Matthew Bierman Scholarship Fund

Matthew Bierman Scholarship

Along with several other members of the Class of 2005, I was honored to help launch the Matthew Bierman Memorial Scholarship at the Union County Magnet High School. Matt was a wonderful friend and classmate who passed away too soon in 2016. We wanted to honor Matt’s memory and the impact he made on our day-to-day lives throughout our four years together.

The award recipient is a graduating senior nominated by teachers who embodies the values of kindness, dedication, and intellect demonstrated by Matt Bierman. The first award will be given this June to a member of the Class of 2019, selected by a review committee of Matt’s classmates, family, and friends.

We have already funded the first two years of operations of the scholarship – to help us support year three and beyond, donate here via the Magnet Parent School Association, a 501c3.

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On a personal note – Matt was my “locker neighbor” for four years. We shared a prom limo. He made sure I didn’t actually fail tech class that year we were drafting house blueprints. He was a wonderful guy and important part of my Magnet experience. I’m honored we can create this tribute.

Impostor syndrome? Fight it by focusing on someone else

I was thrilled to recently be included in a round-up via Hello Giggles of professional women discussing the moment they broke through their “impostor syndrome.” Impostor syndrome (and let’s just clarify here that both the “-or” and “-er” spelling are grammatically correct), in case you are incredibly secure and/or living under a rock, is helpfully defined in a Harvard Business Review piece as:

“…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence…High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.”

So how have I conquered mine? Well, for one, I haven’t. Not 100%, and that’s okay. I want to feel comfortable, confident, and secure in my work, and in my ability to lead – but it’s also thrilling and important to find yourself in over your head once in a while.

For me, my mindset began to shift when I saw how others saw me – in particular, younger staff members or students I worked with through my time at Rutgers. It surprised me to get validation of my experience from those lower on the ladder, rather than those above me, but it definitely aligned with my experience in how I admired others in the field as well. Read the full Hello Giggles piece for my take on this, but here’s a teaser:

“When I started shifting from being the one asking for letters of recommendation and connections to getting to play that role of connector for other talented early career professionals, I started seeing my status in a new light. No one tells you that you have become a mentor—”

I have been thinking a lot about mentoring, leadership, and developing capacities for the future lately, as my leadership and management role has increased over time. It truly is an odd shift to move from focusing on building your career and reputation to helping foster it for others, and you never truly feel like you have the resources to focus on both. Abby Wambach’s remarks this commencement season at Barnard College were particularly compelling for me – pushing through her feelings of anger and humility on being “benched,” and instead embracing that role. It’s quickly given me my new motto:

Image from Insight of the Day:

Mentorship is extraordinarily powerful in career development, and anyone from an underrepresented background inn a field particularly stands to benefit. It’s not enough to wait for someone to ask you to serve as a mentor – that ask may never come – so I charge everyone in their professional lives to identify and create opportunities to foster the next generation of collaborators and gamechangers as part of your daily work. And, if you find yourself in need of a mentor and not sure where to turn, don’t focus on looking up the ladder – yield this advice from Ann Friedman and tap into your peer network.

Newsletter: Extended Families at the Borders & In the Classrooms

Each month, I send a newsletter sharing what I am reading, thinking, and learning to help catalyze an American society that embraces the extended family in children’s lives. You can subscribe here. Want to join the conversation? Reach out by email or follow me on Twitter.

It was a marathon of a month for our family, with a three-night work trip as my job hosted #pfs4ec, our largest event of the year. There was lots to do in the lead up, including session planning and logistics, but the biggest challenge for me was being away from Baby (okay, Toddler) K for three nights – the longest we’ve been apart.

So it was a trying few days for everyone, logistically and emotionally. Like 1 in 4 American families with a young child, we count on grandparents for child care. It is a joy to see my mother and mother-in-law develop a deep bond with K (and, of course, the financial benefit as child care in NJ costs $9,000 on the low end for a toddler).

But suddenly the grandmas were logging longer days with K, as my husband tried to juggle his own start and end time to relieve them. There were minor medical concerns, of the kind you seem to always experience with a toddler. There were travel delays, the kind that leave you schlepping back from LaGuardia at rush hour when you were supposed to land in Newark.

All to say: the “para-parents” in K’s life, and in ours, continue to make the difference between a life of chaos and a life of positivity. I am tremendously lucky to have our extended family and friends play this role, and this month was a lightning bolt reminder to work towards a broader society that fully embraces the power of extended family.

