Letter from the Director: The big wins

Mark Ebner
Mark Ebner

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As another academic year draws to a close, many of us will find ourselves supporting a friend or loved one as they march in graduation ceremonies across the country. Many of us take these ceremonies for granted; we bring books, crossword puzzles, and I suppose in modern times, our iPads. (And if you're my husband, you'll bring a pair of ear buds to go with that iPad!)

But for those of us working in higher education, much of our work has steeped in the importance of supporting our students to this day, and we are deeply moved by watching person after person march across the stage and proudly claim a hard-earned diploma (high school, credential, associates, bachelor, and graduate alike!), for we understand the true significance of that piece of paper, in our fast-paced, ever changing and volatile world.

Graduation is a time to reflect on accomplishments, progress, and bright futures. As the National Director of the Talent Dividend Initiative at CEOs for Cities, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the many things that need to be fixed in higher education. But in honor of graduation season, I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on and celebrate the progress we've made in the last year!

Since I took the job in April 2012, I've had the honor to visit and speak at over 20 cities, learn about your work, and get to know you! I've been impressed with your commitment not only to your city's Talent Dividend Initiative, but also to continuing the process of working toward the goal of increased post-secondary success in your city, regardless of obstacles and challenges. The Talent Dividend's expectation of cross-sector participation in the initiative set the bar high for cities, and we're proud of your efforts and have been honored to celebrate your big and small "wins" over the last year.

As joe Cortright announced during the 2013 Talent Dividend Meeting in Philadelphia, we are pleased and excited to see that almost every city competing for the $1 million Talent Dividend prize has made progress toward increasing their post-secondary completion rates! We will continue to work with you to obtain and retain accurate numbers for your city as we move quickly into computing second-year progress reports over the summer. We understand the many nuances to calculating your city's data, so never hesitte to reach out to Joe or me with questions or concerns! Congradulations on seeing your hard work pay off and contribute to a collective Big Win for the Nation!

I'd like to recognize and highlight the important partnerships we've built over the last year. A huge thanks to Issue media Group for their continued support of the Talent Dividend and the creation each month of this invaluable networking tool! The Talent Dividend web magazine has been a huge hit across the country and has been picked up by many local affiliates. We hope it has served as a connector beween you and other cities working on similar initiatives, as well as a resource for you to learn about the interesting work happening in other cities (and unlike) yours.

Civic Commons has been a tremendous asset in pushing the Talent Dividend to utilize social media as a valuable resource to not only distribute information, but to interact and share in real time with one another! We've had "live" conversations with some of you, Joe Cortright, Lee Fisher, and others.

A Very special thank you to National League of Cities Andrew Moore and Marjorie Cohen and Sara Miller at CAEL who developed and implemented the six-month webinar series! We home the webinars offered valuable insight and resources for the work you're doing in your city. Links to the webinars can be found here.

A true highlight of this year was the 2013 Talent Dividend Meeting in Philadelphia at WHYY, Inc. With generous support from the Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Knight Foundation, Graduate! Philadelphia, University of Phoenix, and in-kind sponsorship from Graces Catering, Issue Media Group, Campus Philly, Philly Goes 2 College, Civic Commons, Philidelphia Youth Network, Mayor's Office of Education, WHYY, and Flying Kite Media we convened close to 150 participants from 38 cities to share smart ideas, practices, and stories, ask provocative questions, challenge conventional wisdom, and most of all to mobilize and accelerate local and regional action on the Talent Dividend. A summary of the meeting can be found here and materials from the presentations can be found here.

We are excited to already be planning for the 2014 April 7-8 in Los Angeles, CA. Please be on the lookout for new information about this meeting here.

I would like to extend a huge thanks to the CEOs for Cities staff who supported the work of the Talent Dividend over the year. Mark Ebner supported all our technical needs as well as conference registration and Tara Sturm is responsible for all of our new graphics and design materials! Both Mark and Tara are very recent graduates of the Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs with MA degrees in Urban Planning, Design and Development.

And I am proud to announce that Catherine Bittar, who has been my support over the last year, and who many of you met in Philadelphia, graduated from Duke University with a BA in Public Policy. She joins the CEOs for Cities staff full time July 1, 2013!

It has been a full year and we are anxious to continue to work and plan ahead for the coming year! The web magazine will be on summer hiatus, but we'll be working hard throughout the summer and welcome your thoughts, feedback, and communications!

I wish you a little rest and relaxation over the summer months and look forward to checking in with you each of you at some point before the fall.

Noel Harmon is National Director of the Talent Dividend.

Photos, top to bottom: Mark Ebner; Tara Sturm; Catherine Bittar.
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