Tonya Leslie – Fellow Spotlight

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

I am the Vice President and Publisher of Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic. I’ve been in this role for almost a year, but I have been working at Scholastic on and off for nearly 20 years. I feel like I grew up at the company and am really proud to be back in this role. I left the company about seven years ago to pursue my doctorate in teaching and Learning at NYU . I am glad to be able to come back and put that research into action. Part of what I do is create resources, materials and professional development training to bridge the gap between school and home and to build the capacity of educators to support families and communities around academic achievement.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
There are many steps from taking a product from research concept to something that is tangible and in the warehouse. One of the challenges is keeping track of all the different components of the work. Luckily I have an awesome team that helps to keep the wheels turning and make sure that we are on schedule.

What is your proudest achievement?
I would have to say my proudest achievement is my doctoral research. I did a year long qualitative study that followed 11 first year Black and Hispanic college students in STEM programs and the goal was to understand the nature of their academic resilience. It was a big project and generated a lot of data and it was amazing to see that I could plan and implement a project of that size. The young people I worked with on the study were incredibly honest and open and helped me to see my own academic resilience as I managed academic challenges of my own. Completing that project and writing my dissertation has stretched me in many ways.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
The leaders and thinkers I admire most are people I work with every day. I am constantly stunned by the depth of knowledge and leadership capacity of my co-workers and I am honored to work with them. I am always in awe of these leaders who are innovative, creative and caring.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years I would like to think that I am in a position where I made a positive impact on the literacy achievement of all children, but specifically children of color. I would like to think that in 10 years I have contributed to developing and bringing more culturally relevant materials to market and that the materials that we have developed for schools and communities have made an impact.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
I have many mentors. I collect them! I find that each of my mentors offers my a different view and they provide a lot of guidance and support both personally and professionally. I can think of at least four mentors who have made a major impact in my life and I am grateful that they extended themselves to me. I don’t know where I would be without them!

What do you hope to gain from your CUP Fellows Program experience to help you make a significant and positive impact in your community?
I am so excited to be in a position to make a positive impact for families and communities and I hope that the CUP fellowship will allow me to maximize that impact.