Q&A with New Sector Resident Nathan Hixson

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Nathan pictureNathan Hixson is completing a year-long New Sector residency with the Aspire Institute. During his time at Aspire, Nathan has provided financial and operational support, expanded Aspire’s STEM program offerings, and served as the communications coordinator for the Boston Compact. Nathan graduated with a B.S. in Finance and a minor in International Development from Brigham Young University. During school, Nathan served a two-year church mission in Albania. While in Albania, he saw the effects of quality education, and lack thereof, and is excited to work with Aspire to improve quality education for children of all backgrounds.

What is your role with the Aspire Institute?

I serve at Aspire as part of a year-long AmeriCorps New Sector fellowship. During my time here, I’ve worked on building our financial systems and growing our programs. For the more operational work, I’ve built systems to track payroll, budgets, and our financial position across revenue streams. For programs, I organized our science inquiry course and examined the feedback and opportunities for the Connected Beginnings Training Institute.

Currently I’m developing the STEM Activity App with our Learning Solutions Program Manager, Barbara Joseph. It’s been exciting to see growth in users climb from 400 to over 1,200! We’re in the middle of running the app as a school-based program and also getting ready to unveil new activities over the summer. We’re educating parents about children’s summer learning loss and giving them a tool to combat it.

How has participating in the New Sector fellowship affected your work with Aspire?

I’ve really enjoyed the cohort camaraderie and management consultant mentor that New Sector provides, but I think the trainings have been my favorite, and most impactful, part of this experience. We’ve had engaging trainings on issue-based problem solving, effective data design, government relations—all kinds of topics that help inform anyone’s work, whether in the for-profit or non-profit world.

One recent session examined operations and how to maximize effectiveness and efficiency in an organization. The facilitator challenged us to ask “why?” five times when approached with an intractable problem, in order to dig down to the root causes. I tried this exercise with a persistent concern at work, and found myself considering underlying factors and motivations that I’d never considered.

It can be difficult to apply what you learn in college without applying it in real time, and once you have a job, it can be difficult to learn like you once did in college. I love this hybrid of professional experience peppered with discussion-based trainings because I know anything I take away, I can use the next day here at Aspire.

You also spend one day per week serving at the Boston Compact—what’s that been like?

The Boston Compact is an interesting collaboration where district, charter, and Catholic schools come together to focus on removing city-wide barriers to excellent education for students. My role with the Compact is to promote our message that despite differences that may attract more media attention these school sectors have much in common and can help solve each other’s problems. For example, we created Boston Schools Hub to provide families with a one-stop shop for searching all different types of schools in Boston. I’ve actually been able to use that site for Aspire work. I enjoy the overlap between my projects at Aspire and at the Boston Compact—it’s made me more effective.

What’s been your favorite part of this year?

Other than exploring an organ room and a thrift store?

On a more serious note, all of my projects have taught me something, but there’s a certain stage in each project where the purpose behind why I’m here clarifies. The data analysis is fun, but the “so what?” part is what reminds me that Aspire is really trying to improve education. Using whatever analysis we’ve done to inform decisions is when I get to see progress that affects and changes people—educators, families, and ultimately children.

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