By Shira Kipnees ’15, Staff Writer
The Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship recently selected Donnell Butler ’95, senior associate dean for planning and analysis of student outcomes, to serve as part of a cohort of leaders and innovators in education. Butler was made aware of his nomination to the cohort last June and of his eventual selection in October, but the official announcement did not come until December.
To be selected, Butler submitted his résumé and had three phone interviews with the Pahara Institute. He also spoke with previous fellows, including Morty Ballen ’91. Butler said the rigor of the application process assured him it was a worthwhile endeavor with significant potential to make a difference in American education.
According to a press release from the Pahara Institute’s website, the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship is a joint effort of the Pahara and Aspen Institutes to form a two-year cohort that works to improve public schools in underprivileged communities.
“The guiding principle of the Pahara Institute is that bold improvements are needed to our public schools so that every child in America has access to the tools and skills he or she needs to be successful in life,” the press release said. “The Aspen Institute’s mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.”
Butler is excited to work with a cohort aimed at improving the lives of underrepresented students, and American society as a whole.
“From our economy to our national security to our social discourse, every American loses when the talents and abilities of our youth are ignored or constrained by the circumstances of their birth,” Butler said, speaking on the importance of improving educational opportunities. “Our public schools are extraordinary in some places and significantly less than adequate in other places.
“I’ve taken personal responsibility in my life and career to work in ways to ensure that all schools have access to information and resources that will enhance the success of all our children,” Butler continued. “With increasing global competition and enduring social and health problems, as a nation, we can’t afford to let any talent go to waste. Our success, our survival, depends on strong and vibrant public schools as the cornerstone of American education.”
Butler feels as though his experiences as a student in the educational system helped to prepare him for his position as a member of the cohort.
“I have had the good fortune to experience first-hand many forms of American K-12 education, having attended school on a military base, an American international school, an inner-city public school, and an elite private school,” he said. “These experiences shape my passion for equity and excellence in American education.”
A graduate of F&M with a doctorate in sociology from Princeton University, Butler has spent the past eight years working in the field of education: at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at Educational Testing Services (ETS), as an American Education Research Association (AERA) post-doctoral fellow, as an evaluation specialist for the Princeton Preparatory Program, as a project director in Princeton’s Office of Population Research working on the Ford Foundation-supported Campus Life in America Student Survey, and as coordinator of the Goldman Sachs Foundation-supported Opening Doors and Paving the Way Forum.
“At F&M, I facilitate strategy, integration, and evaluation of college activities that improve student access, transition, and success,” Butler said.
He attributes some of his success to the quality of his education at the College, saying that he chose to attend F&M over other prestigious schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University due to the accessibility of faculty and professional staff on campus.
“The F&M environment was perfectly suited for helping me develop from being just another smart, hardworking kid from the Bronx to someone who enjoys waking up everyday knowing there is something I can do, small as it may be, to empower myself, individuals, and communities to be better and to better the rest of humanity through education and civic engagement,” he said.
Junior Shira Kipnees is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.