annie-bickerton_photoWhen Annie joined Milano’s Nonprofit Management program she found a community that helped her to identity her strengths as a change agent. As a student, Annie’s Drive Change project was a winner of the New School’s 2013 New Challenge idea competition. Today, she continues to drive social change at MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization, where she works as a Research Analyst in the Health and Barriers to Employment Policy Area. 


Why did you choose to study at Milano/The New School? 

I had two goals when I was looking into grad school. On one hand, I was looking for a graduate program that would give me tangible management skills for a career in the nonprofit/public sector. On the other hand, I was desperately craving a career path that tested me intellectually and met my values around social justice. I ultimately chose Milano over NYU’s Wagner School because I felt that The New School had a track record of pushing boundaries and questioning the status quo.  


How did you decide on the nonprofit management program?

I have always had a pretty broad variety of topical interests, but recognized that good or bad management could make or break a nonprofit. In my job before grad school I got to work closely with my organization’s board of directors and I was so impressed by their strategic thinking and governance process. It made me want to learn more about what it would take to run a program or organization. So rather than study a specific policy issue, I chose to develop a skillset and wound up in Nonprofit Management.


Looking back, what are some of your most meaningful Milano experiences?

The New Challenge competition and Milano’s overall focus on social entrepreneurship allowed me to take on the identity of co-founder of an organization that is still flourishing. I never knew that I had it in myself to do that before.


I developed very close relationships with the graduate faculty.  I didn’t anticipate it would be the case but I felt like they really took the time to get to know me and valued me as a person. A handful of them mentored me through launching the social enterprise that I co-founded and helped me identify my strengths as a leader. I couldn’t have taken all that on without those relationships.


Another thing I liked was being able to take classes across disciplines. I took classes with people from the policy programs, Parsons design school and The New School for Social Research. I learned a lot by seeing how they approached the content from a different lens.


Do certain courses stand out?

I did two incredible yearlong courses in my second year. Participatory Community Engagement with Erica Kohl-Arenas, which epitomizes the dedication to community and cultivation of self-awareness that I think our field needs. The second was Community Development Finance Lab with Kevin McQueen, which was on the other end of the spectrum in building tangible skills. Both of those classes were incredibly hands-on and were highlights of my academic coursework.


How have you benefited from your time at Milano? 

I think I learned how to think across disciplines and to keep things in perspective. I now have what someone might describe as a bureaucratic project management job but I’ve found opportunities to do bigger picture thinking within my work. I think the ability to self-reflect and think critically about the larger context is necessary for this field. Otherwise, we might get too lost in the weeds navigating our day-to-day.  


Is there any advice you would give to current students on making the most of their time here while preparing for life after graduation?

You have to be accountable for your own experience. Explore, play, take on new opportunities. Don’t expect those opportunities to come in one shape or size.  Our economy and world require adaptation and collaboration, so pay attention to others. I think a lot of opportunities came to me in my graduate experience simply because I made myself available.


Also, sometimes you have to change directions. I spent two years launching a social enterprise with a small team.  I ultimately decided to leave because I realized I needed a different kind of work life and I wasn’t going to be as useful to them as I could be elsewhere. Now I get to be a supportive friend and follower to them and feel good about what I helped create. But I really had to let go of my own ego in that situation so that I could meet other needs in my life.


What are you doing currently?

I work for MDRC, a social policy research organization, in their Health and Barriers to Employment policy area. I mainly focus on projects touching the criminal justice system, but my policy area does all kinds of work on social services for individuals who are the most economically vulnerable.


What is your role at MDRC and how has your work there furthered your interest in social change?

I have a blended role; I do project management and also work directly with social service organizations that participate in our research studies. I like having a bird’s eye view of the various funders and stakeholders, while also helping individual organizations test out new program models.


Lastly, I’m proud to be co-chair of MDRC’s Diversity Council. I have been participating in a lot of dialogues and events around undoing racism and what us white folks can do to advance racial justice. My role helps me find a way to do that; I think organizations need to grow their capacity to empower people of color, which means recruiting and providing career development opportunities. I’m glad I have a chance to integrate that into my work life in a concrete way.


You can connect with Annie on LinkedIn.