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Sylvia Lam: Leadership must be grounded in equity and access

Tell us about your Public Policy Fellowship placement. 

I’m at the Center for Strategic Initiatives within the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

What has been most valuable about your Public Policy Fellowship?

My team is pretty new and everyone is amazing. We’re incredibly diverse, our buckets of work vary, we value and ground our work in equity, and my direct manager is a superhuman.

What is your biggest takeaway from the fellowship?

There is an incredible amount of tension that comes with pushing against a system that works against marginalized communities. Everyone has a different theory of change on how to attain equity and these steps rarely align perfectly.  

Tell us about your vision for educational equity.

I envision our education system (and public programs!) to value the citizens they serve in a way that validates individuals’ lived experiences and histories. I believe that all people should feel affirmed and seen, regardless of their socioeconomic status and in celebration of their identities. I dream of the day when identity markers are not indicative of life outcomes. My vision is for equity to be visible throughout our society for the long term future. 

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

The work I do is grounded in equity and access. The day to day can vary but I know that I am a part of the movement in delivering better opportunities for students, opportunities that extend beyond the short term so that the impact can be felt and seen for future generations. 

How has LEE supported you in achieving this vision?

Providing group coaching, an on-site mentor who generally shares my identity, and a career coach in addition to free online courses.

Why is it important to have opportunities like the Public Policy Fellowship accessible?

As a 1.5 generation child of Chinese-American parents, I would have never thought that I could be in a fellowship like this. It was not on my radar at any point during my public education and being in this fellowship has confirmed for me that we need more people of color in government organizations- not just doing the grunt work, but in the boardrooms making decisions and on panels sharing their experiences. I seriously struggled with and will continue to struggle with imposter syndrome, which I fully believe is a result of a system that perpetuates the model minority myth and quiet Asian women.  

What would you tell those who are thinking about or are interested in applying to the Public Policy Fellowship? 

Do it! I didn’t come in with many expectations and this opportunity has been an incredible one. 

Many rooms are filled with people who don’t have any teaching experience (not on my team but so I’ve heard) and don’t understand the experiences of people of color. This fellowship is filled with incredible opportunities to grow and develop your identity and to learn about the work in various policy spheres. 

*The above interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with minor edits for clarity or brevity.

Accelerate your policy or advocacy career while making a real impact on the country’s education landscape. Apply for the paid, full-time Public Policy Fellowship by April 12.