Surge Oakland Launches!

On Wednesday, January 10, the Surge Institute held its Surge Oakland launch reception at Impact Hub, where emerging education leaders and friends of Surge came together in supporting and learning about the movement to prioritize diverse leadership in education. It was a beautiful evening and a true convening of passionate, forward-thinking movers! 

Among the voices of the evening was Chris Chatmon, Deputy Chief of Equity for Oakland Unified School District, who spoke about the future of Oakland and the need for more African-American, Latinx and Asian/Pacific Islander education leaders.

Surge Founder and President Carmita Semaan also shared the Surge story, painting a powerful picture of how this movement came to be before opening the floor to Executive Director Michelle Seijas, who gave closer insights into what the Surge Fellowship will look like for prospective fellows. Finally, Surge Board Member and long-time education leader Jean-Claude Brizard provided an open invitation to support the work we are all passionate about, the future or our children.

Check out the gallery below to see the evening captured in photos!

Thank you for choosing to #SurgeForMore!

Our annual #SurgeForMore online giving has truly become a time to appreciate the growth in support of this movement. Every year, more and more donors become a part of our community and show that they care about the mission to educate and develop leaders of color who create transformative change in urban education.

This year’s campaign aimed to grow our community more than ever and brought with it our biggest goal to date: $50,000! In order to reach that goal, we established the #SurgeForMore challenge, in which teams of fellows and alumni were tasked with finding creative ways to engage their friends, families and networks with the movement that has been so important to their growth as leaders.

All of the fellows and alumni brought their “A” game, telling their stories through videos and social media graphics, as well as offering up unique opportunities for donors. See examples in our video below!

With a grand total of $45,931, we raised far more money than any of our past #SurgeForMore campaigns! We landed less than $5,000 from our goal and gained many new donors.

Of the four cohort teams, 2017 Surge Fellows raised the most funds, producing a video series in which they called for support for our movement while lifting each other up as leaders. We would also like to acknowledge our 2016 Surge Fellows for finding the most creative way to #SurgeForMore, raffling off consultancy opportunities to anyone who donated in their name. Kudos to all of our fellows and alumni for taking up this challenge and uniting to serve the future of this movement!

And an extra special thanks to our generous match donors! Two anonymous supporters provided $10,000, and we also received a match donation of $5,000 from Michelle Russell as well as $3,000 from Marene Jennings!

If you donated during our #SurgeForMore seven-days of giving, thank you for your love and support of this work. We could not do it without you. If you did not, it’s never too late! Please visit our donate page and see how you can contribute. Any amount helps.

Thank you for being a part of this movement, and have a happy holiday season!


Featured Fellow: Erica Bauer on Why She Became a Surge Fellow

Erica Bauer never set out to be an educator, let alone an education leader or a Surge Fellow.

Her journey to school leadership came through discovering her true passion, and her journey to Surge came from a desire to connect with leaders who looked like her.

Erica’s Work

Erica designs systems of support as the Director of Student Engagement of a multicultural high school in the heart of Chicago – Walter Payton College Preparatory Academy – ranked the 2nd best high school in Illinois, according to US News and World Report.

Erica has been asked why she wanted to become a Surge Fellow when she was already a leader at one of the best schools in the state. She says it has to do with learning how to move beyond the deficit-based culture she grew up in so that she could become a stronger leader for her students.

“I feel like, coming into Surge, it was no longer the exception to the rule,” Erica said. “Surge says black excellence is the rule. That was very healing for me because I was coming into contact with my own self-hatred that had developed in me over the years as the result of this deficit mentality I had been taught to carry.”

Erica’s Background

Erica Bauer defines herself as an analyst, artist and activist.

She is a recovering military brat, now based in Chicago, whose travels led to her “multicultural moment” — one must serve the whole person, mind, body, spirit, while embracing one’s multiple, co-existing identities. Erica works to ensure that no student receives the whitewashed education she received as the only African-American woman in her master’s and doctoral programs.

