by Kimberly Ueyama
As a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California, Julayne Austin has attended class with some of the nation’s most promising students under the guidance of instructors who are leaders in their fields. Through her current position as managing director for Education Pioneers, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the schooling of thousands of students, she works to ensure that others are given the same opportunities.
“I have always been aware that the opportunities I received were not available to everyone,” she shared.
At the mere age of 14, Austin became exposed to this issue firsthand when she began tutoring underprivileged students.
The mission of Education Pioneers directly coincides with Austin’s desire to improve the educational system. As she describes, “Education Pioneers is a creative and innovative approach to transforming our educational system by developing the talent to drive education reform.” Through their 10-week summer fellowship, the flagship program of the organization, graduate students are placed at education centers in the San Francisco area, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and the D.C. Metro area.
Participants work full-time with one of Education Pioneers’ partner schools or organizations and gain invaluable firsthand knowledge to the educational system. The program also includes workshops, professional development sessions and networking events that provide the foundation for a rewarding career in the education field.
In an ever-growing metropolitan area like Chicago, where financial success often coexists with socioeconomic hardship, making a quality education available to all students is an important endeavor. Austin notes that two-thirds of the fellowship’s alumni continue to work towards improvements in this field and hold full-time positions in the education arena upon their graduation.
According to Austin, “While teachers and principles play an undeniably crucial role in improving urban education, they operate within a larger educational ecosystem that is shaped by leaders – education entrepreneurs, charter and district managers and executives, policy makers, and philanthropists – who operate outside the school building.”
Austin’s experience working in an extensive range of fields including education, affordable housing, economic development and healthcare has exposed her to the benefits of such partnerships and the interconnectedness of both social quandaries and solutions.
“The more you dig into the issues, the more you discover that none of these problems can be solved with a narrow field focus,” Austin said. “All of them are cross-related.”
As the managing director of Education Pioneers’s Chicago branch, Austin is a valuable member of leaders driving social change. In this role, she oversees all site operations and activities including development, partnership building, recruiting, staff development and the building of the local advisory board.
“My current position enables me to address systemic issues in education at a high-level by developing the talent to support education reform,” she explained.
This is no small task considering the breadth of work Education Pioneers does in Chicago. Austin’s office partners with 14 education organizations ranging from district and charter schools to policy organizations and foundations. Because much of their work revolves around placing graduate fellows in schools and organizations, they also partner closely with colleges and universities.
The students Austin helps to place play an integral role in the sites to which they are assigned. She recalled one fellow who served as the lead coordinator for five major school renovation projects. His presence alleviated a significant amount of the principals’ workloads and granted them more time to focus on managing the schools. As a result, these facilities were ready to host students for the beginning of the school year.
Austin lent her leadership skills and desire to help others to the SPPD community as well.
While a graduate student, she participated in a broad spectrum of activities ranging from internships and networking opportunities to volunteer service in Costa Rica and student leadership programs.
During her tenure as president of the Graduate Policy Administration Community (GPAC), the organization received the Chapter President Award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration in recognition of their commitment to developing the next generation of leaders.
“I draw on all of these rich experiences to inform my daily interactions,” she said, “thereby developing an understanding of the issues we are working to solve in the communities we serve.”
The SPPD community directly played a role in her position at Education Pioneers. “As I researched Education Pioneers, I touched base with several SPPD colleagues to gain a better understanding of the organization from their partners and fellows who went through the program,” Austin said. “This just serves as a reminder that the SPPD network is an amazing resource, but also the importance of keeping the network current.”
Austin is truly a testament to the value of working with others to achieve a common goal. Through both her professional life and personal beliefs, she plays a valuable role in making societal improvements a reality.