Mary Gilstad ’15, Princeton Education Foundation

Mary-GilstadI spent three days during reading period with Adrienne Rubin ‘88, the Executive Director of Princeton Education Foundation (PEF). PEF is a nonprofit foundation that supports Princeton public schools by raising money for projects and improvements. For example, they are the source for the Teacher Mini-Grants given each year to teachers in the area who have innovative ideas for projects to do with their students that require a little bit more financial support than what is provided in the public system. PEF also helps fund improvements to school facilities like the recent creation of a “Learning Commons” multi-media and hang-out-friendly reading/research space in the library at John Witherspoon Middle School.

On the first day of the experience I met Ms. Rubin on Nassau St. and we went over to the Princeton Public Schools administration building, where PEF is housed. We said hello to the receptionist and the new superintendent Steve Cochrane before going up to the PEF office for a day of small nonprofit work! We began talking about what I wanted to know and why I was there and I took the opportunity to learn about Ms. Rubin’s career path and her thoughts on career matters. That discussion was inspiring because I enjoy hearing about other people’s life journeys a lot. I asked a few burning questions at the start but it soon became clear that what I had come for and what I wanted to learn would come to me simply through working and asking questions as I went along.

My first task was to write a draft grant proposal for the annual Music After School program in Princeton middle schools. The program aims to provide extra instrumental music instruction to middle school students who start an instrument but who do not have the financial resources to take private lessons as many of their peers do. It is an annual activity that PEF tries to make possible but it needs fresh funding every year. I found that I enjoyed grant proposal writing because it felt like was an extremely focused yet still creative writing task.

The next day I began work on data entry: tracking and entering donations to PEF through an online data system. This was my first time doing that work so in addition to the work of entering data I was being a fresh eye to review the Standard Operating Procedures for each type of entry. We were trying to create a foolproof SOP for the tasks so that Ms. Rubin could perhaps easily give the work to an intern or other worker in order to focus on other work. A part of this work was also categorizing and logging donations to be processed. I enjoyed this work because I was yet again helping out the organization while learning something new myself. The final large project I did with PEF was reviewing the website looking for broken links and ways to improve. I wrote up my findings and suggestions and viewed it as an exercise in writing clearly and a study of effective websites. I was able to peruse other education foundations in the area as well in order to make comparisons and I discovered certain elements that can help and hurt any website. I will keep the new knowledge I gained in mind when I encounter website design in the professional context again.

Although the grant writing was my favorite task, my favorite activity was the Parent Teacher Organization meeting on the third day. I watched and took notes while the new superintendent of all area public schools spoke about his vision for the next few months and the members of the PTO asked questions and voiced hopes and skepticism about the upcoming year and leftover issues for the next. I liked the meeting because it revealed the challenges and values in the public education sector in my very own neighborhood. It was interesting seeing the form that certain nationwide issues take in Princeton, such as the achievement gap and the image of parents and teachers arguing about what is best for the children.

Mary with Adrienne Rubin wearing our respective Princetonia.

Mary with Adrienne Rubin wearing our respective Princetonia.

I hope to stay in touch with Adrienne Rubin past this short internship with her. She taught me that networking is not about combing through other people in search of superficial connections and potential partners, but instead about taking an honest interest in others’ lives and work. During our extensive conversations about experiences in general we discovered that we had the Princeton Band in common so for our picture at the end of the third day we posed in our respective current jacket (hers is the 25th reunion jacket her class made last year.) I would encourage anyone with some interest in how nonprofits really work and how they can be an active part of a school community to try the Princeternship with PEF.