Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Interview with Paul

Today, I interviewed my mentor, Paul Mann to "paint a portrait" of who he is and what he does in his job. I found it really interesting to interview him because I learned more about him and what he does here at S.M.A.R.T. We talked about how he loves his job and what it takes to work in this field. I asked a few questions, along with some follow-up questions and got some good information.

Paul is the Program Coordinator and Alumni Coordinator at The S.M.A.R.T. Program. As program coordinator, he and one of his colleagues plan out activities for the students to do when they arrive from school. The after school program runs 4 days a week and there is a different planned activity every other day so that the two groups (Monday-Wednesday & Tuesday-Thursday) do the same activities. As Alumni Coordinator he regroups the alumni from the program and has different services that the program provides specifically for the alumni.

I received a lot of information that helped me with this assignment. I asked Paul about what skills and personal attributes are needed in order to fully succeed in this job, and his response was that there needs to be a desire to have the kids succeed. A person needs to be able to care for the kids and have patience in order to get them to do what they have to do in order to succeed. When they succeed, you will succeed. With this, I asked a follow-up question about how the alumni are different from the students currently in the program. His response was that the alumni are basically adults and they reach this stage in about mid-sophomore/junior year. Some take longer to get to that stage but ultimately alumni are adults. The middle school students at the program test your patience a lot, and are still growing. He feels that with alumni, there is an honest and authentic interaction. "I don't need to strategize with how I will get the high schooler's to do something. I just ask them, and its up to them if they do it or not." A huge difference between these two age groups, is that the middle school students don't really know and understand why they are in the program, why they are studying or even why they need to. They need motivation and as a resource to them, you need to create reasons for them to do and continue to do what they are doing at the program, at school and at home. With alumni, they know what they need to do and why; they know what is at stake. Two problems that occur in his job overall are that they are a non-profit organization and that means there isn't a lot of money. The staff here, as well as Paul, would like to do many things to provide for the students and alumni, but they just can't because of the lack of funding. The other problem is that the students have a lack of community, and they try to build that up for them. As a student in the program, there is a community in their neighborhood, but not completely because their school is not in their neighborhood. Being a private school, their school is away from where they live and who they are close to around them. They also have a community in their school, but the problem is that they don't fully fit in because they don't come from the same places as their peers. At the after school program they try to build that community and have activities that allow the students to see their similarities with their peers and see how they are supported throughout the S.M.A.R.T. building. Another question that was asked was what he likes most and least about his job. The thing he likes the most is that he feels like he is doing something that matters when it comes to helping kids and giving them opportunities that he lacked as a child. "I have friends who define their success by how much money they make. I can't imagine living that way." He defines success by how much he can give. He loves his job so much, but the pay could be higher so he could pay off his student loans and take some time off to himself. Paul has worked many, many jobs which are incredibly different from one another, and by far this is the job he has enjoyed the most. One big factor that comes from loving his job is his colleagues. He loves them and how supportive they are. He used to have a social life, but when he got this job, he got so engaged that he doesn't do what he used to as much. And frankly, he doesn't feel like he is missing out on anything. He is living his life exactly how he wants to live. In turn, he wouldn't go back and change anything from his past if he could redo it all. This is mainly because as a child he was angry at the education that he didn't receive and the fact that he didn't get many opportunities. That has led him to be where he is now, helping other kids get the opportunities and education they deserve. His plans are to work at S.M.A.R.T. for another 2 years, then go off and get his masters in public policy, maybe even to become a teacher. With public policy, he will most likely work as a consultant to non-profits-but what he would like to do the most is work at public schools and make them better in some way.

As a program and alumni coordinator at The S.M.A.R.T. program, and as my mentor, he has a lot to offer and it shows in his personality. It is very hard to find someone who can honestly say they love what they do. Paul is a great example of this character. I had a great time interviewing him and who knows, maybe I'll start interviewing other people who work here as well; get their insight and learn even more.

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