Beyond the nuclear family in immigration

While three days apart from my child was emotionally draining, it pales in comparison to the abrupt, indefinite separations facing families at our borders. If you already follow me on other social media channels, you know this issue has been my top priority since May. I was proud this weekend to attend the #FamiliesBelongTogether rally in Newark with K in tow, along with  mom friends who brought their littles. Holding up a sign, of course, isn’t enough – we all need to be making calls, donating when we can, and raising awareness of the situation still facing families – but I will note that the psychological benefit of being out in the pounding heat with hundreds of others in support of families was huge. I got chills when an 18 wheeler drove by and leaned on his horn the whole block in support of the rally. Toddler K enjoyed that one too.

Less discussed in this complex topic is the specific ways that extended families matter in our immigration policies. This was brought into light in the story of Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, the six-year-old girl held in detention who was recorded asking repeatedly to call her aunt and providing the phone number. While knowing her aunt’s phone number helped staff make contact, it doesn’t provide an easy path forward for the family, according to Pro Publica:

“The aunt said what made the call even more painful was that there was nothing she could do. She and her 9-year-old daughter are seeking asylum in the United States after immigrating here two years ago for the exact same reasons and on the exact same route as her sister and her niece …The aunt said she worried that any attempt to intervene in her niece’s situation would put hers and her daughter’s asylum case at risk…”

Extended family members have been playing a role in the situation for unaccompanied minors since before this administration’s broad policy changes. Previously, unaccompanied minors in the immigration system were teens (and tweens) crossing the border on their own. It was reported earlier this spring that about 1,400 children were “lost” by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (though “lost” may be more of a methodological issue than we’ll get into here), but that many of these minors had been released into the custody of a family sponsor,often a grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle already in the U.S.

And yet, extended families are not generally considered families as they cross the border together – a brief from three major immigration advocacy groups explores the implications of family separation on different family types, providing real-life examples. Because Customs & Border Patrol defines a family unit only as parents/legal guardians and their children, “families composed of spouses or partners, adult children, siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents traveling together not only do not receive the designation of a ‘family unit,’ but they would receive no special consideration for the preservation of their family.”

It is difficult to imagine, right now, a proactive vision of family preservation for migrants which takes into account unique structures of families. But as Americans across the county voice our opposition to our current system,  we need to push for a system which respects the humanity of all seeking a new life within the U.S. borders, and this means thinking about what families truly look like on the ground.

Filling a Research Gap

I mentioned last month that I’m presenting in September at the Families Learning Conference in Fort Lauderdale (tough assignment, I know!) on extended family engagement in education. When I submitted the proposal, I didn’t already have a slide deck ready to go – in many ways, this is the push I need to get the material researched and together. As I’ve dug in deep on the topic, I wanted to share some early findings with you:
There isn’t a lot out there.
I’m not deterred. An undergrad professor trained me for this very moment, that the lacuna – the hole in the research – is often as important as what the research already tells us. This is an opportunity to figure out what we can learn from existing research to apply to other family members, and push for a new lens through which to consider family engagement.

Reading something I should know about on the topic? Doing something in your own practice that works for families? Drop me a line!

The PATH to nowhere

This started as a series of tweets and clearly got out of hand. I don’t even ride the JSQ-33rd line impacted the last three days (except weekends, when there IS no other option!). Written via smartphone on my NJT connection so please excuse formatting.

UPDATED at 9:44am to fix some formatting and add links.

PATH’s job after the fire is to assess damage & recovery time, communicate that to us, & then do it. If line needs to be shut down for repairs, that’s tough. But people need notice. If they knew night before, they can rearrange child care, try to work from home, maybe carpool, AT LEAST know to leave early for an alternate route. Last minute changes have costs in our time and money, and can be serious issues for people trying to get kids to school or get to their jobs. Last minute decisions that go out by TWITTER and not the email and text alerts regular riders rely on and sign up for creates a situation where we have no faith in this system: they are not safe, clean, or reliable, and they let us fend for ourselves. It’s not just PATH failing at communications. Riders on Twitter said they’ve had trouble boarding both NJTransit buses and trains, even though NJTranist is supposed to be cross honoring on all modes. My favorite is the rider who showed a customer service agent yet NJT tweet on cross honoring and was told they didn’t know NJT had a twitter and it might not be official. This is what thousands of commuters in the NY metro area have to deal with.

And, of course, a PATH fare increase next week.

Riders aren’t blaming PATH for the tunnel fire (but we do need more info on what happened and what’s being done to prevent it again!). But when a fire can cripple transit and no real solutions or information are offered, this is a major failure to keep our area working.