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A week in the life of a Biden Fellow

December 17, 2018

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Photo: Trish Alegre-Smith

This year I was honored to be selected as one of five inaugural Fellows for the Biden Foundation. In addition to being a Biden Foundation Fellow, I also work full-time at a community college in California and am a doctoral candidate at San Francisco State University. This means that unlike the other fellows, I am not based in D.C. and only visit every so often. Being a remote fellow, my tasks typically include conducting research on policies and trends within higher education and providing the Foundation with briefing memos to inform my colleagues. However, during my most recent visit to the office, I finally got a taste of D.C. life.

The week was absolutely jam-packed! Our Monday started with a few internal meetings and a site visit. On Tuesday, Dr. Biden participated in a webinar with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the College Promise Campaign (CPC) aimed at informing governors and other state officials about the benefits of free community college in their state. Before the webinar, I had the chance to meet NGA leadership and CPC staff, including Dr. Martha Kanter, the CPC executive director. Dr. Kanter served as Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, and she is one of the people who encouraged me to apply for this fellowship.

And then I met Dr. Jill Biden! For the past eight months I have been working on briefing memos and conducting background research for her and her staff, and now I was finally able to meet her in person. When she found out that I was the mysterious fellow from across the country she gave me the biggest hug! Obviously, I texted my mom and dad immediately afterwards.

The next day I attended the CPC symposium where educators, policymakers, foundations, and students shared their experiences learning about College Promise programs. I had a great conversation with Eduardo Deloza, a veteran and student from City College of San Francisco, about his experiences as a community college student and representing veterans. Following the symposium, I staffed Dr. Biden and the Biden Foundation’s director for higher education Mala Adiga at the CPC National Advisory Board meeting and heard more about the future of the College Promise Campaign as it continues to expand across the country.

That evening I attended a screening of the film Unlikely. The film highlights the experiences of five students and their journeys through higher education. There was a post-screening Q&A featuring the film’s directors and cast, including a featured student. The most exciting part of the night was to hear about the current status of one of the students featured in the film. As someone who is steeped in higher education it was reaffirming to see individuals outside of education express a passion for promoting equity in college access and completion.

And before I knew it, I was back on the plane headed back home to my weekend classes for my doctorate program.

My visit to the Biden Foundation was a whirlwind — extremely busy but extremely rewarding, and has mirrored my overall experience as a Fellow. While I am grateful to be able to work remotely so that I can maintain my busy life in California, I was glad to experience a “normal” week in the office and be able to spend time with the people I’ve communicated with over email and conference calls.

The business of the week was similar to my weeks at my home campus, but instead of working directly with students, I spent my time in conversation with key players who drive the changes that impact students’ experience in higher education. I look forward to continuing the work within higher education along with my newfound understanding of how policy and foundations work to advance issues and create solutions to better the experiences of students.