What does your organization do?Twenty-three percent of the Austin workforce started college and didn’t graduate - that’s over 250,000 of our neighbors. PelotonU matches working adults with high-quality online programs that fit around their full lives and then provides ongoing coaching and support from when students enroll in college to when they graduate.
How did you become interested in this work?My interest in college completion for working adults started in high school, when I started my first job at the Whataburger on Ben White and realized how many of my fellow employees worked two jobs and couldn’t see a path to stable employment regardless of how many hours they put in. They felt stuck.
After studying international development and living overseas, I moved back home to Austin to serve folks who couldn’t get ahead. A local employer named Rex Gore was interested in the educational goals of his staff, and realized they were working full-time and couldn’t get through college when they started working full-time.
He saw a mismatch between students weekly routines and the structure of college, and asked me to research the local market and design a new approach. With input from dozens of community leads in the college completion and workforce development space (including many One Voice members), Rex and I built and tested a two-year pilot that grew into PelotonU.
What drives your passion?As I’ve continued studying college completion for post-traditional students, I’ve become convinced that this is one of the few social issues with a clear solution that makes a long-term difference for families.
And it’s not just because of the degree, but also because of the choice it affords students to pursue opportunities for their families. I want folks to have good jobs, hope that their hard work leads to opportunity, and a path to the middle class. We’re chipping away at an important piece of that puzzle.
Did you have a mentor or a role model?I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors on this journey, but by far the biggest gift has been a co-founder to build PelotonU alongside. Sarah Saxton-Frump, previously the high school principal at KIPP, joined our team as COO in 2014, and it was only when we began working together that our work began making a difference for families.
What's the biggest challenge in your work?My biggest challenge is impostor-syndrome.
I’m a young ED leading an organization growing to a size I haven’t managed before. I don’t always trust myself, and too often believe there’s someone who could do my job much better. Our board has been an incredible ally in contextualizing and assuaging that fear.
What's the best advice that you have ever received?The best advice was from Austin Buchan, CEO of College Forward, who taught me that growing impact doesn’t have to mean increasing the number of clients served. It’s given us the freedom to build a model focused equally on direct service through enrollment and on broader systems change in higher ed.
What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?- Our role as Executive Directors is unique because partners, donors, and clients often trust us as much as our programs and teams. They bet on us, and that’s okay.
- Manage cash, especially when you get started. This work’s less fun when you’re worried about making payroll.
- Austin is uniquely collaborative - other EDs, policy makers, and business leaders want to help. Ask for advice often, because this work is too hard to do alone. Start by
emailing me if I can help: firstname.lastname@example.org