Q&A with Jenn Keathley ’18

Jenn Keathley is a CLU Alum ’18 and Ambassador with an M.A. in Social Impact.


Why did you choose this area of study?

I have been working in the non-profit education field for over ten years.  In June 2014, I was awarded the position of coordinator for a brand-new community collaboration working to improve the rates of kindergarten readiness in our local school district.  I loved working to create change within the community and though I had a fabulous mentor throughout this process, I wanted to know more.   I am always curious to learn more about things and I enjoy digging into new areas of expertise.  I was an educator for years and completed my undergrad in early childhood education, but I hated the way that public schools are teaching kids.  Kids need to learn through play, not sitting at desks.   I am able to help parents and preschool teachers in my community to understand the importance of play for children and all of the things they are discovering through seemingly simple exploration.  The human brain develops most of its synapses during the first five years of life- what we do during that time impacts a child for the rest of their lives.  I wanted to learn how to create the largest and most meaningful impact on children and families in my community.   After searching for grad school programs, both on campus and online, I happened to come across an ad for CLU on Facebook.  When I read about the Social Impact program I knew that this was the best use of my time and money.  My boss/mentor fully supported my journey at CLU and even gave me paid time during my work week to complete my assignments and to read since the program was so closely related to my day-to-day responsibilities at work.  

Which specific lessons/applications do you use most from your Social Impact courses for your current occupation? 

I use what I learned at CLU every day.  The programming changed the way that I approach meetings, tasks, programming, and strategic planning.  The greatest lessons I learned were in collaboration.  Though I have been working in a collaboration of fifteen partners for over four years, I realized we were doing things wrong and I was mostly to blame.   Since I was one of the two paid employees for the collaborative, I felt that it was my responsibility to do everything for the collaborative.  I effectively was preventing collaboration from happening when I was trying so hard to get everything done myself since the others “have their real jobs” to focus on.  Since taking the core courses at CLU, I have changed my approach to all meetings.  I no longer feel like I have to jump in and volunteer for EVERYTHING when asked.   I am mindful about my available time, the ways I can be most useful, identify others who could be potential connections among my peers.  I have gained the confidence in my leadership abilities and no longer feel intimidated by others in the room who have been in their fields for years longer than I have.  I understand that we are all experts in our own areas and that together, we can create lasting change-working seperately, we may be able to create change but it is far less likely that systems change would occur.

How do you apply them in your work?

Currently, my collaborative is undergoing the huge task of updating our strategic planning for the next three-year grant cycle.  I have been using a lot of the skills I learned from the Social Impact and CLU Core courses to help me facilitate these conversations.  I have been actively using the skills I learned through the Dialogue and Collaboration courses to help facilitate open communication and shared understanding of each other’s perspectives.   I am also hosting two “Community Conversation” sessions this week to gain insight from business owners and community members to help move our strategic planning forward so that we can reflect the views of the community. I have used the Mission Model Canvas and Theory of Change documents that I created though the course work many times in my collaborative over the past year to help in planning and in grant writing.  

What are you most proud of?

I have recently been promoted to the Director of my collaborative.  When my mentor, the founder of the collaborative, resigned from her executive director position of our lead partner agency, she recommended to our board that I take over as the director of the collaborative.  She said that my completion of the Social Impact program through CLU was one of her deciding factors in taking another position in another agency.  She said that she had complete confidence in my leadership because of this program and another Collaborative Improvement Advisor training (the program is equivalent to a black belt in Six Sigma). I am proud to have been promoted to lead the collaborative forward and I feel very confident in my leadership skills as a result of the Social Impact courses that I completed. 

What’s next for you?

I will continue to run the collaborative, work on completing updated strategic planning and logic model, and will focus on adding additional programming while assessing the effectiveness of our current model to increase the rate of kindergarten readiness among the children in my community. For more information about the OberlinKids Collaborative, please visit their website: http://www.oberlinkids.org/. Learn more about our Master’s degree in Social Impact and apply today.
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