Name: Melissa Chabran
Hometown: La Puente, CA
Current Job/City: Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Seattle, WA
CHCI Program(s)/Year(s): CHCI Fellowship 1994-1995
CHCI Placement(s): US Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Planning and Evaluation Service
1. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
When I finished my fellowship I chose to stay in Washington, D.C., working in my placement at the US Department of Education for nearly five years, continuing to work with states in implementing the Improving America’s Schools Act–the predecessor to NCLB, contributing to the 1999 National Assessment of Title I, and managing work on Secretarial Initiatives for Reading and Mathematics. Following this, I decided to head back to school to pursue a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked as a researcher on various high school reform and accountability studies. I returned to California in 2001 to work for the San Francisco Unified School District, representing the school district at the state and city level, and as a Consultant for the Long Beach Unified School District. I then moved to Youth In Focus, a regional nonprofit organization, where I developed and managed youth-led action research and evaluation projects and trained youth and adults in action research and in projects on education reform. In 2005, I made the move to Seattle, where I currently work as a Senior Program Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leading investments in instructional tools strategies that support teachers. I also married someone I met in DC during my fellowship and we now have two beautiful young children.
2. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
My fellowship had a profound effect on my career and journey as a leader. I would not have been exposed directly to policy making, implementation, and evaluation, as I was during my time as a fellow. Being part of some of the behind-the-scenes work gave me insight into how government works across various levels–federal, state, and city–to create change. In my case, I learned firsthand how policy affects schools systems across the country, how it can drive conversations around equity, and also about the unintended consequences you don’t realize until you get to implementation. My experience as a fellow also led me to want to go deeper in my field, so I returned to graduate school to get my doctorate and continue to build my career in the education field. The strong network I’ve been fortunate to be a part of and the relationships I’ve built at various levels have been invaluable to me in DC, Boston, across California, and even in Seattle, where I’ve met other alumni and reconnected with colleagues and friends I met in DC.
3. How have you stayed engaged in community service?
Staying engaged in some kind of community service keeps me grounded and aware of how my professional life connects to the realities others may be facing. I have contributed my time to various community based organizations as a member of their board of directors or as a volunteer and try to serve as a mentor to high school students. As I’ve grown in my career and have been fortunate to have a growing family, balancing and maintaining this aspect of my life has been difficult, but necessary, to reciprocate and build on the opportunities that were given to me.
4. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Immerse yourself. Take advantage of opportunities that interest you in your fellowship as well as those that stretch you. Some of the most important experiences from my fellowship had nothing to do with my field at the time, but were invaluable lessons I pulled on later. Connect with your cohort. They’ve brought a different perspective to the experience and you will learn from them–now and in the future. I made important connections across sectors with Latino role models and young Latino leaders in my cohort. Even though we pursued careers in different fields, a number of us stay in touch and have supported each other in our career growth and personal ups and downs. We’ve seen each other through family tragedies and celebrations, moves across the country, career shifts, and board service. Be open to all that the experience gives you.
5. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
I expect that I will be continue to be fully committed toward equity work in education, in support of opportunities for young people who are traditionally underserved, and in creating bridges across unlikely partners. Bringing people together in support of a common goal has been a theme that has guided my personal and professional journey and I expect that will continue.