University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service graduate Jay Thompson (Class 3) has worked for City Year, an organization dedicated to helping students and schools succeed, for 14 years. Thompson has served as a Regional Vice President for City Year since November 2014.
“The most important part of my role, and every person’s role at City Year, is helping the students and schools we serve be as successful as possible to keep students in school and on track to graduate,” Thompson said. “Every year there are thousands of City Year AmeriCorps members and Impact staff members working very hard on the ground – they are the ones partnering with teachers to help move the needle with students every day.”
Thompson oversees City Year’s largest regional portfolio of sites, which includes Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York City, Providence, and Manchester, New Hampshire. He directly manages the site’s executive directors, helping them “think about how to be successful now while positioning their sites for growth and increased impact in the future.”
“I directly manage and support these impressive executives who are running the show in their local markets,” Thompson said. “Really, the crux of my job is being a resource and strategic partner to help these sites be successful.”
Thompson’s time with City Year began shortly after graduating from the University of Rochester in 2002. Following a year of service as a City Year AmeriCorps member, he worked for four additional years at the City Year office in Philadelphia.
His work with City Year resumed one year after he earned his Master of Public Service from the Clinton School. Thompson moved to London for eight months in October 2009 as Startup Deputy Director of Program and Service, developing City Year London’s service, evaluation, and corps member development strategy.
He moved on to City Year positions in Milwaukee, Wisc., and Jacksonville, Fla., before becoming City Year’s Senior Director of New Site Operations in June 2013. Thompson oversaw site operations during final preparation and initial launch periods in Tulsa, Dallas, and Kansas City.
Thompson’s time at the Clinton School included a Practicum project with the Governor’s Task Force on Afterschool and Summer Programs, where he and his team members created a constituency for collaborative after-school programs in the Pine Bluff area. He traveled to Kolkata, India, for his International Public Service Project with Loreto Day School Sealdah and completed his Capstone project with the United States Public Service Academy in Washington, D.C.
He and his wife, Monica, live in Annapolis, Md., with their two children, Nikhil and Asha.
How did you first become involved with City Year?
I joined City Year right after college. I got exposed to AmeriCorps while I was in college, and I had in my head that it could be an interesting one-year plan after college, most likely before graduate school.
I grew up in central Pennsylvania. I’d never heard of City Year at that point, but I saw that there was a City Year AmeriCorps program in Philly. As I read up on it, it sounded like a really interesting opportunity to serve full-time, give back, and help out for a year as I figured out where I wanted to go from there.
What brought you to the Clinton School?
I mentioned that City Year was a one-year plan. Before I knew it, it had become a five-year plan.
I always knew that I wanted to go to graduate school. To that point I’d mainly been looking at graduate schools for education, but I’d also heard a little about the Clinton School through City Year. I started looking at the Clinton School more while I was looking at graduate programs and the more I read about it, it sounded really interesting. It sounded like one of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I’m passionate about public service, and I was especially intrigued by the International Public Service Project piece. I just went for it and applied, and when I got the opportunity it was simply too good and too unique to pass up.
Are there any specific skills from the Clinton School you still use today?
I felt that the leadership class in particular was really valuable. I still use some of the concepts and reading materials from that class in my own job and in professional development for the people I work with. The different leadership theories, approaches, and frames resonated then and are still helpful today.
I think another big takeaway for me, and it mainly it came from the International Public Service Project, was the idea of how to enter a community that you’re not a part of – how to humbly enter, try to add value, but do it in that humble way where you’re recognizing it’s already a great community that you’re going into. You’re just trying to figure out how you can be a supplemental resource in a particular area. I had always tried to do that in the past, in my previous jobs, but the level of immersion that was involved with the International Public Service Project was something that led to a deeper level of reflection. It’s definitely something that has helped me a lot in my job.
What is it about City Year that has allowed you to be a part of the organization for almost 15 years?
The organization’s mission and values line up really well with what I think is important in the world. A large part of what City Year does is it connects young adults who are talented, idealistic, and willing to commit full-time for a year or two with students who are at risk for falling off track, but who also have this unbelievable talent and potential.
We have a term, “Near Peer.” What I think works about City Year is we put these Near Peers – they’re not the students’ teachers but they’re also not their friends – we put them with students and they form relationships and get the students to buy in to their academic and social and emotional development on a different level and in a different way. It’s something that leads to impressive growth and change; you can see it in the students’ faces when they start to fully realize the potential that they have. It’s awesome and it’s inspiring.
Also, you can add the element of luck. I’ve been fortunate to be in the right time in my career and my life to be able to say “yes” when some cool opportunities with City Year came along. I’ve gotten to lead a startup site. I’ve gotten to move to London for eight months to help start an international site.
Opportunities like that are amazing, especially when it’s with an organization you really believe in.