Back in 2006, when I signed up for Leadership Los Angeles (LLA) I hoped I would become familiar with the key issues and assets within my city. Little did I know that this amazing program would redefine the direction of my career, as well as connect me to a powerful network of leaders who now support my professional success and enable me to make a positive impact on my community.
My unexpected career inspiration happened during the education session of our program, which was much like the rest of the LLA curriculum – an excellent mix of executive level discussion combined with hands-on experiences. That day we toured the downtown construction site that would eventually become Miguel Contreras Learning Center. We heard passionate remarks from an Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board member aligned with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), as well as an alternative view from a Green Dot Schools representative, right at the time when the charter school discussion was just beginning. I can still recall the examples given of 4,000 and 5,000 student high schools being overcrowded and under-delivering on academic performance. The answers for how to solve the problem were varied. I came away frustrated but inspired. That session was top of mind as I looked for the next step in my career path. When I found ITEP (International Trade Education Programs), a nonprofit that partners with Los Angeles area high schools to graduate students college and career ready, I knew I had found the perfect way to walk through the door that was opened during my Leadership L.A. experience. As ITEP’s CEO, not only am I able to directly address some of the challenges that were raised in that education session, I am also able to position the organization within the context of the larger ecosystem of leadership in the region. Quality education contributes to public safety, economic development, health and wellness, infrastructure, and ultimately the foundation of effective government – all the topics we touched through Leadership L.A.
LLA also taught me that my “network is my net worth.” During the program, our class regularly shared insights from our respective roles and industries. Since then, I have had the particular pleasure of directly engaging a few of my classmates in my work with ITEP. Ann Burckle sits on my board of directors and guides the strategic direction of our organization. Giulio Battaglini volunteers with our industry advisory board for the Global Leadership Academy at Gardena High School and promotes great careers in air cargo and logistics to our youth. Art Hadnett has brought his company to ITEP as a corporate sponsor which helps us grow and sustain our career exploration programs in 15 high schools across three school districts. That investment of time and resources eleven years ago has paid off multi-fold in the form of 5,100 high school students now receiving ITEP services annually.
I am extremely grateful that SCLN has given me the opportunity to share my story and contribute to the celebration of its 30th anniversary.