SFER founders resume studies after year off
Bellinger and Morin started Students for Education Reform as freshmen in 2009, with the aim of incorporating student voices into the debate on education reform. Originally members of the Class of 2012, the two took the 2011-12 school year off to grow SFER into a nationwide movement.
“This past year, our focus was on building the scale and capacity of our movement. We wanted to grow geographically,” Bellinger said. “Then, we grew our chapters to include chapter leaders across the country. That was really our goal for the last academic year: to reach 100 chapters.”
Bellinger said she and Morin had more success during their year off than they had originally expected. The organization now has 135 college chapters in over 30 states and has also received praise and support. Bellinger and Morin were selected as two of the top education activists of 2012 by Time magazine, and SFER was added to the Draper Richards Kaplan Portfolio, a selective venture philanthropy firm that provides funding and support for selected nonprofits.
Despite these successes, Bellinger and Morin said they will keep working full-time to develop SFER. Over the coming year, they said they hope to continue expanding their member base, begin legislative advocacy in at least eight states and teach SFER members the practical skills required to work in the field.
This year, however, both Bellinger and Morin are also working toward University degrees, even though they are living and working full-time in New York. Bellinger is taking two courses, while Morin is completing a field study — a special program that substitutes for one term — through her work at SFER.
When she visits campus each week for her two lecture classes, Bellinger said she tries to catch up with friends and keep up-to-date with happenings on campus. However, Bellinger added that she doesn’t feel like a college student anymore.
“Honestly, I feel like, at the end of my junior year, I was ready to leave. I feel like I made the most of my Princeton experience during the three years I was on campus,” Bellinger said. “Now, through my work and through the work of SFER, I feel like I’m learning a hundred new things a day.”
Following their sophomore years, Bellinger and Morin worked for different education-related nonprofits. During this summer, they decided to begin working to grow SFER beyond Princeton. Bellinger said they knew there was demand on other campuses, so they decided to found SFER as an official nonprofit organization.
Over the course of their junior year, they managed to expand SFER from one chapter at Princeton into an organization with 20 collegiate chapters nationwide.
In addition, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to speak to SFER at the end of that year. Bellinger said this moment was a main factor in the pair’s decision to devote the 2011-12 year solely to the work of expanding SFER.
“He heralded the work that SFER was doing — providing student voices in the educational policy discussion,” Bellinger said. “That visit, at least for us, inspired us to think even bigger.”
With Bellinger and Morin gone, current president Elizabeth LaMontagne ’14 is the first leader of the organization who was not one of its founding members. As the national organization expands, LaMontagne said the Princeton chapter has continued to strengthen as well.
“It’s interesting to see how that dynamic has shifted,” LaMontagne said. “It’s just been cool to see [the chapter] sustain itself after that original group.”