This year, Catharine Bellinger ’13 and Alexis Morin ’13 did not start the school year off wrestling with SCORE, making trips to Labyrinth or dancing at Lawnparties.
Instead, the pair is taking the year away from their studies at the University to expand Students for Education Reform, a nonprofit organization they founded whose goal is to mobilize student leaders on college campuses to close the educational achievement gap in the United States, according to its website.
Bellinger and Morin, formerly members of the Class of 2012, serve as SFER National’s executive director and chief operations officer, respectively, and will work from the newly established SFER national offices in New York City.
“We realized in order to really fulfill our goals ... we would need to take a step back from our studies to focus on SFER full time,” Morin said.
SFER was first founded as a Princeton chapter in 2009, and Bellinger and Morin led the expansion of the organization to 20 chapters across the nation over the next two years.
“We had the opportunity to appreciate how quickly the student movement in support of closing the achievement gap was moving ... and that was thrilling,” Morin said.
The two made the decision to focus more attention on the nonprofit over the summer, when they were hosted at California-based education philanthropy firm NewSchools Venture Fund.
After spending June making business plans and devising their expansion strategy, they focused on executing this strategy in July and August.
Bellinger and Morin have hired two full-time program directors for their team and are currently in search of three more. Their goal for this academic year is to grow to 100 chapters by the end of the spring semester.
“We will focus on growth in four states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Minnesota — where our goal is to recruit and support a statewide network of 15 SFER chapters,” Morin said.
She noted that there are many reasons for choosing specific states for growth as part of a “greenlighting process” that many nonprofits use in situations where they know that they are expanding geographically.
“In our decision process, as we considered which states [to focus on], we thought about the reform climate in these states ... and the strengths of the existing education reform ecosystem,” she said. “We also looked at potential partner organizations in expansion states that have already been players in that state in terms of education reform advocacy.”
These partners, Morin added, are organizations that are doing “tremendous work” and understand the power of undergraduates to speak about their own experiences.
Both Bellinger and Morin have had considerable experience with SFER leadership. Bellinger served as president when the organization was first founded in 2009, and began to work that fall on the national nonprofit that would support the Princeton chapter while Morin took over her position.
Shortly after, the founding members of SFER met in order to concentrate more attention on the nonprofit section. Emily Myerson ’12 is the current president of the Princeton chapter. She did not respond to a request for comment.
“Each of us had the opportunity to lead the Princeton chapter and watch it grow and evolve,” Morin said of herself and Bellinger, adding that the two will draw on their past experience as they work with other chapter leaders to develop new groups. “We want to identify students who are incredibly passionate about closing the achievement gap,” she added.