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Committee Spotlight on Emily Cooper

Thank You For Being Such A Vital Part Of Our Team, Emily Cooper! We Look Forward To Sharing More About You So Others Can Get To Know You Better!

Tell us a bit about your backstory and what lead you down your current life path.

Growing up in Evanston IL and attending Evanston Township High School, known for its diversity and resources, shaped my view on inclusivity. However, seeing disparities in honors and AP classes fueled my commitment to addressing educational inequalities. This led me to focus my career on equity-driven programs and DEIA initiatives. From starting as a Legal Assistant to now serving as Vice President of Programs at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, I’ve prioritized creating impactful programs and partnerships for diversity, inclusion, and educational equity.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career?

Evanston Township High School (ETHS) served as the catalyst for my commitment to educational equity, prompting me to actively engage with communities in Chicago and beyond. Witnessing the transformative power of inclusive education at ETHS motivated me to seek opportunities within Chicago classrooms. Volunteering with organizations like WITS and Tutoring Chicago allowed me to bridge theory with practice, gaining firsthand experience in addressing educational disparities. This passion for impactful change extended to my graduate school research, where I focused on the Washington DC public school system for a capstone project. Concurrently, volunteering with Reading Partners in DC provided direct insights into the challenges faced by students and educators. This balance of research and hands-on involvement has been integral in shaping my career path, emphasizing the importance of informed, practical solutions in driving meaningful impact in educational programming and public-private partnerships.

What is one thing you are proud of achieving in your life?

A significant moment for me was volunteering with Reading Partners, aiding a student struggling with cause-and-effect comprehension. On a hot summer day in Washington, DC, I used an ice cream melting analogy, which finally clicked for the student. Witnessing their relief and joy reinforced my commitment to educational equity. It highlighted the vital role of educators and the need for support and resources to ensure equal opportunities. This experience affirmed the transformative power of personalized attention and the importance of addressing fundamental skills to empower students in their educational journey.

What keeps you motivated? What maintains your passion for and commitment to the work you are doing?

My motivation stems from the profound impact of listening to and learning from marginalized communities in Chicago, particularly those historically deprived of essential resources in education and workforce involvement. Transitioning to my role at the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC), I had the honor of interacting with high school students from diverse backgrounds. This provided me firsthand insight into the systemic hurdles they face. Their stories and insights reinforced my dedication to dismantling barriers and fostering inclusivity. I am continually inspired in my current role at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, where I actively listen to companies and communities advocating for more equitable hiring practices. The collective desire for change and the shared commitment to building a more inclusive workforce serves as a driving force. This motivates me to contribute meaningfully to creating positive, sustainable impact in Chicago’s diverse and historically underserved communities.

Emily Cooper

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m profoundly grateful for the unwavering support of colleagues throughout my journey, especially Becky Goldberg, my predecessor as Director at ISTC. In moments of burnout or challenges, Becky’s passion for the work and her balanced perspective served as a guiding light. Her influence also enabled me to excel in my role, fostering an environment where we could collaboratively create meaningful opportunities for students.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I am an avid traveler with a deep appreciation for exploring new cultures and cuisines. Some of my favorite journeys include my 2019 trips to Japan and Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, I am an avid reader, seeking solace and inspiration in books. Whether I am exploring the streets of a new city or immersing myself in the pages of a captivating novel, these activities enable me to relax, expand my worldview, and consistently stimulate my curiosity about the world.

Tell about an amazing trip you took. Where did you go and what did you enjoy most?

My trip to Abu Dhabi was truly eye-opening. Visiting with a friend who grew up there provided a unique perspective, allowing me to explore both Abu Dhabi and Dubai through a local lens. Experiencing Arab culture alongside her family, I had the opportunity to try new foods, cooked both at home and enjoyed at their favorite restaurants. The trip encompassed diverse landscapes – from the desert and beaches to a vibrant and modern downtown. This Middle Eastern adventure marked my first exposure to the region, making it particularly special to witness and participate in the meaningful traditions of my friend and her family.

If you were granted three wishes, what would they be and why?

If granted three wishes, my first wish would be for global peace and understanding. In a world rife with challenges, fostering mutual understanding is essential for collective progress. My second wish would be for universal access to healthcare, recognizing it as a fundamental human right. Finally, my third wish would be for unfettered access to quality education for everyone worldwide.

Emily Cooper

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? What is it and why did it resonate with you?

A particularly exciting initiative I am currently spearheading is the DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Steering Committee in my role as Vice President of Programs. Recognizing the critical importance of fostering a more inclusive business community in Chicago, I envisioned the committee as a proactive platform for sharing best practices, driving impactful DEIA initiatives, and instigating positive change. I initiated this project to create a collaborative space where innovative ideas could flourish, addressing systemic barriers and championing equity-driven programming. Witnessing the committee’s formation and the vibrant exchange of ideas among its diverse members has been incredibly gratifying.

