- Katie Jenaway
Meera Menon: A Co-Founder's Reflection (pt 2)
In the second part of their conversation, Meera and Katie discuss what Meera’s expectations were going into the fall semester and how her education at Penn prepared her for running a new nonprofit. They also talk about what Meera has learned in the past year and the positive impact she has seen in the students and teachers that have taken part in our programs. Finally, they share their excitement in the upcoming changes that are coming to The Unscripted Project and its programs.
Katie: What were your expectations going into the fall semester?
Meera: I actually thought it would be a lot harder to form partnerships with schools than it was, but we just found that there were a ton of classroom teachers who were really passionate about helping their students and wanting to find ways that would engage them as best they could. One of the main things we emphasized in our teaching artists’ training is creating that welcoming, inclusive, open space at the beginning of each workshop, and I think that is so critical to what we do, but we also found that the students were doing that all on their own. They were inherently so supportive and kind to one another and lifting each other up already and just seeing that was really inspiring to all of us. They are celebrating each other’s successes, and it’s cool that we’re able to create an environment where that is amplified.
[Students] were inherently so supportive and kind to one another and lifting each other up already and just seeing that was really inspiring to all of us
Katie: What most prepared you for starting Unscripted and running a new nonprofit in your background from Penn?
Meera: It was my marketing and my management classes that were super relevant. So, marketing, in terms of just knowing that style matters just as much as substance does. It’s really important to present yourself in the most compelling way that you can. Also, it is just as important in nonprofits as it is in for-profits to focus on customer centricity. The students are at the center of what we do, and we try to be as responsive as possible to their needs and meet them where they’re at.
In management classes, we learned about what fulfills people at work and how we can craft jobs that are meaningful and push ourselves and the people we work with, while also making sure that they have all the resources they need to succeed. Just creating that community has been really important for us as well.
Students can think of school as a place where interesting things happen and where they learn things that they can actually apply to their lives. School is a community that they want to be a part of, and if they’re not there, their presence will be missed
Katie: What were the positive benefits that you saw that improv had on the students and teachers?
Meera: One thing that really struck me that a teacher told me about the other day was this “school feeling” that we were able to create. Students can think of school as a place where interesting things happen and where they learn things that they can actually apply to their lives. School is a community that they want to be a part of, and if they’re not there, their presence will be missed, as opposed to school is a thing they have to do, and no one cares if they actually go or not.
If we can create this school feeling once more, we think that could be a really powerful way to approach learning recovery in the fall, incentivizing students to come back to school and invest in themselves and their education.
Katie: What are you looking forward to as we look towards moving our programs to in-person?
Meera: I’m so excited! I think it will bring a new level of engagement, and I think that when you’re in a space together, sharing energy and excitement will be really powerful. I think that, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring more students into the fold.
Also, I think things will move quicker. Things just move slowly in the virtual world.
My biggest takeaway has been that if you can bring people together for something that you all really believe in, you can really do so much.
Katie: What are some upcoming changes for The Unscripted Project?
Meera: Starting in the summer, we are going to increase our corporate workshop efforts, but our programs aren’t just for corporations. They’re really for any organization that’s not a program for middle and high-schoolers in the Philadelphia school district. I’m really excited for that because it’s a really powerful way to bring people together.
We’ve been doing them virtually for organizations based in Toronto, Chicago, LA, New York, and Philly, so far. It’s one of the steps we are taking to become a self-sustaining organization.
Katie: What have you learned from the past year?
Meera: My biggest takeaway has been that if you can bring people together for something that you all really believe in, you can really do so much.