal wealth. As loan recipients repay their loans, those monies remain in the local community to be reinvested in other proposed businesses. Interrupting debilitating cycles of social and economic dependence begins with enterprise and personal wealth.

The three pillars of policy, networking, and leadership provided us the conceptual framework for fostering economic and social independence. Based on these tenets, we support sustainable economic empowerment through enterprise. Networking generates clients and social investors. We mentor and coach others to lead this effort.

We rooted our social investment model in successful small business structures and practices. The Coffee Can Group’s leadership teams include entrepreneurs who saw opportunities to make money, created businesses, produced profits, and developed personal wealth. Along the way they helped others and had fun.

We envision hundreds, perhaps, thousands of persons contributing fewer than $25 each. Our Coffee Can Connections comprise networks of social investors who form investment groups of five or six, generate a group investment donation, and then reach out to others to form new investment groups.

The Coffee Can Group also intends to engage with public and independent schools and colleges across the US. We seek to network with elementary and high school teachers who wish to integrate our economic and social investment model into their study of languages, cultures, geography, and economics. We plan to network with college and university professors and their undergraduate and graduate students to encourage them to investigate and document the outcomes of growing individual enterprise in developing countries.

Learn more about and with us.

Tags:  alumni  career  leadership  networking  policy  WIE 

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