Describe a time when you sought out someone else’s idea or feedback and how you incorporated that insight to yield a better result.

While creating a SXSW EDU session on Empathy in Design Thinking at ISTC, we sought feedback from our DEI partners, The Darkest Horse. Their insights highlighted potential issues in discussing experiences beyond our own. This critical feedback was invaluable, prompting us to retool the presentation, ensuring authenticity and avoiding any potential harm. The revised session not only better aligned with our work but also exemplified a more inclusive approach, emphasizing the importance of seeking diverse perspectives for more impactful outcomes.

Share one professional development goal and one personal goal you have for the upcoming year.

One of my primary professional development objectives is to highlight and partner with additional community organizations that are actively contributing to the development of a diverse and proficient talent pool. On a personal level, my aim for the upcoming year revolves around prioritizing self-care. Acknowledging the significance of maintaining personal well-being, I aim to adopt a more intentional approach to managing my time and energy. This involves enhancing my capacity to evaluate and express my limitations, enabling me to strike a harmonious balance between aiding others and prioritizing my health and wellness.

The road to success is difficult and requires tremendous dedication. What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

To a young aspiring professional, I would advise cultivating a dual focus on passion and adaptability. First and foremost, identify and pursue what genuinely ignites your passion and aligns with your values. Dedication to meaningful work will serve as a constant source of motivation and resilience on the challenging journey to success. Equally important is cultivating adaptability. Embrace a mindset that welcomes change and sees challenges as opportunities for growth. The professional landscape is dynamic, and being open to new ideas, diverse perspectives, and continuous learning is crucial. Seek mentorship, build a strong network, and don’t shy away from taking calculated risks.

Emily Cooper

Describe a time that you failed and how you responded to that situation.

A notable instance of encountering failure occurred during my graduate school capstone project focused on DC Public Schools. Our team’s research findings and recommendations were met with strong resistance from the client, who expected alignment with their views. In a class presentation, our work was criticized, leaving us initially shocked and defensive. Upon reflection, we recognized the need to view this setback as an opportunity for growth. Instead of accepting defeat, we decided to revisit and rigorously test our research to validate its integrity. Simultaneously, we sought a more effective communication strategy to present our findings in a manner that could foster understanding and collaboration. Ultimately, this experience taught us resilience and the importance of constructive responses to adversity. We transformed what initially felt like failure into an opportunity for self-reflection, improvement, and more effective collaboration with our client, emphasizing the importance of navigating challenges with a solutions-oriented mindset.

What are you most passionate about? Can you share a story?

I hold a strong commitment to equity and social justice, particularly evident in my work with high schools where students confront formidable challenges like gun violence, poverty, and various traumas. Direct engagement with these students in under-resourced schools has deeply impacted me and remains a driving force in my daily pursuits. Listening to their genuine experiences and aspirations has been both humbling and enlightening. Their resilience amidst adversity serves as a constant reminder of the pressing need for more equitable support systems. I carry their narratives with me, reinforcing my dedication to advocating for better funding, understanding, and recognition of their communities. Recognizing these students as the future, my passion for equity and social justice is rooted in a sincere commitment to effecting positive change without exploiting or sensationalizing their experiences.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?

My movement collaborates with historically excluded communities in Chicago, focusing on the south and west sides, to address disparities. We emphasize active listening to understand their unique needs. Prioritizing local efforts and leaders, we co-create sustainable initiatives. This empowers residents and aligns with my ethos of promoting equity and social justice.

What about the Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s Purpose, Mission, and Core Values speaks most to you and why?

The core values of Empathy, Educational Equity, and Cultural Responsiveness from Educate. Radiate. Elevate. deeply resonate with me. The emphasis on empathy underscores the importance of building genuine connections with students, understanding their motivations, and tailoring support accordingly. The commitment to educational equity aligns with my belief that all students can thrive given the right opportunities, and it fuels my dedication to providing the necessary resources for their success. Cultural responsiveness is paramount in acknowledging the diverse backgrounds of students. Continually reflecting on my own background, actively learning about students’ cultures, and adjusting practices accordingly aligns with my commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

What are the essential skills one must have to grow and scale a nonprofit like Educate. Radiate.Elevate.? What qualities do you value the most when building out teams and resources?

To effectively grow and scale a nonprofit like Educate. Radiate. Elevate., essential skills include a keen focus on listening and responsiveness to the unique needs of students, education systems, and communities served. Building support systems and trainings around core competencies such as empathy, cultural responsiveness, and trauma-informed mentorship is paramount. These skills not only enhance the organization’s impact but also create a foundation for sustainable growth. When building teams and allocating resources, I prioritize individuals who embody a deep commitment to understanding and meeting the diverse needs of participants. Team members should possess strong empathy, cultural awareness, and the ability to provide trauma-informed support. These qualities ensure that the organization can adapt to the evolving challenges within the education landscape and foster an inclusive, supportive environment for both students and staff.

Thanks, Emily! We Are So Lucky To Have You On The Team!

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