DESHAUN MARS – FELLOW SPOTLIGHT

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

Currently, I am a Director of Partnerships at Teach For America where I work with our school partners to help manage the hiring process for our incoming teachers. I also lead the New York region's efforts to diversify our local teaching corps.

My own educational experience growing up in New York has really informed both my career path and the work I choose to do today. I graduated from a private high school after having gone to neighborhood public schools in Brooklyn my entire life. Experiencing first-hand the educational disparities I am hoping to address in my work has made me extremely passionate about expanding the educational opportunities for young people that look like me and come from similar communities. This is absolutely why I am committed to the work that I do every day.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

The biggest challenge of my work is learning how to effectively manage so many different processes, work streams and moving pieces that involve many different constituents who all have their own respective needs. No two days of mine are the same. I might give a presentation to some of our external partners one day and then the next, I may lead a discussion with local college students about educational inequity. In this sense, figuring out how all of the different pieces of my work come together can be difficult.

What is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement has been leading a cross-functional team composed of my colleagues who have varied skill sets and talents. Our group was responsible for developing the goals, metrics and strategies that our entire regional team would use to evaluate the effectiveness of our teacher diversity recruitment and support efforts. Knowing that I was capable of leading such an important and high-level initiative was extremely validating. Taking on projects of this sort has given me the confidence to trust my abilities. It has also offered me the opportunity to learn more about my own leadership style.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

I really admire leaders who are smart, sensible and who take a stance for what is right. I also value the ability to break down complex thoughts and ideas into easily digestible pieces. One leader in particular that I have the utmost respect for is Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at UCLA.

Professor Noguera is one of the leading voices in education who has dedicated his work to examining the intersection between poverty and education in urban communities. Looking at the social conditions in which our schools are situated is a priority that needs to be discussed amongst stakeholders who are responsible for making education policy. Professor Noguera does this in a way that makes the issues easy to understand. He also offers ambitious yet very practical and realistic solutions to tackling difficult and multifaceted problems. This is another skill I truly appreciate in leaders.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years, I see myself as a leading voice in policy circles. I hope to bring together the public, private and non-profit sectors to improve the social outcomes of those in our highest-need communities.

I also plan to continue leveraging my own educational and professional experiences to inform the work that I do. My hope is that I never forget how critical and important these efforts are.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?

I have a cadre of mentors that I call on to ask for advice. It is great to talk to professionals that have accomplished so much throughout their careers. These advisers are able to offer me concrete suggestions on how to leverage my passions into a viable and impactful career.

In the earlier part of my career, I worked as a college access and transition counselor, so I also mentor some of my former students as they are now embarking on their own career paths.

What do you hope to gain from your CUP Fellows Program experience to help you make a significant and positive impact in your community?

My lens for social change has always been through education and I previously thought that was one of the only ways for me to have an impact on my community. However, through the CUP Fellows Program, I have met so many wonderfully smart and talented people that are engaging their communities in a variety of different ways. Their involvement ranges from working behind the scenes on political campaigns to tackling criminal justice reform. My participation in the fellowship has really provided me with a new framework for thinking about how I want to use my experiences to make a broad and significant impact on my community.