Fellowship for Emerging Education Leaders of Color to Launch in Oakland

The Surge Institute is encouraging Oakland-based emerging African-American, Latinx and Asian/Pacific Islander education leaders to apply for the inaugural Oakland Surge Fellowship, a program that provides extensive executive skill training, leadership development and exposure to respected leaders and policymakers in education.

Leading the Oakland Fellowship as the founding Executive Director is career educator Michelle Seijas, Ed.D, who has served as an education leader for more than a decade as a high school principal and district administrator. Michelle is passionate about serving youth and communities of color, and carries that passion with her into elevating and empowering Oakland’s emerging education leaders.

The Surge Fellowship began in Chicago in 2015, with the goal of expanding diversity in the education leadership pipeline. Since its launch, Surge has graduated 47 Chicago fellows, many of which have since risen to leadership roles in schools, government agencies and youth-serving organizations. The Chicago Fellowship currently empowers its largest and most diverse cohort of 25 fellows.

Nina Sanchez, a 2017 Chicago Surge Alumnus and Director of Enrich Chicago, says the fellowship was a transformative experience. “The Surge Fellowship has been life-giving in more ways than one,” Sanchez said. “It has equipped me with the skills I need to more deftly apply my strengths to my work. It has given me space to reflect on

my own journey. It has yielded access to a network of incredible leaders across our sector. Most importantly, it has given me the community I wanted but didn’t realize I needed.”

The fellowship is curated to generate both individual and collective transformation through healing and a reclamation of our leadership narratives, centered on the power and strength of our racial and ethnic identities and how they supremely qualify us to impact the communities and students we serve.

Visit the Become a Fellow page to learn more about the fellowship and to apply. Sign up for the Surge email list to stay informed about the fellowship and upcoming events. You can also follow Surge on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube.

The Surge Institute, a non-profit organization geared toward prioritizing the need for diversity in education leadership, founded by Carmita Semaan in 2014. Surge is largely funded by individual donors as well as several philanthropic organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and New Profit.

Featured Fellow: Mario Estrada Earnest on Being Your Authentic Self

Mario Estrada Earnest is a data guy.

While there was a time when Mario was not sure what do to with that title. His journey through the 2017 Surge Fellowship has led him to take ownership of it in a big way.

Mario’s Dream

As Director of Special Projects at Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, Mario has not only developed systems that help the school run more efficiently, but he has connected with the students on a personal level.

“It’s just so important to me that we provide role models to students of color, people who look like them or grew up in places like they did,” Mario said.

While Mario loves his job, he has also been perpetually aware that he could be doing more, and his Surge journey has pushed him to take the next step. Mario is launching a business venture—a data analytics consultancy—which he envisions connecting him even more with improving the way education institutions serve communities of color.

“I’m really excited to bring data expertise in partnership and collaboration with school leaders around the Chicago area and beyond.” Mario said. “I’m looking to work with foundations, schools and districts to help people make better decisions that benefit our students.”

Mario’s Background

Mario’s passion lies in public education. His experience as a student and educator in both public and private institutions shaped his perspective on the disparities in opportunity for today’s young people. Mario is dedicated to bringing educational and economic parity to Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods. Though he met opportunity with preparation, much of his opportunity was and continues to be inaccessible to millions of youth throughout our nation. He believes students should be deciding “which college” rather than “if college.”

Mario began his professional career as a management and strategy consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, advising Fortune 100 company executives across a variety of industries and functions. He quickly learned how to navigate the business world, gaining experience in C-level strategic decision making, as well as the skills needed to successfully create change and execute those decisions. At his core, Mario is a thinker and a change agent. Along with his work for Intrinsic Schools, Mario serves as an advisor to National Louis University’s Harrison Professional Pathways Program.

25 Chicago Education Leaders Selected for 2018 Surge Fellowship

The Surge Institute has further expanded the reach of its signature yearlong fellowship program, accepting a diverse cohort of 25 equity-minded, emerging African American and Latino Chicago education leaders.

