Beware Your Presumptions about Power
May 2, 2019
Power is not always signified by title, wealth, or placement in the organizational chart.
Meet Scholarship Foundation Advising Director Teresa Steinkamp and Program Director Thurman Young. You will not find two professionals with warmer hearts, sharper intellects, or clearer commitment than these. I am proud to work with each of them, in a climate in which we challenge the hierarchical and traditional organizational chart that puts power “at the top.”
I’ve been thinking about “the top”. In working with students and young leaders, I see justifiable mistrust in promises of people in positions of authority. Widespread acceptance of corruption and untruth in elected officials, resignations of state and county leaders, and numerous terminations or resignations of White House cabinet members have been all too normal in their lives. They’ve seen so much footage of officially sanctioned violence that they have come to expect that justice will not be served. I worry about the effects on their minds and morals, on their hopes and relationships. I worry about a growing perception that only those at the top can have power, because if we subscribe to that theory our prospects as a democracy are grim.
The Scholarship Foundation is an environment where power sharing and shifting is the way we grow. Teresa and Thurman provide the perfect case study.
Teresa began her relationship with the Foundation in 2007 as a student. Like today’s students, she pieced together loans and grants and family support to afford her education. She worked first as a Student Advocate for the Foundation, then in ScholarShop, then as Student Advisor, and then became Advising Director. Teresa is in very high demand, by local and national media trying to make sense of admissions and financial aid, by guidance counselors in area high schools, and by hundreds of students and families who need advice about the financial and educational decisions they face. She leads a team of five and supervises the Foundation’s Future Forward College Savings and Equifax Finance Fellowship programs.
Thurman is Program Director. He came to the Foundation in 2014 after working in financial aid at two regional universities. Thurman grew up in East St. Louis and knows the power of family and community. He is responsible for the evaluation and awarding of every application for interest free loan or grant that is submitted to The Scholarship Foundation, as well as for the repayment program. Thurman’s work requires care and consistency. He must assure fairness, upholding the Foundation’s commitment to understanding the unique circumstances and potential of all who apply. Throughout the Foundation’s financial relationship with students, Thurman provides careful financial analysis and clear communication. He is calm and reflective, qualities that serve thousands of people annually.
These are powerful people. They each have influence, authority, and advanced knowledge. In the last three years, they have together served as staff for the board committee that directs student programs, and together they have attended Executive Committee meetings of our board. They have learned from each other and shared power within the “top” of the Foundation’s organizational chart. While the chart is changing, they are both confident in their power and committed to the opportunities ahead at the Foundation.
Our board welcomes new officers and members in June, and that is also when the implementation of the Foundation’s strategic plan for 2019-22 will kick-off. To effectively lead the next generation of Foundation growth, Thurman’s role as Program Director will include serving as primary program staff liaison to the board, leading the program department. Teresa’s role as Advising Director will further deepen and specialize, as she is called to research and design the next generation of the program she has built.
Both positions continue to carry considerable power. Both position holders know how to share power and create trust. Teresa must maintain relationships with a wide array of professionals and students and their families, a responsibility that brings joy and often burden of concern for the wellbeing of others. Thurman must communicate difficult decisions in ways that foster understanding, if not always agreement, and those decisions are ultimately guided by the policies approved by the board and by our organizational values. Neither is concerned that this shift in duties or location of their position on the organizational chart will threaten their power.
And you need not be concerned either.
If only we lived in a region, state, nation or world in which power was so appropriately understood and used.
- Faith Sandler