By Briahnna Brown
Leeana Skuby, a first-generation college student and third-year senior majoring in sociology, initially came to the George Washington University from Chicago with a plan to “save the world” by studying political science.
That idea changed after she took a dean’s seminar on poverty, place and race, where she fell in love with sociology and found that education issues were at the heart of many of the problems she wanted to help solve, like economic inequalities and lack of access to resources.
"Throughout my classes at GW, I realized that while education is not a silver bullet to any problem, education is a means to achieving greater equity," Ms. Skuby said.
Her current job with Teach for America had its roots in Ms. Skuby’s decision to major in sociology, which led to her being added to the Sociology Department’s Listserv that frequently sends out available job, volunteer and internship information. One of those alerts was about a fellowship opportunity with Teach for America. She applied even though she was unsure whether education was the career path she wanted to take.
Ms. Skuby said she learned from the Internet, especially the GW Center for Career Services online resources, how to produce a resume and what information about herself to emphasize. Because she is the first in her immediate family to attend college, she said, her father and brother at home are not in position to offer that kind of advice. She joked that her first Internet search after “what is a resume?” was “what goes into a resume?”
During her summer in Teach for America’s Accelerate Fellowship program, Ms. Skuby traveled the country as part of a team working with local education organizations and developing solutions to region-specific education problems. She would then pitch the solutions to stakeholders in education policy. At the end of the fellowship, Teach for America extended an offer to Ms. Skuby to join the traditional program after she graduated. She didn’t immediately accept the offer.
Ms. Skuby explained that she was still unsure whether she wanted to work on fixing the school or prison side of the school-to-prison pipeline. She is graduating a year early because of AP credits and extra courses she took during her time at GW, and she needed to decide soon.
So, during the fall 2017 semester, she joined Jumpstart at GW, which helps low-income preschool children build literacy and social-emotional skills; got involved with the Petey Greene Program, which involves tutoring at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Md.; and worked as an intern with the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association.
She then evaluated what was fulfilling and enjoyable about each experience and decided that working in education was her calling.
She also spoke to Teach for America alumni about what they did and didn’t like about the program, and she made many phone calls in her decision-making process.
"I'm an overwhelmingly aggressive people person," she joked. "I'm happy to pick up the phone and just call somebody."
She accepted the job offer. She will spend the summer after graduation in training for a position as a high school social studies teacher in Detroit. She chose that location because she thought she could relate her Midwestern experiences from growing up in Chicago to her students. Ms. Skuby hopes to teach history or U.S. government, subjects she thinks will allow her to help students be “engaged in democracy.”
Her best advice for finding the right job—which a career coach at the Center for Career Services encouraged her to do—is to take advantage of the vast network of GW alumni in a career field of interest and offer to grab a coffee and ask them about their jobs. Ms. Skuby noted that she found researching reviews of companies online led to mostly conflicting strong opinions. She said talking directly with people involved with Teach for America was significantly more beneficial to her understanding of what her potential job would entail.
"Talk to people who did the job, talk to people who did different jobs, talk to their bosses, talk to whoever you can," Ms. Skuby said. "I think that's a good way to not just look at the really extreme Yelp reviews of organizations and actually hear the perspective of what a day-to-day looks like."