The 2018 Surge Fellowship cohort was selected from a large pool of impressive applicants and is comprised of Fellows from across the education landscape – including Chicago Public Schools, various charter schools and networks, higher education institutions and non-profit youth-serving organizations.

Over the course of the Fellowship, Surge Fellows receive extensive executive skill training, leadership development and exposure to respected leaders and policymakers in education. The cohort will also develop their own leadership and advocacy skills. As a culminating final step of the program, Fellows will complete individual capstone projects to advance the work of a new or existing Chicago education initiative.

Dominique McKoy, a 2018 Surge Fellowship awardee and Director of School Partnerships for OneGoal, says he is in the work of dismantling systems of oppression that work against our students. “I understand that this work is greater than any one institution, organization, politician or community,” McKoy said. “The Surge Fellowship offers me an opportunity to become part of a legacy of committed leaders of color making their own contributions to this work, while also—most importantly—providing us with the space to align our efforts as a collective movement.”

Below is the full list of 2018 Surge Fellows:

On August 26, 2017, the 2017 Fellows graduated with a private graduation ceremony held at McDonald’s Hamburger University. New Alum and Executive Director of iMentor Chicago Halleemah Nash beamed about the future, stating, “We are exiting this sacred space with an elevated brand, a greater capacity for advocacy, a deeper self-identity, and the charge to truly live out what it means to be [2017 Surge Fellows].”

Behind the Surge: Cecily Relucio Hensler on Empowering Educators

Cecily Relucio Hensler got the Surge crash course.

She joined the Surge team in July and was immediately introduced to the central culminating work of the 2017 Surge Fellows: Capstone Presentations. She then spent a weekend with the fellows as they experienced their final session before graduating. And somewhere in between, Cecily assisted in interviewing 44 candidates and selecting the cohort for the 2018 fellowship.

Yes… a crash course.

And Cecily loved it.

As the Chicago Program Manager, one of the architects of our fellowship sessions, Cecily needs to understand this movement better than most, and joining the leadership team amidst this transition has provided her with a condensed look at both the ending and the beginning of the fellow’s journey.

Watch the video above to learn what attracted Cecily to the Surge movement.

Cecily’s background

Cecily began her career in education as an elementary classroom teacher at a public school on the southwest side of Chicago. Since transitioning from the classroom, she has been privileged to serve as a professional developer, instructional coach, university-based teacher educator, and program leader. She has served in leadership capacities in both teacher education and new teacher induction programming and policy, developing a specialized focus on diversity, equity, and social justice education.

Through her professional experiences, Cecily has developed a nuanced understanding of the educational system—the challenges as well as promising interventions—from a range of vantage points. She brings her lived experience of the barriers that educators of color face on a daily basis and difficult lessons learned about leadership, as well as clarity about how her experiences and knowledge as a woman of color are an asset and strength that she brings to her work.

While her identity and experiences as an educator are central to who she is and how she hopes to make an impact upon the world, Cecily’s most cherished, important and challenging role in life is mothering her two biracial daughters, Vanessa and Mia, ages 14 and 9.

Read Cecily’s full biography

Featured Fellow: Andrea Black on the Culture of Confidence

When Andrea Black assumed leadership of Schmid Elementary in 2013, the school was classified as underperforming. As principal, Andrea’s efforts changed that classification and brought in more than $1 million in grants for campus beautification.

She also fostered an interstate relationship with Auburn University, one of the South’s most premier educational institutions, which has committed to establishing a scholarship fund solely for Schmid scholars.

Andrea’s Work

As a 2017 Surge Fellow, Andrea has shown an unstoppable spirit and passion for positively impacting the lives of inner-city African-American youth through education. Their story is her story — and she wants them to have a better ending than anyone can imagine.

In February 2017, the Schmid Elementary community was tragically impacted by gun violence in Chicago as it claimed the life of 11-year-old student Takiya Holmes.  In response to this heartbreaking event, Andrea rallied the community to send a powerful message toward ending gun violence. On National Gun Violence Awareness Day, the Schmid community marched the neighborhoods around the school wearing orange and celebrating Takiya’s life, cut too short.

