During the year, we’re connecting with some of our 2017-18 HBS Leadership Fellows, to hear about their backgrounds and their experiences in the Fellowship year. Read on to learn more about Sherri Geng’s (MBA ‘17) experience at Harlem Children’s Zone.
Tell us about the organization and your role for the Fellowship year.
The goal of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Harlem. It offers a tightly woven pipeline of wraparound, cradle-through-college services to children, families, and the community, all within a 97-square-block zone in Harlem. Currently, HCZ has 861 students in college, a 97% college acceptance rate, and 20+ programs that serve over 13,000 students and over 14,000 adults in Harlem. My role is as an advisor to the COO (who is an HBS/HKS grad). Under his guidance, my projects have included working on a strategy to support coordinated enrichment efforts across seventeen afterschool sites, piloting a STEM initiative for elementary and middle school classrooms, and providing strategic recommendations to strengthen our academic case management model, which has supported thousands of students on the path to college and career readiness.
What is your background pre-HBS?
I had a very non-linear path to HBS. I was always interested in education, and fell in love with teaching in college through the Breakthrough Collaborative, an out-of-school program for underserved students in greater Boston. After college, I worked in private equity, where I developed an analytical toolkit that I believe is critical to any field, whether for-profit or nonprofit. I found my way back to education through Teach For America, and taught middle and high school science for four years on the west and south sides of Chicago. Teaching gave me a nuanced, richer understanding of both the challenges and opportunities that exist in the education space today. Year after year, as I watched my students fight to overcome the odds in an educational system that was largely broken, I wondered: How do we scale great schools? How do we recruit, reward, and retain excellent teachers? How do we close the achievement gap, not just for the kids in one classroom but for classrooms across the nation? I am so grateful that HBS has given me the opportunity not only to explore those questions in my two years on-campus, but also to learn through this Fellowship how a renowned organization like HCZ might answer them.
What most excites you about the opportunity?
I came to HCZ because I deeply admire the mission and values of the organization. At the end of the day, every single one of the 2,000+ employees at HCZ is driven by the same core mission of putting children first – whatever it takes. The best part of my job is being able to see that mission play out across all levels of the organization, and to pivot among those different levels. In a single day, I might be in a COO team meeting in the morning debating how to roll-out a new strategic initiative, and then be in a fifth-grade classroom an hour later. The highlight of my job has been supporting program staff as they create incredibly engaging, relevant, authentic learning experiences for children that spark joy and curiosity. To be a part of that “army of love,” as we call it here at HCZ, even for a short amount of time, has been an incredible privilege.
Why is the Leadership Fellows Program different from other post-grad opportunities?
1. Unparalleled access. You are able to learn from and engage directly with top leaders in an organization, who are tackling the “big issues” in our society.
2. Day-one impact. Often, HBS students ask the question of how and when to structure our careers to have social impact. This is a prime example of a role that allows you to have impact as soon as you graduate, using the strategic and analytical lens you honed at HBS.
What do you hope to achieve during the year?
I hope to practice translating strategy into action. As someone who loves theory and frameworks, I fully recognize the value of strategic thinking to any organization. But as quickly as a lesson plan falls apart in a classroom without proper execution, I know that culture and implementation can derail even the best strategy. I am incredibly lucky that my role this year gives me the opportunity to span both worlds of strategy and operations.
In one word, what is the Leadership Fellows Program to you?
The HBS Leadership Fellows Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a select group of graduating students to experience high-impact management positions in nonprofit and public sector organizations for one year at a competitive salary. Learn more about the HBS Leadership Fellows Program.