What’s the cost of being a trailblazer?
For Dorothy Slater it cost $2,500 dollars and travel expenses to Washington D.C. Not exactly conducive to a college student’s typical shoestring, ramen-noodle budget.
Slater, a political science and social policy and practice double major, applied for a Newcomb-Tulane College grant her junior year to support her fellowship with the Orleans Public Education Network. Slater is the first undergraduate to undergo this fellowship program. At the time, she was also the first Tulane student to partner with OPEN.
Dr. Celeste Lay’s Politics of Education Policy honors course inspired Slater her sophomore year. Citing it as “the most fascinating class [she] had ever taken,” Slater turned to Google to search for local organizations that support equity in education and policy advocacy. She was hoping to get involved. When Slater saw OPEN was hosting a public breakfast reception, she considered attending.
“I almost didn’t go,” says Slater. “It was at 8 a.m. I had no one to go with.”
Yet she went, and her courage and initiative paid off in spades.
While at the breakfast, Slater introduced herself to OPEN Executive Director Nahliah Webber. She emailed Webber afterwards, expressing the desire to work with the organization. Junior year fall semester, Webber reached out and offered Slater a spot in OPEN’s Education Policy Fellowship Program.
This fellowship is typically reserved for mid-career professionals, aiming to strengthen and expand the community of education policy advocates. According to OPEN’s website, the fellowship is the state’s “only professional development program for emerging policy leaders” and is “an intensive cross-sector professional training program in contemporary education issues, policymaking, leadership, strategy and more.” The fellowship involves colloquiums, networking events, even a trip to the Louisiana Capital. All of its programming, however, culminates at the spring Policy Seminar in Washington D.C. There, 17 state-based chapters congregate for a three-day capstone, network, and engage in breakout sessions and lectures. Attendees full-time employers, however, usually foot the fellowship’s bill.
Webber and Slater worked out an arrangement to help ease Slater’s cost. Slater would intern at the OPEN office for that academic year to cover more than half the fellowship’s tuition fee. Still looking for a way to cover the remaining $1,200 and her flights, Slater once again turned to the Google search bar. She researched Tulane’s grant and scholarship opportunities. The search page results were overwhelming.
“A lot of people don’t know how much funding is available,” says Slater; “and if you don’t see your exact project on the list of funds then you might give up.”
Slater, however, was determined. She knew she had found something special, something Tulane would want to be involved with. Rather than resign and pay out of pocket, Slater enlisted help from NTC’s senior program coordinator for grants. NTC’s coordinator guided Slater through her applications, helping her craft proposals that took her fellowship opportunity and aligned it within the parameters of existing scholarships.
Her hard work literally paid off. An NTC grant was able to cover her remaining tuition cost and a second grant through the Newcomb Institute covered her travel fees to D.C.
To conclude her fellowship, Slater demonstrated her newfound knowledge and skills by drafting her own policy brief. She delved into the state of current social studies curriculum standards in Louisiana and proposed how they can be expanded to better communicate the realities of history, racism, and power. Her work was presented at the end of year policy breakfast, the same event Slater had initially attended which sparked her interest in OPEN.
Slater’s initiative in accomplishing this feat is praiseworthy. Referencing the Hewlett-Packard survey during her interview, commonly cited for its research into why women do not apply for jobs they do not feel 100 percent qualified for, she says it’s important to believe in your own ability and to put yourself out there.
“Just by showing up and being like, ‘I’m interested; I want to know more; these are my skills; I want to help,” says Slater. “That made something out of [this opportunity], and I was able to do it.”
Now not only can Slater enjoy the fruits of her labor, early exposure into her field of interest and career connections she can pursue upon graduation this year, but Tulane has forged a new partnership with OPEN. Before Slater, OPEN had never even had an intern. Now other Tulane students are working with the organization, proving this relationship is one that can further expand to cultivate direct, positive change in the community surrounding the university.