This is just one powerful example of the work Andrea has done, living in her authentic self and working to empower her community.

Andrea’s Story

Andrea was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, and the city — good, bad and great — has shaped how she defines her life’s work. Andrea’s career began in Atlanta, GA, in 2005, as a Teach for America corps member. Her content knowledge, instructional aptitude, leadership dexterity and commitment to excellence for all scholars, regardless of perceived deficits, quickly led her to aspirations beyond the classroom. She yearned to impact schools that serve low-income African-American youth in large urban cities, and so began her leadership journey.

This zeal for enhancing the quality of education for African-American youth led Andrea to serve as an intern principal working for Boston Public Schools as she completed her master’s coursework. She then transitioned to the third largest urban district in the country, Chicago Public Schools, and served as a resident principal and assistant principal before taking the helm as principal at Schmid.

Andrea holds a Master of Education degree from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Fisk University. She was selected as a TFA/Harvard Leadership Fellow in 2010 by Teach for America and Chicago Public Schools.

OneGoal’s Jeff Nelson on the Benefits of Partnering with Surge

OneGoal is a national nonprofit organization with the mission of ensuring every child in low-income America has the ability to enroll in, persist, and graduate from college. Jeff Nelson, the co-founder and CEO of the organization, recently participated in a Surge breakfast conversation at Marwen in Chicago. Jeff shared with a room full of education-based organizations why OneGoal Chicago has partnered with Surge and sent members to participate in the Surge Fellowship again and again.

Watch the video above to learn the benefits of your organization connecting with the Surge movement.

Surge Institute’s Second #SurgeForMore Online Giving Campaign Is Well-Received By New Donors

The Surge Institute is pleased to share the success of their second annual #SurgeForMore fundraising campaign. The campaign launched in 2015 to raise awareness about Surge’s movement to diversify education leadership and support the Surge Fellowship, the Institute’s signature program. #SurgeForMore focused on smaller contributions from individuals, who were also encouraged to share their personal inspiration online. In only its second year, #SurgeForMore increased participation by 34 percent. Donations from around the country — some as small as $5 — culminated in a total of more than $25,000.

The success of the 2016 #SurgeForMore campaign can be attributed to the exemplary response from online donors as well as 100 percent participation from Surge employees, board members, and Surge Fellows and Alumni. Fifty-four percent of this year’s participants were new donors. Also, this year’s fundraiser garnered $10,000 in support from two anonymous matching-gift donors.

Expressing deep gratitude for the donors, The Surge Institute’s founding Board Chair Darryl Cobb stated, “We are grateful to all the donors who made this year’s campaign a success. Surge is doing tremendous work in Chicago to ensure that the influential decision-makers of the educational futures of millions of children of color reflect the diversity and lived experiences of the students.”

Founded in 2014, The Surge Institute is dedicated to addressing the issues related to race and class in urban education through technical assistance, leadership development and advocacy. The Institute was created in response to a shortage of leadership of color at decision-making levels in education.

The Surge Fellowship, the Institute’s signature program, is an initiative to identify and groom emerging talent in education, nurturing leadership skills, ideas, perspectives and solutions to change the landscape of education. Proceeds from the #SurgeForMore fundraising campaign will be used for future fellowship programming and provide need-based tuition scholarships to future Surge Fellows.

Expressing high regards for The Surge Institute, a donor to the #SurgeForMore campaign said, “Surge is first in class for addressing the race and class-related disparities that cripple education in urban communities. It was a pleasure for me to support their fundraising initiative.”

Though the #SurgeForMore is over for the year, it is never too late to join this movement by making a contribution at For more information, contact Surge at

About The Surge Institute: The Surge Institute was founded in 2014 in response to a dearth of leadership of color at decision-making tables in education. Surge provides leadership development resources to institutions and individuals to create a pipeline of diverse leaders in education while also addressing issues of race and class in urban education through leadership development, technical assistance and advocacy.