Becoming a Change Agent in Education for People of Color: My Experience as a Surge Fellow

Jul 25, 2018
Nicole Magtoto, a current Surge Fellow, listens during a meeting with her fellowship cohort

The Surge Fellowship is for residents of Chicago or the Bay Area who are emerging leaders in education. The yearlong program gives talented people the tools to help young people of color navigate broken educational systems. The fellowship provides a mentor specifically chosen for each fellow and numerous networking opportunities. The program also provides training and content in navigating complex and sensitive environments, organizational and relationship management, problem solving and strategic planning, and the development of public education in the United States. To participate, fellows are sponsored by their organizations, but scholarships are available for candidates with financial needs.

We talked to Nicole Magtoto, a current Surge Fellow, to learn more about the program and get some tips for preparing an application!

1. What inspired you to apply for the Surge Fellowship?

As a Bay Area native, the opportunity to apply for the inaugural Oakland cohort of the Surge Fellowship was one I could not pass up because my vision for leadership in education is rooted in continuing to serve future generations here. Much of my work in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) over the last 8 years – first in Human Resources recruiting teachers and administrators, and now as an Educational Policy Analyst supporting work for homeless students and children dealing with parental incarceration – had been grounded by my experiences as a student in it. The ability to represent young people in the larger educational landscape as a Latinx/Pacific Islander woman and a leader was something I’d not yet been able to leverage in my roles. I saw the fellowship’s focus on developing executive leadership skills in community with people who are not only like-minded, but also other leaders of color, as a chance to truly lean into being a change agent in the educational system that created me.

Nicole (sitting, second from right) participates in a meeting with her Surge Fellowship cohort

2. What have you enjoyed most about your fellowship so far?

Although we do implement new programs, the policy work I engage in within SFUSD is grounded primarily in shifting culture and systems. The underlying goal of Surge Institute is not to continue to ask young people of color to navigate broken education systems, but to empower adults who have lived through these systems by being a part of their transformation. In this regard, I have been fortunate – the culminating project for our fellowship has been to design a capstone project directly connected to our work, and much of the curriculum has supported me in actualizing my project, which focuses on a communications plan around our new, student and family driven, graduation planning tool. This plan develops a systems literacy toward high school graduation and robust post-secondary plans which will ultimately change our narrative that “college is not for everyone” – a decision that is for students and families to make, not educators. It aims to start a movement toward their empowerment around students’ futures.

As part of a small cohort of fellows, our yearlong experience is filled with personal and professional growth as well as community building, healing, and empowerment. During our monthly meetings and Surge’s Fireside Chats, we are able to learn from other leaders of color who have been engaged in this work for some time. We learn about the larger educational landscape, and in hearing their own leadership journeys, they serve as mirrors for us to see ourselves. Through other signature programming such as the Shark Tank exercise, where a team of fellows is asked to address real-life educational issues, we are asked to dream big, to really reimagine our education system. All of this is done with the loving push of amazing staff, national faculty and an executive coach who was specifically selected to support me for the next year. I have felt so lucky to be a part of this community, which includes not only their Chicago cohort, but also Surge Alumni and educational leaders across the country.

Nicole (background, center) partakes in a presentation during her fellowship

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Surge Fellowship?

The Surge Fellowship is not merely an opportunity for professional or leadership development. Through growing their cohorts each year, through expanding from Chicago to Oakland and the Bay Area – places ripe for educational change – Surge has launched a movement to cultivate change agents who are seeking to transform the experiences of young people of color. People considering this fellowship need to be prepared to engage not only in the development of practical skills, but also in reflecting on their own place in the system and how there is already genius growing in our communities that can inform how we go about changing education. Though the application is rigorous, it should not feel daunting if you are ready to engage in this kind of reflection and to embrace the level of radical candor that Surge seeks to engage its fellows in. Those selected for an interview can expect to speak with a variety of Surge stakeholders and be given an opportunity to share their academic or professional qualifications and, perhaps most importantly, their visions for education as their true authentic selves.

Nicole Magtoto, a product of San Francisco Unified, now serves as an Educational Policy Analyst, and has been the architect behind the rollout of SFUSD’s Board of Education Resolutions supporting students dealing with parental incarceration and homelessness. Nicole has an M.A. in Education: Equity & Social Justice from San Francisco State University, and a B.A. in American Culture from Vassar College. In 2013 she joined the Board of Trustees for SF-CESS and now serves as President. She will complete her fellowship with the Surge Institute in August 2018. 

Photos provided by the Surge Institute

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Surge Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved