First-Generation Fireside Chat: Education Insights featuring Teach for America Recruitment Manager, Tal Mintz

In honor of National First Gen Day on November 8th, 2020, Career Services is highlighting experiences, perspectives and advice from first gen professionals in various career fields.

Join us for a LIVE Fireside Chat Zoom Conversation with Teach for America Recruitment Manager, Tal Mintz, moderated by Ore Opayemi ’22.

Can’t attend the live session?  Register HERE to request a link to the recording.

Guest: Tal Mintz, Teach for America Recruitment Manager Moderator: Oreoluwatomiwa(Ore) Opayemi is currently a junior at the Wharton School from pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Economics, concentrating in Strategic Management and Decision Processes. 

Learn more about our first-generation professional, Tal Mintz.

What led you to your current position?

Growing up, I can remember my dad emphasizing education daily and the need and importance that I go to college. Even though I was only 3, he would ask me what university I was going to attend in the future. In middle school and high school I started to fully understand why education and doing well in school was so important. I watched as he was  looked over at work, as his department was eliminated, and I watched him struggle for 2 plus years to find a job in his field. Although he had 15 plus years of experience, he didn’t have his college degree. Going to college became a shared goal for my dad and me and we were both incredibly happy when I started at Ithaca College in fall of 2013.  Unfortunately, he sadly passed away of a stroke after my first year.  As tragic as this was, there was so much I was grateful for. For 18 years, my dad fought for me to have access to every educational resources and opportunity, constantly pushed me to do and try my best, and saw limitless potential in me. I became increasingly aware of how rare this was and the more I learned about the lack of structure, systems, and support in place for the most vulnerable children in this country, the more I wanted to be in a position to do for other kids what my dad did for me. After his passing I joined Big Brother Big Sister, worked as a child development intern in Ireland, and was a substitute teacher at a local Waldorf School.

Although I was a writing major and politics and sport studies minor, Teach For America stood out because of the opportunity to directly impact so many kids and the organizations commitment to address and create systematic change.  As a teacher, I was fortunate enough to work with over 500 incredible students. After my two-year commitment, part of me felt incredibly compelled to stay in the classroom. However, having more time to reflect, in Memphis alone there was over 220 vacant classrooms in need of a lead teacher when I left in 2019. I wanted to be in a position to address this shortage. I know that as one person, I worked with over 500 kids. What would it look like to try and bring in 100 new teachers in the classroom? Ultimately this is why I joined the Recruitment Team and relocated to Philadelphia, PA. This is now my second year on the recruitment team and I love being able to talk with students about their passions, their vision of impact, and how it may align with our program.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Graduating college has been my greatest accomplishment. I am incredibly proud of the work I have done since but after my dad passed, I really wasn’t sure that graduating would be a possibility. Navigating the financial component was it’s own challenge and I am very grateful for how Ithaca College Finical Aid program worked with me and my family. What was harder to navigate was returning at the start of sophomore fall semester with a lack of a support system, feeling consumed with grief, and trying to prioritize academics. I really considered dropping out during that first semester back. However, I thought if I took a break or had an emergency withdrawal, I would never graduate. I made an appointment at our Center of Counseling and Psychological Services, started speaking with a therapist, started sharing with my friends more, and found ways to hear my dad’s voice. Working with kids, I could hear myself saying the same things he once told me.   Sophomore year was one of the most challenging years of my life, but I was able to find the motivation, support, and resources to not just graduate but to excel academically as well.

What surprises you the most about your job?

What surprises me most about my job is how unique and remarkable my conversation with college students are. I am blown away by the impact so many student leaders have demonstrated and accomplished both on and off campus. The most surprising and rewarding part of the job is being able to talk to college students about what they care about and where they see their long term impact. During all my conversation I ask students, “In 10-15 years, if you could be doing anything at all, no restrictions, what is a dream scenario for you?” The answers are usually surprising but almost always inspiring.

What three adjectives would you use to describe your company’s culture?

Three adjective I would use to describe my company’s culture are reflective, mission-focused, and growth-oriented.

What internship opportunities does your company offer?

Our company offers multiple ways for students to be engaged and involved with our work. We have an internship over the Summer where one can serve as a  Summer Operations Associate. In this paid position you will be able to support and provide logistical and operational support for our Summer training program called institute. College students with an interest in data, technology, project management, event planning, and marketing are encouraged to apply. During Fall and Spring semester we have Campus Ambassador paid position available as well. Ambassadors champion the Teach For America brand by investing their school community in the cause of educational equity, and they inspire others to explore TFA

How does your company mentor first gen professionals? (ie. Organizations, programs, workshops, professional development, etc.)

Our company offers a number of mentorship and opportunities for development. We have affinity spaces where we are able to come together, collaborate , problem solve, and just discuss day to day actions. We also have a partnership with LEE (Leadership For Educational Equity) which is a policy partner and offers multiple development opportunities for those interested in policy, advocacy, or even running for public office through coaching and support services. Additionally our Capitol Hill Fellowship  and Rural School Leadership Academy are  programs we offer to our alumni and first gen professionals. Lastly, many of our first gen professionals and alumni take advantage of our various grad school and employer partnerships.

What does being first gen mean to you?

Being First Gen means you learn how to be resourceful, adaptable, and handle adversity. Being first gen to me means that my dad’s dream of wanting the best for my sister and me has come to fruition. Being first gen means that I can support my students and maybe my own kids one day because I have overcome similar challenges and navigated similar systems that were not designed for students like myself.

What unique qualities do you think first gen students bring to the table?

I think first gen students’ adapt to and access resources to address different situations and challenges are unique qualities that help set us apart. I also think first gen students’ possess qualities such as grit, determination, and gratitude, which are qualities employers are looking for. I watched peers in college skip class or take it easy and that is an attitude I have never seen demonstrated by first gen students. When you are aware of the privilege that higher education is, you are more likely to try and get the absolute most from this experience.

How could a student highlight their unique experiences or qualities during an interview?

Students can highlight their unique experiences during an interview by speaking to the explicit steps and actions they took in the face of adversity.  Before going into an interview, think about your strengths and what the employer in front of you is looking for. In your responses, tie in language from the company’s website and job description to show how your strengths are aligned to the company’s mission and work. In an interview, an employer is likely to ask “So tell me about yourself?” This is a great opportunity to highlight how your unique experiences and qualities have not only put you in a position to reach and achieve your goals but to also exceed and pass your own expectations.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome?  If so, how did you navigate through it?

Yes, I have definitely experienced imposter syndrome and, in full transparency, I still do at times. The first step is to take a moment and remind yourself of how qualified you actually are. You did not trick anyone to be in the position you are in.  Your experiences, qualities, and mindset/attitude earned you the right to be where you are. It can feel incredibly overwhelming at times when you are questioning “Am I good enough?” Remember, you can and will adapt. Lean on the support systems and structures you have in place. I would not be where I am at work today if I didn’t have a network that I could lean on for help, advice, and pep talks.

By Career Services
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