Jenny has a unique perspective on the value of Pinkerton grants. In 1998, three days after graduating from New York’s high school for pregnant and parenting teens and six weeks after the birth of her son Joel, she went to work as an “Explainer” in the Science Career Ladder program at the New York Hall of Science–a longtime Pinkerton grantee. While there, she completed her B.A. at Queens College and went on to earn a Master’s in Public Administration at Baruch College. She eventually rose to lead the 100 high school and college Explainers who guide thousands of visitors through the Hall of Science each year. Jenny has presented papers and led discussions at science education conferences at home and abroad and has been recognized as a Next Generation Getty Leadership Fellow. She brought her interest and expertise in youth programs and science and technology training to Pinkerton in January of 2012. Joel has been an Explainer himself and is now a college student. Longtime Pinkerton-watchers will note that until exchanging vows with her beloved Anthony on September 18th, 2016, Jenny was known as Jennifer Correa. (We like her by any name.)
The following is a conversation between Chris Lawrence and Jenny Negron reflecting on her work and experiences with Hive NYC. To read other interviews in this series visit storyengine.io/hive/.
Could you tell me about yourself and your work and, from there, focus on your work with Hive NYC?
My name is Jenny Negron and I’m a Program Officer at the Pinkerton Foundation. I’ve been working here for seven years now. The Pinkerton Foundation funds youth development programs in New York City. Most of the programs we support take place in the after-school, weekend, or summer hours and focus on providing opportunities for academic development, career readiness, and cultural enrichment. We also support a number of programs that offer a way forward for young people after an encounter with the criminal justice system or years in foster care.
As a Program Officer I work with programs that are geared towards science, technology, engineering, math, and digital learning. The grantees I work with are also members of the Hive Learning Network, so I became aware of Hive through you, Chris, but also through a number of my grantees.
Learning how Pinkerton grantees like Global Kids, Global Action Project, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Intrepid Museum infused digital learning into their activism programming for young people helped me to get a better sense of how digital learning intersected with the work they were doing.
Was there something unique about the digital learning integration that these organizations were doing that you weren’t seeing in others or that you previously weren’t aware of?
What was unique about some of these youth-development organizations was that they had a specific focus that wasn’t necessarily tied to digital content. It could have been anything from global learning to environmental education to youth activism. Adding a component of digital learning elevated the work that they were already doing.
For example, organizations like The Point — a comprehensive, after-school organization that works with local youth — and Global Kids — an organization that develops youth leaders through global education and social justice — added digital learning to their programs to engage middle and high school students in different ways. Students learned new platforms such as video game and web design to share the work that they’ve been doing locally with the rest of the city.
In Hive, you were a part of the Fund committee and the advisory board. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
I was asked to join the advisory board a couple of years ago, which was an amazing experience to be able to review the proposals that were coming into the Hive and make recommendations for which programs or organizations would get funding. To be in a group and talk with other members of the committee about how they looked at proposals was a great learning experience. I learned what grant-making looks like at other foundations, what kinds of questions they asked, and gained different perspectives about the organizations and proposals that we were reviewing.
Thinking about your work with Hive NYC, can you tell me about a moment when you felt a sense of success?
My first moment of pride came with being able to bring together the Hive and the PASE Explorers Program. PASE was running this program in which elementary school kids from different after-school sites around the city would learn about their local neighborhoods and create a poster presentation about it. At the end of the semester the students from all the sites would come together to showcase their posters and learn from each other. By connecting PASE with the Hive, we were able to add a digital component to that project. Students learned how to create their own websites about their local community. It was great to see how the students could use this platform to share with their mentors, parents, educators, community members, and other student participants, even beyond the end of the semester showcase.
What was the connection for you? Why did you link the network with PASE?
During a New York City STEM Educators Network meeting, you presented on Mozilla’s online tools. I had just had conversations with PASE about their Explorer’s Program, so it was perfect timing because you were going over the different resources that Mozilla had.
It really clicked for me in that meeting. I thought, “I have to introduce these people and figure out a way to make it work.” It was great to know that the connection turned into something positive.
What was a moment when you encountered a challenge in the network?
Earlier on, I struggled with not knowing how other organizations could become part of the network. I wasn’t sure about the structure or timeline for members to join and participate in that kind of community. It was great to see that a few of my grantees had come on board.
Do you have any examples of the organizations that benefited from this?
A few that come to mind are NYC SALT, which is a photography program, New York on Tech, and STEM From Dance, which joined a little bit later on.
Looking into the future as Hive transitions and figures out what it wants to be, do you have any advice about membership or about how it might evolve out of that frustration?
I think the Pinkerton Foundation sees the value in networks and in people in the field sharing best practices. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel for out-of-school programming, especially around digital learning, so it’s important for us, and the individual organizations, to see the network continue.
The challenge is that the Hive started off as a funding stream, so a lot of organizations came together in part to share best practices, but also for the potential to receive funding. Now that that piece is gone, I worry about how involved the members will continue to be, but encourage them to stay connected, especially because of the value that it has on their programming. For the network to continue, there needs to be a group of members who are willing to take the lead and organize the meetings and other gatherings. And I understand that it requires time and resources that some members may not be able to commit to.
In a world where Hive does not have funds to redistribute, members may not continue to stay engaged. Can you think about a moment when your experience in Hive was different than other community-based organizations?
