Jun 07, 2010

Staff Spotlight: Colleen Coffey, RCLA Communications Manager & Director, FELPS

Colleen Coffey, RCLA Communications Manager and Director, FELPS

Colleen Coffey came to Wagner two years ago as the communications manager for the Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA). She has a BA in English from the University of San Diego, completed a two-year fellowship in nonprofit management at El Pomar Foundation in Colorado, and received an MA in international print journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. Colleen then worked for the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank focused on global human migration. She was interested in public service because she's "drawn to big ideas and doing work that changes lives for the better."

What motivated you to pursue a career in public service?
My family has a deeply ingrained sense that "to those whom much has been given, much is expected." I am committed to a world in which people are guaranteed their human rights, and have healthy food and water, safe places to live, decent jobs and so on, so they can focus on becoming talented writers, artists, pilots, athletes and more. I'm inspired by the people who make that happen and feel lucky to work with them on a daily basis.

Please describe your job function and the work of RCLA.
RCLA is committed to advancing breakthrough scholarship on leadership for the public good and to developing a deep and diverse pool of public service leaders, by offering customized research and programs that expand individuals' knowledge and skills and strengthen the organizations and systems in which they work.

I connect people with RCLA's leadership research and resources in a variety of ways: through our newsletter, publications and written materials, Web site, events and more. I also direct the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service (more on that later).

One of the most exciting elements of RCLA's work is that we offer a new way of understanding leadership that shifts away from a traditional model of charismatic or powerful leaders and focuses instead on how leadership can be a process of harnessing individuals' talents and contributions toward a greater good. This means we look not only at who individual leaders are, but also at how leadership happens and how leadership makes change possible.

What is the best part about working at RCLA?
Hands down it's the people, who are kind, brilliant and funny.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
I find it enormously satisfying that RCLA operates with a lot of trust and room for creativity, which makes me push myself harder. I'm energized by the fact that no day is the same, and I appreciate the balance between communications and programs.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
There is always more work to do.

What does leadership mean to you?
I think leadership is about finding the insight, kindness or humor that lights people up inside and helps them be their best selves. It's also about figuring out what enables people to work to their full potential on questions and issues that don't have easy answers.

What excites you about the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service (FELPS) program?
Everything. (Well, everything but budgets. Thank goodness for Champa Chonzom!) Each year, 30 recent college graduates who have demonstrated a commitment to public service, craft career plans, get a better understanding of the public service landscape and develop a support network of talented, dynamic peers invested in their success. We also help them evaulate and improve their leadership skills and styles. What's not to love?

What is your idea of a perfect day?
Waking up early on a sunny day in Port Douglas, Australia, with my sister, two brothers and their wives, my parents and my hilarious husband Jay Schwartz. Devouring a scrumptious breakfast and then getting on a boat to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling, waterskiing and catch-and-release deep-sea fishing. Then we'd eat delicious Mexican food with obscene amounts of guacamole, and nibble on chocolate brownies topped with chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cups and chocolate sauce. This would be followed by a surf lesson. Then we'd watch the sunset from the beach while enjoying an enormous family meal involving several kinds of fancy cheese, Indian and Chinese delicacies and more varieties of chocolate. We would finish up by going dancing...with no rhythm but lots of heart.

What's the best thing about living in New York?
I love working in SoHo and that some of the world's best art, fashion, food and star sightings are at our doorstep. The city's diversity in every regard is wonderful, and it's good to see the return of the Mohawk.

What's on your iPod?
In the genius category, it's Ani DiFranco, Timbaland, old U2 and The Killers' "Human." Other favorites include Missy Elliott, Maná, Rihanna, Sinéad Lohan, Lil' Kim, MGMT and Tori Amos. I think the hit of this summer is "Break Your Heart" from Taio Cruz and Ludacris, but that may get bumped by "Melody in My Head" by Lil' Wayne featuring Lupe Fiasco and Drake.

If you could meet one famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
The Dalai Lama or Abraham Lincoln. If it were just a quick meeting, the Dalai Lama because he has such an open way about him and wouldn't be so guarded. I bet we could have some laughs.

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