SPAA BA Graduate Profile: Charlene Dixon (BA'11)
Full Name: Charlene Dixon
SPAA BA Graduation Year: 2011
Current Position: Assistant Principal, KIPP Newark Life Academy
Why did you choose the BA program at SPAA and what did you enjoy most about it?
I knew that I wanted to work in public service but I hadn’t yet found my calling. I took the introductory class and it was there that my zest for education was sparked by the course content and guest speakers. As I went through the program, I learned more about the public space and was able to zoom in on how I wanted to make a difference. What I enjoyed most about the program was that all the professors were practitioners with real world experiences that they leveraged to not only teach about the field but inspire us to carve our own paths.
What were some of your most meaningful experiences at SPAA?
My single most meaningful experience was meeting Dr. Bob Curvin. The history, wisdom, and passion he brought as a guest speaker really invested me in the ideas around social justice and servant leadership that fuel the way I engage with my work today. I also completed a work study with SPAA. The faculty and staff at SPAA are people who count among the village that raised me as a leader. From Director Sharon Stroye to Dr. Kyle Farmbry to Dr. Fayth Ruffin, they have each touched my life in an important way. They empowered me as an undergrad by letting me participate in important projects, sit it on critical meetings, and contribute to meaningful research.
What choices did you make at SPAA that contributed to your career success / journey?
The choice that directly contributed to my journey as an educator was completing my internship working with Citizen Schools. From the first day I worked with students, I realized that the classroom was where I was really meant to be. Doing my internship in education also led me to approach my work through the lens of practitioner researcher, and to this day it's how I consistently address our most urgent matters.
What was your first job after graduation and what other jobs did you have before your current position?
I became a full-time teacher. My success there led to leadership roles including assessment coordinator, grade level chair, and instructional coach.
What do you like about your current job and what do you find challenging? How does it relate to your degree?
I think the most challenging thing about my current job is being able to harness my passion while successfully navigating the bureaucracy that comes with school administration. Bringing about transformative change in systems that have been in place for hundreds of years is daunting. My studies in public administration helped me to understand that change is a process and it's in the small daily transitions that the large-scale change begins. I know that each day may not be drastically different and I understand that in each day I have the power to make a difference. This can happen one small, informed, and brave choice at a time.
From your experience, what has been the value of having an undergraduate degree in public and nonprofit administration? How has the degree benefitted you?
This biggest value for me has been the diversity in the coursework. I have an advantage when it comes to organizational management and public systems. This perspective has served me well in developing community partnerships, engaging with all levels of leadership, and supporting my school leader in making decisions. I excel at promoting volunteerism. I know how to write a grant application. I understand how public funding works. Above all, I don’t see administration as a roadblock but a way through.
What advice would you give to students and alumni interested in breaking into your industry?
Whatever inspired you to become a public servant, bring that to your work EVERY DAY! Everyone around you will see it in you and you will unlock opportunities to live your passion daily. An educator who begins their professional career with an aim to serve will be an educator who not only teaches children but who models the altruistic spirit needed to spark students to want to do the same. Know that there are more paths in education than teaching. Investigate how schools are run. Seek out the challenges. If it lights a fire in you, answer the call!