The Kozmetsky Fellowships are competitive full-tuition scholarships awarded to students pursuing a career in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. A critical goal of the fellowship is to reduce the debt burden of students entering the nonprofit field. The RGK Center invests in Kozmetsky Fellows and prepares them for leadership through research opportunities, courses, Nonprofit Studies certification, as well as through professional and alumni connections. The fellowship is named after the founders of the RGK Center, Ronya and George Kozmetsky, who were lifelong supporters of education, innovation and philanthropy. Learn more about the fellowship here.
Joycelyn is joining the Ph.D. in Public Policy program at the LBJ School this fall. She earned her BA in political science from Sam Houston State University and her MPA from Texas A&M University at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Joycelyn recently returned to Texas after living in Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy. Read below to learn more about Joycelyn’s background and research interests in the field of nonprofit philanthropy.
Q: What were you doing before starting at LBJ (work, school, etc.)?
A: Before pursuing doctoral studies, I was living in Washington, D.C. working as a research associate at the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy. My work there involved managing projects and conducting research that focused on different mechanisms to increase philanthropic capital with and in communities that have been underinvested in. I was fortunate to hold a position that allowed me to gain significant knowledge across an array of topic areas and through both a local and national lens. My projects touched on topics like impact investing, charitable giving trends, social determinants of health, and the impacts of tax policy on the nonprofit sector.
Before joining Urban, I was a graduate research assistant at Texas A&M University, contributing to research on grant making patterns in Texas. This position was my initial introduction to the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. Before this research opportunity, I had worked in different fields like the public sector at the U.S. Department of Energy and in the nonprofit sector with several local nonprofits in Houston. But, it was through my work in research, that I had this “aha” moment where I realized how philanthropy, charity, and the nonprofit sectors are completely different topics, mechanisms, and fields. All of these sectors are of course connected in some kind of way, and knowing that philanthropy is increasing tremendously, prompts to want to look at the intersection between policy and philanthropy more closely- learn more, dig deeper, and better understand the increasing role of philanthropy in policymaking.
Q: What kind of volunteer experience do you have?
A: I served as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance preparer/(VITA) volunteer. I learned about this program while I was living in Washington, D.C.. Through this role I helped prepare free income tax returns for people with low-income to ensure they received all the credits and tax benefits they were eligible for. Every year I look forward to joining other VITA volunteers and helping people fill out their taxes. It has been a really rewarding experience to be a VITA volunteer and share the knowledge that I have on tax policy with communities that can benefit from it. As someone who studies how tax policy impacts the nonprofit sector, having more hands-on experience and exposure to the tax code is so critical to understanding how tax policies can impact charitable giving and as a result how these effects trickle down too many of our local nonprofits and donors.
Q: What are you most looking forward to during your time at LBJ and with the RGK Center?
A: The RGK Center is a hub for cutting-edge research in the nonprofit sector and as a doctoral student, the center represents a wonderful opportunity for potential collaborations and growth. I think the Center is filled with scholars that have a long tenure within the nonprofit sector that I would love to work with and learn from as I dive into my own research. When I applied to the LBJ school, I was drawn to both the distinguished professors at LBJ and the renowned scholars and practitioners in the nonprofit sector. I remember attending the ARNOVA conference held in Austin a few years ago and first hearing several RGK Center staff talk about their undergoing work. Dr. Ostrower is someone whose portfolio and leadership I’m also interested in learning more about. When I was applying to LBJ, I was hoping to have some connection to the RGK Center and I am so glad that through the Kozmetsky Fellowship I have an opportunity to learn from amazing scholars at the Center.
Cara is starting the MPAff program at the LBJ School this fall. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington University. While attending school, she was a part of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity, where she had a variety of opportunities to volunteer with different organizations. She participated in Washington University's Green Ambassadors program, helping to educate people on waste sorting and starting a compost program in the dorms. She also worked at the University’s Office of Sustainability, where she helped support the Green Office Program on campus. Learn more about Cara’s background and her interest in environmental policy below.
Q: What were you doing before starting at LBJ (work, school, etc.)?
A: I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2019 with a biology major, and for the past year, I worked there in University Advancement as a Rotating Coordinator. I moved around over the year working on different projects and with different teams, but I mainly worked with the Annual Fund and Parent Programs. It was a great experience because I was exposed to a bit of everything--front-line fundraising, event planning, prospect research, direct marketing. Professional development was also highly encouraged, so I attended a lot of trainings and conducted a couple dozen informational interviews, which helped me learn about the different parts of university development and the bigger picture of the field of fundraising and higher education. While I was a student, I volunteered with a child literacy group called Out of the Blue, where we would go to an elementary school once a week and do reading and tutoring there. I was the Activities Coordinator, so I made lesson plans for the fourth and fifth grade students.
Q: What are you most looking forward to during your time at LBJ?
A: So many things! I'm most excited to get to know my classmates and professors and learn from their experiences and perspectives. I'm also very excited to think critically about the nonprofit field and its role in society, which I didn't quite have the resources for when I was working. I'm also not very familiar with public policy as a field but am excited by the idea of it, so I'm looking forward to learning more about policy through coursework and all of the opportunities at LBJ. I definitely want to take classes that are specific to nonprofit studies, and Dr. Springer’s Leadership as a Catalyst for Community Change looks really interesting.
Q: What area of nonprofit work are you interested in pursuing after graduation?
A: I'm trying to keep an open mind, but as of right now, I want to work in sustainability/climate change. I'm most interested in environmental justice and how communities adapt to climate change. I was always doing things related to environmentalism growing up, and my whole family is in medicine and science. It was more of a side interest when I started college, but the more involved I got with it, the more I enjoyed all the different people—and everything kept coming back to it. Learning about issues of environmental racism was really interesting to me. When I studied aboard in Australia, I took one class that was on climate change biology and another class about a small group of islands off the coast of Australia. It was really interesting talking about climate change through different lenses and being aware of peoples’ relationship to the environment. Learning about how climate modeling works in one class and how indigenous people were affected in another class-- that kinda solidified my interest in the topic. I've also had a growing interest in disaster philanthropy recently, but I think that's probably a result of the times.