Colleen Somich (2007 BA in Psychology)
Head of Training America at Ruth Miskin Literacy in New York, NY
Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.
As Head of Training America for Ruth Miskin Literacy Inc, I help students – get reading and keep loving reading.
Did you know the US has one of the lowest literacy rates in the developed world? 34% of fourth graders cannot read and 68% are less than proficient according to the Nation’s Report Card. In the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) the US is ranked 16th internationally. As an educator, I find these numbers to be shocking. As a former teacher and school leader, I know these are not just numbers, they are students, students with names, hopes, and dreams.
After starting my career as a Teach For America corps member in North Saint Louis and serving as a Dean in Brooklyn, I moved to London to help lead a new school in a low income area. I was amazed at how many children there could read. I was introduced to a different approach; when taught effectively, this approach gets 90% of 6 year olds meeting or exceeding literacy expectations. In fact, in England, only 5% of children leave primary school not yet reading on grade level. Motivated to learn how to teach every child to read by 6, I attended a Ruth Miskin training for Read Write Inc, a program taught in 25% of schools in the UK. Inspired by the experience, I joined the Ruth Miskin Training team.
Since, I’ve supported hundreds of schools in Australia, England, Scotland, Mexico, and the UAE. Seeing the training and program’s impact made me determined to bring Read Write Inc to the United States. Now, I empower children, parents, teachers, and school leaders through training and support, working toward systemic change and solving our literacy crisis.
What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books. I also wake up in the morning with a purpose. Combining my love of books with a mission for getting more children reading and loving it, allows me to say, ‘I love my job.’
What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?
My most challenging aspect of teaching first grade as a Teach For America corps member was learning – no one has all the answers. From birth to graduating from Wake Forest, I was lucky to have excellent role models, teachers, and mentors. As a student, you are handed syllabi that outline your assessments, readings, and due dates. You have people waiting on campus to help you with career choices, office hours, and social events. In the ‘real world’ there is not always a clear path or one person to turn to for all the answers. I quickly learned to ask tons of questions, trust my gut, and to take more risks.
What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?
What type of life do you see yourself living in 10, 20, 50 years from now? If you haven’t already, start aligning the choices you make today to your future goals…you won’t regret it. I heard somewhere that your adult habits are shaped during your early twenties. True or not, I took this to heart. Since graduating Wake, I’ve learned to align my time to my values. I’d say I’ve lived a ‘life rich’ life in the past 10 years: a loving marriage (with a Demon Deacon), family I call friends, friends I call family, 30 countries traveled, a fulfilling job, and a dog (@lincdoggydogg).
How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?
‘Change happens at the speed of trust.’ – Stephen Covey
I try to make personal connections, show genuine interest in others and share my purest intentions in order to build strong relationships in any community.
Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?
I grew up next to my life mentor, Jim Hardeman. He is one of the first African Americans to attend Harvard. Jim marched with MLK Jr. and advised the White House in the 90s. (He is also a BC alum/ professor and we’ve had fun talking trash since they joined the ACC.)
Growing up next door to Jim, I’d always ask questions about his life experiences, the pictures with Oprah and Bill Clinon on his walls, and books he was reading or writing. Since age 13, I remember hearing about Jim’s social justice work with the aboriginal communities in Australia. So, when I was given the chance to support the Department of Education in the Northern Territories (NT) of Australia, I jumped. Inspired by Jim’s work that supported the aboriginals’ unique context and community, I took his teachings and applied it to my work almost 20 years later. I’ve trained close to 200 teachers in the NT and they are now experiencing the highest level of literacy engagement they have ever seen. You can read more here: https://blog.oup.com.au/2017/09/06/consistency-and-community-key-in-indigenous-literacy-qa-with-shirley-davey/
Jim’s servant leadership, love, and determination has been humbling to witness and makes me proud to call him my neighbor.
What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?
My goal is to get children reading and keep them loving reading by age six in the US. Every day, I am looking to partner with more parents, schools and districts to achieve this goal. Email me if you’d like to help.
Story published in December 2018. For current updates about Colleen, visit her LinkedIn page.