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Rising Stars: A Circuitous Journey to Education Consulting

By Erdin Beshimov

Andrea says she would have never found her dream job had she not opened herself up to seeking all kinds of opportunities. And that's exactly her advice to students and recent grads.

Name: Andrea Breon
School: BA - Northwestern University; MA - Harvard Graduate School of Education
Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders
Years Out of College: 5-10
Title: Planning and Evaluation Consultant
Company: Chicago Public Schools
From Then to Now

"I didn't have a 'big break' per se," says Andrea, "there was just a long, circuitous journey."

She started out pre-med, but with her non-stellar science grades, she knew she'd have to apply several times to be accepted to med school. That realization was perhaps the catalyst for Andrea's search for an alternative career. "I waited tables for a year and despaired until I joined AmeriCorps and wound up in an education role (my former summer job had been in education at a marine-life park, so I was unintentionally building a nontraditional education experience)."

While with AmeriCorps, Andrea began searching for a grad school program. "As an undergrad, I didn't study what interested me without regard to its perceived usefulness in the job market (my wonderful parents wanted me to like my job, but they also pushed for me to get a certification so I would have more guarantee of employment), so I went in the opposite direction for grad school." She got into the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which has the only master's program that focuses on the role of the arts in education (both in schools and the community/society). The program was a good fit, says Andrea, because it allowed her to combine her B.S. degree in learning and cognition with her lifelong involvement in the arts.

Challenges Faced

Andrea's challenge was to find a way to translate her major into a fulfilling career. She says, "I never wanted to be a teacher or administrator, but I was always passionate about education as the fundamental foundation of any society."

So how did she begin? "After graduation, I had another year of floundering and living with my parents yet again (I taught at a community arts center for a while), and still not knowing my career path, I decided to pursue my goal of living and working abroad. Teaching in Korea was a major learning/growing experience for me (I'm half Korean so I was finally able to discover my mother's cultural heritage)."

With her wanderlust satisfied, she returned to America, where yet another challenge was waiting for her. "With serious loan debt, it was time to find a real job. I took some career/personality assessments at my undergrad career services office, and that helped me focus on what kind of career I wanted." Curiously, that process alerted Andrea to opportunities in consulting. "Consulting appealed to me because of the constant learning curves and good mix of people interaction and more solitary analysis. Without business experience I had a tough time selling myself, but I was lucky enough to get a few interviews."

The search unexpectedly led her in a different direction. "Nothing turned out, but I found my current job, as an internal planning/evaluation consultant for Chicago Public Schools. It was by far the best fit, and what do you know, I got it. I would have never found this job had I not opened myself up to seeking all kinds of opportunities. The office where I work provides special ed., mental and physical health services, and other intervention programs (a perfect fit with my background in speech and learning disorders), and they were looking for someone with a master's degree."

"Steve Jobs gave a graduation speech where he talks about how you just can't connect the dots going forward, but looking back you can always trace the cosmic logic (if you are always pursuing something truly meaningful to you, the dots will connect in hindsight, and you have to trust in that). I think that idea sums up the key takeaway from my experience thus far."

Next Steps

"I need to learn this job first (and there's a lot for me to digest), but I know I want a leadership position someday when I have the experience necessary to make decisions, guide others, and keep learning myself. I'd like to get into social enterprise/microfinance/corporate philanthropy (e.g. some banks and large corporations hire people to decide how to allocate philanthropic funds). I think that the private sector can play a larger role in education (today's students are tomorrow's employees after all)."

Advice for Others

"Write down your goals/dreams even if they aren't definitive, but try to be as specific as possible - what type of things do you want to achieve, what kinds of organizations do you want to be a part of (career and otherwise). I heard this from many sources, starting from my parents to writers/psychologists. An often quoted study was done on Harvard MBAs who wrote down their goals at graduation, and most of the ones who wrote down goals had achieved them 10 years later."

"Use every source of information at your disposal to discover career opportunities (especially if you aren't seeking positions with a clear cut career trajectory like doctor, lawyer, accountant). Discovering what's going on the in the world at large is a great way to start - if you hear about someone doing something that fascinates you on NPR, then you can ask yourself how you might start on a path to a similar vocation. Read up on sectors/fields that you are not familiar with, but interest you (and even if other sectors don't interest you, you'll find your niche in society more readily if you're aware of all of society's components). For example, I never took an Economics course, so I read an Econ. textbook as part of my preparation for the Foreign Service Exam. I didn't pursue that path, but the public and private sectors influence each other, so a multifaceted awareness of both sides is key. Money generated in the market becomes the tax dollars that fund Chicago Public Schools - that's very "big picture," but with a clearer idea of the big picture, your role at the micro level attains larger meaning, and some days, alone in your little cube, you'll need to remind yourself of how you matter to the world at large."

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