I think there are a few things that Hive did very well. I didn’t get to personally experience it, but I’ve heard about it from Hive members. They really enjoyed visiting each other’s programs and getting a sense of each other’s spaces: what they looked like and what they felt like. That experience helped them think about their own programming. That made it very special, to learn and share with each other.
Connections formed that would not have otherwise happened. Oftentimes, when we’re involved in our work, we don’t think to pick up the phone and call one of our peers who’s doing something similar because we may not know them or because we’re so caught up in our own work.
Having a time and space where you’re coming together allows you to think about the questions that you have and about how this group can help you in terms of the challenges you’re going through. Being able to be in a space where people are going through the same challenges helps you feel less alone and it gives you insight into how they’ve approached those challenges.
It’s interesting being in other peoples’ spaces and you’ve seen different sides of that. What inspiration did you take personally when you visited other peoples’ homes, so to speak?
As a Program Officer, I get a birds-eye view of the different youth-development organizations in the city. It is helpful to visit programs and see what they do best, see the types of environments they set up for young people, and meet with and talk to the program staff and participants. I get a better sense of the program, what they are great at and also what they are struggling with. By getting honest feedback from my grantees I can help make connections between organizations that could learn from one another.
Very early on, when I started at Pinkerton and went on my first two site visits, I remember thinking, “Wow, if I’d have only thought of this before!” One of those things was figuring out how to set up a site visit for a funder to showcase your program. With some of my newer grantees who may not have experience in funder visits, I can give them a few tips.
Can you tell me about a moment when Pinkerton benefited from its involvement in the network?
Even though I’m just one of the Program Officers at Pinkerton, it’s helpful for me to hear how other foundations make decisions about grants and share that with my peers here. It’s also helpful to learn about the organizations we work with from others. Global Action Project and DreamYard are two Pinkerton grantees that are not in my portfolio, but I have been able to share what I have learned about these programs with my peers here who work directly with them.
Can you tell me about a significant relationship that emerged out of your involvement with Hive?
I got to work more closely with Leigh Ross from New York Community Trust and Jessa Thompson from Capital One. Through this experience I learned about their funding priorities and can now make connections for my grantees if they fit.
Hive was always creating a network of funders. Is anybody else doing that at the funder level, in terms of building peer learning networks for grant-makers?
There are a number of networks for grant-makers. A few that come to mind that Pinkerton is involved with are Philanthropy New York, New York City Youth Funders, and the STEM Funders Network. Philanthropy New York is an organization that brings together foundations to learn from one another, support meaningful collaborations, and provide resources for effective grantmaking. New York City Youth Funders is a coalition of philanthropic organizations that help plan and sponsor events that are of interest to youth funders and those in related fields. The STEM Funders Network is a mix of private and corporate foundations who are working together to increase the knowledge and expertise of grantmakers investing in STEM education, leverage their collective resources, and collaborate on high-impact projects they could not undertake alone.
As Hive moves forward, what are some things that you want to ensure the network thinks about and does programmatically in order to foster peer networking and digital learning in youth advocacy spaces?
Set up times for the groups to meet with each other. It wouldn’t happen without someone taking the lead and deciding specific places and times to meet. It would be important to figure out who’s most passionate about the network and asking them to take on a leadership role. They’re the ones who will move it forward by taking the initiative with planning meetings and developing creative ideas about how to get the members together and keep them engaged.
What have you learned from Hive that you’ve incorporated into your practice?
Finding opportunities for digital learning to be incorporated into the work that different organizations are doing. I’m always looking to see if they do the paper version of things and thinking about how I can help encourage them to add a digital learning component to their work.
One thing that people are wrestling with is that the larger digital learning movement has become more prevalent on the funder side than when Hive began. Hive has to figure out what it wants to be in a world that it helped create. Where do you think digital learning is going in the city? What about the next couple of years makes you nervous or excited?
Yes, digital learning has become more prevalent on the funder side, but I do feel that the funding has focused primarily on teaching students how to code. There are also funders who have an appreciation for the arts and are starting to recognize the power of digital art forms such as photography, video production, and video game design.
With social media taking over so much of young people’s’ lives, it’s important to ensure that young people are engaged in social media in a healthy way. I have seen programs focusing a lot more on healthy use of digital media, rather than simply exposing young people to it. These program encourage students to think about how social media can be used to their advantage and talk to them about how to prevent negative images.
Who you are and how you want to be represented shouldn’t change when you go in and out of online or physical spaces.
Bullying is always going to be an issue, but especially with social media, bullies can make things worse for young people. Regardless of how digital media is used, we need to focus a lot more on healthy relationships, and how to maintain healthy relationship both on and off line.
Anything more that you wanted to say?
I would stress the value of having a network like the Hive and for organizations to work together and find ways to collaborate beyond the work that they’re doing. I also really enjoyed Emoti-Con and only hope that an event like that can continue. It brought students from different spaces together around digital learning. At Emoti-Con you really see how digital learning covers so many topics – from video game design to wearable technology to creating inventions that make a positive impact on the lives of others. It’s just as important for young people as it is for adults to learn from each other and see what others are doing.
- Download a photo of Jenny
- Jenny’s LinkedIn profile
- The Pinkerton Foundation
- From Meeting to Impact Jenny’s article for The Pinkerton Foundation
- Why STEM? Jenny’s article for Philanthropy New York
This story is copyright Jenny Negron and published on the StoryEngine website under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.