Jeri Powell – CUP Fellow Spotlight – Feb. 2012

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

I am a State Director for StudentsFirst.  StudentsFirst is a national, bi-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming public education in America.  As a State Director, I manage legislative affairs for the organization across three separate states.  The work is a combination of education policy, politics, coalition building and advocacy around issues in education.

I was a practicing corporate lawyer before taking on this position, and I was working for about a year to transition into education.  I was very fortunate to get introduced to StudentsFirst right at the beginning of the organization’s founding (December 2010), through a trusted professional contact. I’m very grateful to her!

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

“Education Reform” has become a politically charged term, but fundamentally, we are working towards giving every child an equal opportunity to succeed.  We all feel such a tremendous amount of responsibility with that.  That has to stay at front and center in my mind, and it's a constant challenge when dealing with the political aspects of the work.

What is your proudest achievement?

Professionally, I’ve worked in a number of different arenas, in search of work I felt was personally meaningful, my life’s work.  I am proud that I never gave up on that search.  It has been frustrating at times, but I bring all of those experiences to what I do now.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

To be honest, I’ve met so many interesting people over the years who are not famous, who inspire me.  It’s amazing to see the challenges people can overcome in their lives in order to reach their goals.  So much of the good work being done in the world comes not from government or formal programs, but from people taking action in their own ways, in their own community spheres.    Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Like many driven people, I’ve always had a plan: one year, five years, ten years.  I think that has been critically important to getting me to where I am now.  At this point in my life and career, I feel I’ve built a strong foundation to be able to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that come my way.  For the first time in quite a while, I don’t have a firm plan.  So its hard to say…I fundamentally believe I will continue work that is service oriented, but beyond that, I can’t wait to find out myself!

What is one thing you’ve learned from the CUP Fellows Program that you would pass along to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

The CUP Fellows are such a supportive group.  More than anything, I’ve learned the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive, positive, likeminded people.  We all help each other.  There will be many challenges along the way and we all need support and encouragement, and no one achieves great things alone.