Broad Alumni Spotlight: Rebekka Shepherd (TBR 2018-20)
Rebekka currently serves as the senior director of postsecondary strategy at Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ.
What’s your current organization and role?
I currently serve as the Senior Director of Postsecondary Strategy at Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. I lead the network strategy and support our seven high schools around preparing our students for postsecondary success.
What is top of mind for you right now in your role?
Mastery Schools used to be a “college for all” organization – our goal was that every student attend college after graduating from Mastery. Over the past five years, we’ve moved toward a more inclusive mission of preparing students for postsecondary success and defining what that means. For us, postsecondary success equals students and their families being able to make an informed choice that leads to a living-wage career – whether that is a two-year or four-year college degree, technical, trade, and workforce development, or joining the military.
This evolved mission and expanded, school-supported choice is responsive to what we were hearing was most important from our students, their families, and postsecondary staff closest to the work – but it has required a big organizational change. In my role, I am working with my team to support the postsecondary staff in schools with projects like revised seminar curriculum, workforce development dual enrollment programs, and a new pathway tracking system that measures the likelihood of matriculation into a student’s chosen program. I’m also working across our organization at the network level to better connect the areas related to postsecondary success – academics, social-emotional learning, family engagement and postsecondary planning – to create a more aligned student experience.
We’ve evolved from thinking about success for students as just attending college and are moving towards preparing students to be successful in whatever career pathway they choose. For the first time, we are working in concert around how traditional academic disciplines and postsecondary success are deeply linked.
What are you most excited about in your work at Mastery?
We just finalized our class of 2022 postsecondary enrollment data. This is important because it’s really the first time we’ve been able to start answering the question of whether our new approach and strategy is working for students once they graduate. Because of the pandemic, we spent the first two years of the Multiple Pathways strategy in triage mode for Class of 2020, just trying to make sure students were getting what they needed to enroll in their postsecondary program of choice, and then in a hybrid learning and masked mode for Class of 2021. Although our Advisors worked tirelessly to support these students, it was in a modified capacity.
While the 2021-22 school year still wasn’t quite normal, it was the first school year fully back in-person and therefore the first class where we are able to measure if the strategy is effective. I think it is! What we are seeing is students saying up front which pathway they are truly interested in; they are excited about their plan and are following through and enrolling. We still have a lot of work to do to support our students across all pathways, but it’s exciting to see these beginning proof points.
How did the Broad experience impact how you approach your work?
It’s hard for me to put into words the way the Broad experience changed my life – it changed my perspective on this country, my belief in the impact that an individual can have on their community, and ultimately how I view myself. Part of my story is that I was adopted from India by a white family as an infant. I worked so hard to assimilate and fit in that I largely ignored that I had any racial identity separate from my adopted family. As part of Broad, I had a safe space to step into my racial identity for the first time, to explore what it means to be fully myself and to bring my perspectives and whole experience to my role as a leader. Broad helped me establish my sense of self and bridge my purpose and my passion. This is the same goal that I have for every single student that passes through our postsecondary program at Mastery.
I could go on and on about the affinity that I feel for my cohort members in TBR 2018-20. There is not a single person that I would not vouch for or ask for advice, and I’m in touch with some of them daily! I’ve found the same trust and support system from the larger network as well. The Broad network feels like an amazing third space, separate from my work and personal life, where people deeply understand each other’s work and are rooting for each other’s success. I have seen the hearts of the individuals in this work up close, and it’s so powerful to know that the educational leadership roles across this country are filled by people who believe in educational equity and the potential of all of our students in the same way that I do.