Building a Career Pipeline

If you were lucky, at some point early in your career a mentor came along and showed you the ins and outs of your chosen profession. In the process, you may have gained new skills, received opportunities to lead, expanded your knowledge base, learned how to navigate through a difficult situation. And you may have had doors opened to you.

Providence Day School (NC) is taking luck out of the equation for young professionals interested in the field of advancement. Providence Day School’s fellowship program allows young professionals to explore advancement careers—and helps develop a talent pipeline that fosters the growth and missions of independent schools.

In 2004, when Jeffrey Appel was assistant head of school for alumni and development at The Berkshire School (MA), he had an idea to establish an incubator for young professionals interested in exploring the advancement field. A veteran with 32 years of experience in independent school and higher education advancement, Appel has seen firsthand the shortage of candidates ready to fill entry-level advancement positions.

Now associate head of school for institutional advancement at Providence Day School (PDS), Appel turned that idea into a reality. In 2014, he worked with Head of School Glyn Cowlishaw to create a one-year, immersive fellowship inPDS’s office of institutional advancement. Appel sought to create a program to prepare recent college graduates for the next chapter in their career and provide an opportunity to learn and fully understand the four areas typically found in advancement offices in independent schools: alumni relations, major gifts and annual giving, advancement services, and marketing and communications. Appel stressed the importance of including all facets of advancement in the program to ensure that fellows have a well-rounded experience,
and ultimately to help grow the advancement profession in independent schools.

For such a program to be truly successful, Appel says, the head of school must embrace the concept completely. And “you have to find the funds. Directors need to specifically identify projects that the fellow can do and own completely. It can’t be a one-off. And you should be very deliberate about making sure it’s a value-add for both parties.”

Opportunities like this are much needed, says Jonathan Ball, managing associate at Carney, Sandoe & Associates. During his 19-year career recruiting for independent schools, he’s noticed the education sector gradually facing strong challenges in terms of its perception as a viable job choice. He believes it’s vital to the future success of our collective institutions to help create the pipeline of qualified, well-trained, knowledgeable advancement professionals.

“If we’re not taking the lead in promoting and growing our industry, pulling people in and giving them these entry-level jobs, where are they going to come from?” Ball asks. He underscores the need for schools to create awareness and interest in education careers—giving college graduates a direct path to study, learn, and grow across all channels in advancement work—and then supporting their career transition to ensure that independent schools thrive well into the future. “I really applaud and support the work PDS has done and the initiative around this program,” Ball says. “It’s invaluable, really smart, and forward-thinking.”

Helping Fellows Out

The Advancement Fellow program, which we advertise on the PDS website and talk about during job fairs, is a very deliberate and strategic professional development opportunity. Each fall, over the course of a week, fellows visit other independent schools in the Southeast to learn about those institutions, gain a firsthand look at their advancement operations, and begin to build their own professional network in the field. Fellows also receive coaching and valuable networking information for exploring job openings beyond the year-long fellowship. Appel works with the fellows to assess their interests based on their experiences at PDS, asking them to reflect on the type of independent school they might want to be a part of, and offers them perspective on what those environments are often like. He also spends time helping them evaluate job openings, reviewing job descriptions, and providing advice on how best to position themselves as strong candidates.

For the school’s first advancement fellow in the 2015-2016 school year, the impact was immediate and long-lasting. Patricia “PJ” Kolman came to Providence Day after graduating from Duke University in 2015. She was also quite familiar with independent schools, as an alumna of The Hun School of Princeton (NJ) and having parents who work at independent schools. This, in part, fueled her desire to find work as an advocate for independent schools and give back to the institutions that positively influenced her.

“When I first got the fellow position, I felt like I had won the ‘Golden Ticket’ of advancement jobs,” she explains. “Throughout my job search, I was unsure about what positions would be the best way to start a career in advancement. I also did not know which field, like marketing or annual giving or alumni relations, I wanted to pursue. When I was introduced to the fellow position, I realized it would be a unique opportunity to immerse myself in every aspect of advancement at an exceptional institution.”

Her responsibilities were both broad and varied and included creating annual giving materials, producing videos, planning alumni and parent events, writing for internal and external audiences, building web resources, researching donor prospects, and attending professional development conferences, among many other activities. She also found time to serve as assistant coach of the middle school swim team.

Bolstered by those experiences, Kolman was a much sought-after candidate at the end of her yearlong fellowship. Ultimately, she accepted a development officer position at King’s Academy in Jordan. In this capacity, she is designing fundraising appeals, managing a portfolio of regional and overseas donors, preparing for the school’s 10th anniversary celebrations, assisting in the formation of the alumni association, and serving as a dorm parent.

“My transition into greater responsibility and decision-making power at King’s was infinitely smoother because I had the directors [at PDS] as role models,” she says. “Providence Day is an outstanding school and a phenomenal place to work. It encourages teamwork, excellence, and school pride from its transitional kindergarten students to senior administrators. After working there, I strive to create the same collaborative atmosphere in every place I work.”

The 2016-2017 fellow, Myers McGarry, a 2016 graduate of Washington & Lee University and an alumna of Charlotte Latin School (NC), was embraced by the Providence Day community as one of its own. “I feel like the entire community took me under its wing,” she says.

McGarry benefited from a wide-ranging set of tasks and projects. She filmed and produced several videos, wrote executive-level communications, collaborated with the admissions office on a drip-marketing campaign, created social media editorial calendars, updated donor files, implemented volunteer engagement activities, and helped plan alumni events. Her visits to other independent schools in the region produced invaluable perspective on the different strategic approaches to advancement work.

During the search for her next position, McGarry leveraged her time at Providence Day as a distinguishing characteristic. “People were impressed by the breadth of projects that I took on at PDS,” she says. “I felt more
confident applying for positions at other schools with this year of experience.” After considering several offers from independent schools across the country and internationally, McGarry is now a marketing and communications associate at Nashoba Brooks School (MA).

Based on their experiences, Kolman and McGarry encourage other schools to consider establishing similar fellow positions. “I would suggest looking internally and asking if each member of your team possesses the ability to handle their own responsibilities and take on a mentee,” Kolman says. But, she also notes, schools should consider that location, housing options and costs, social environments, and faculty demographics could impact a program’s viability.

Providence Day has recently selected its third advancement fellow, PDS alumnus Guille Henegar, who begins his tenure this fall after earning a B.A. in Communication with a Spanish minor from Denison University.

It’s been said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Advancement fellow programs—crafted thoughtfully and intentionally—can be a win-win-win-win for the candidate, the school, the profession, and the industry. And then we’ll all be lucky.


Diversity Fellowship

The ideals of empathy, understanding, and embracing diversity are hallmarks of a Providence Day School education. To support those ideals and to underscore the school’s commitment to prepare students to be leaders in an increasingly multicultural world, PDS Head of School Glyn Cowlishaw has made it a priority to attract faculty and staff of color.

By leveraging Providence Day’s position as the only independent school in the nation to host a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School, PDS secured a $50,000 matching grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation and used it to establish a yearlong teaching internship position for a recent college graduate with a passion for education and desire to participate in PDS’s Freedom School. With the goal of transitioning to a full-time faculty position, this pilot internship is one of the many ways the school is implementing its diversity initiatives over the next several years. On a campus where one in four students is non-white, PDS recognizes it must work to mirror that diversity in its personnel for the benefit of its students and community. The Freedom School fellow teaching internship program represents a conscious, concerted effort to attract, develop, and retain faculty of color.

Concurrently, Providence Day’s participation in the Freedom School program has also helped to enhance the social responsibility and service learning initiatives at our school. Thoughtful conversations regarding educational and social justice and issues of economic mobility are taking place in the classroom on a regular basis. Many of those conversations are spurred by our students’ own firsthand experiences as Freedom School volunteers. Having more faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds on campus will inform and influence that dialogue with students in a positive way.

Having a multicultural faculty enriches the learning environment for all our students. Our students’ future academic and social success depends on their ability to navigate an increasingly diverse world. They deserve educators, role models, and mentors who can help them understand and embrace the rich complexity of a global community. This is what it means to be a global school.

Karen K. Brand

Karen K. Brand is the director of strategic marketing and communications at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina.