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.

Molly Fisch-Friedman ’16, Princeton Education Foundation

Molly-Fisch-FriedmanThis past intersession, I had the opportunity to shadow Adrienne Rubin ’88, Executive Director of the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF).  The Princeton Education Foundation’s mission is to support the Princeton Public Schools through fundraising, outreach, and support of programs throughout the school district.  As it turned out, Adrienne was actually leaving her job at PEF to work for another service-oriented organization, so she was full of advice about the nonprofit field.  I also got a lot of exposure to the way that philanthropy benefits education, which was really interesting to see, and I loved getting the chance to talk with Adrienne about her job, her life, and how her experience at Princeton influenced her career.

On my first day there, Adrienne picked me up and we went to John Witherspoon Middle School, where we sat in on a focus group about school lunches.  There were about 15 children there, and they talked about the things that they liked and didn’t like about school lunches.  The Vice Principal and the Kitchen Manager were also present, which showed me how dedicated the staff of the school was to the interests of the students.  Adrienne told me that she is periodically invited to events like these because it shows the school district, the students, and the parents that PEF is involved and interested in the happenings in the schools.  She also said that the information that she learns at these kinds of events is valuable for applying for grants, whether it is for arts programs or for the free and reduced lunch program.

After the focus group, Adrienne molly fand I went to her office, and I helped her deal with a lot of the tasks necessary to the running of PEF.  I helped enter data into Salesforce, which is a data aggregation and storage tool that PEF uses to keep track of donors, families, and events.  The work that I did was to help  PEF plan for their Annual Spring Gala.  I also created a few forms using an online form service, including forms for Gala tickets and auction bids.  I really appreciated the fact that Adrienne was giving me concrete tasks, and I knew that the things I was doing were actually helping her and the organization to continue in their plans for the Gala.

On my second day, Adrienne took me to a presentation by Women in Development, a group for women who work in nonprofits in Central New Jersey to discuss their roles in the nonprofit industry.  Adrienne told me that it is also useful for networking, and she actually found out about her current job at PEF through Women in Development.  I had the chance to talk to a few different women at the meeting, and I really appreciated hearing their stories as well.  The guest speaker was the Executive Director at NJCASA, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and it was really inspiring to hear her speak about her experience in the nonprofit world and all of the different nonprofits that she worked for.  After the meeting, I got to talk with Adrienne about her experience as well, and I really appreciated getting an “expert” opinion about the nonprofit field.  I’m considering careers in government, nonprofits, and education, and Adrienne and I talked about all of those different fields and her experiences with many of them.  Hearing her story really got me thinking about how I want to pursue my future, and it also gave me the chance to bond really well with Adrienne.  We talked about all sorts of things, from life at Princeton to religion, and I felt like Adrienne was really interested in working with me and showing me the ropes of the nonprofit industry during my Princeternship.

I finished out the week by helping her clean out her office and sorting through old files and donations.  It was sort of like looking through PEF’s time machine, because I got to see their old advertising materials and read old newspapers.  Adrienne admitted that sometimes the work isn’t exciting, but that the work is interesting and fulfilling, and that those moments definitely outweigh the less exciting moments of her job.  I really appreciated her honesty, because I know that no job can always be perfect or exciting, but at the end of the day, if you’re doing work that is fulfilling and you’re working towards a valuable goal, then you’ll find a way to appreciate your job.

I had a great time working with Adrienne at PEF, and I really enjoyed getting more hands-on experience in the nonprofit world.  Not only was I able to help PEF plan for its Gala, but I was able to help Adrienne end out her time at PEF successfully.  I’m really grateful for Adrienne because she was a great host, and I felt like she really was interested in sharing as much wisdom as she could with me.