When Shavonna Hinton was in grade school, she charged classmates $2 to organize their desks prior to clean-up days.
“I try to find a common thread in everything I do,” says Hinton, a master’s degree student in Education Policy who has created a Self-Designed Specialization in People, Policy and Higher Education Opportunity. “And it all goes back to the same thing: ‘Let me give you the resources, information, and opportunities you need to set yourself up for success.’”
Still, Hinton’s M.O. has changed since those early side-hustle days. As an undergraduate at the Binghamton University School of Management, she initially planned to pursue a career in marketing, but “quickly discovered I didn’t find joy in selling meaningless products for people to buy”.
“I wanted something more fulfilling that had to do with providing people with beneficial information,” she recalls. “And I realized you could do that in education.”
After graduating, Hinton stayed on at Binghamton as an Undergraduate Admissions Counselor. Her next job, as the Associate Director of Admissions and Diversity Recruitment at Cornell University’s College of Engineering, sparked an epiphany.
“Working at niche schools, with niche programs I was able to understand the disparities in education from a national perspective,” says Hinton. “I was reviewing the applications of kids who wanted to become engineers. Some were ready. But just as many didn’t have an idea what that meant.
“I saw students who took AP math classes as freshmen and college-level courses as seniors along with kids from schools that didn’t have a calculus teacher. And after a while I started asking myself, ‘How am I perpetuating these educational inequities we see as early as Pre-K and kindergarten?’ We see these achievement gaps and inequities and, yet, there I was at an elite institution selecting students for an elite major where we were getting 12,000-plus applications and rejecting the vast majority of them.”
Hinton subsequently launched a “very intentional” search for a graduate school that could offer an “education policy landscape” addressing inequities that often surface before a child reaches kindergarten. She’s found precisely that at TC, where she balances her studies while working full time as the Campus Chapters Manager for AI4All, a non-profit organization that supports artificial intelligence education programs. She also spent much of the semester supporting the Office of Government Affairs on the TC Votes project, registering students and Harlem neighbors to vote in the 2020 presidential election.
Meeting with the people who — for better or worse — run this country, getting the opportunity to sit in congressional spaces, meeting with elected officials, and getting a deep dive into what education looks like at the federal level, was truly transformational.
— Shavonna Hinton
Hinton is of two minds as she looks toward her graduation from TC this coming May.
She believes that — in education as in other areas of life — determined individuals can work within the system to create meaningful structural and organizational reform. She credits TC’s Federal Policy Institute program, run by Sharon Lynn Kagan, Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families, with giving her an important window onto that process.
“Meeting with the people who — for better or worse — run this country, getting the opportunity to sit in congressional spaces, meeting with elected officials, and getting a deep dive into what education looks like at the federal level, was truly transformational,” she says of FPI, which culminates in a weeklong immersion with Washington policymakers.
“By the end of the week my confidence and excitement were through the roof as I knew I had what it takes to pursue a career of public service.”
Whether we like it or not, the Gateses and Zuckerbergs of the world have the real power to change things. And both in theory and practice, that’s what I’m after – to be a changemaker.
— Shavonna Hinton
It’s a path, Hinton notes, that isn’t necessarily destined to unfold in a taxpayer-supported policy position.
“Whether we like it or not, the Gateses and Zuckerbergs of the world have the real power to change things. And both in theory and practice, that’s what I’m after – to be a changemaker.
“I want to help populations understand what it takes to change or adapt for success. And my end goal is to in some way help communities and individuals realize their own power and to advocate for themselves. I don’t want to tell them what to do. I want to show them what they can do.”