Susan Dunnigan sees JFY Enhancing Educational Opportunity, Creating More Equality

Susan Dunningan, JFY Board Member

It’s just been fun

Our December podcast featured members of the JFYNetWorks Board of Directors, who come from a variety of backgrounds and provide their insight and expertise to staff. Their dedication to JFYNetWorks adds up to over 75 combined years of service.

When Susan Dunnigan joined the JFY board in 2003 she brought a professional view of disparities in economic opportunity developed through her successful business lending career with major Boston banks, including Minority Business Enterprise lending. She also brought direct experience of the classroom through her previous career as a high school teacher. Susan’s broad educational background ranges from a BU MBA to an MA in Germanic Studies from BC, a BA from Regis College, two Fulbright Fellowships in Marburg, Germany, and studies at four other German schools.

In the December podcast, she discussed with Executive Director Gary Kaplan how she came to be part of the organization and how JFY continues to use technology and data to implement the best practices of blended learning.

Be sure to listen to the December JFY podcast, which can be found on Spotify, Google Podcasts and other streaming platforms, for more of the conversation with Susan and other board members.


GK: Susan Dunnigan has been on the board since 2003. Susan, how did you initially become aware of and get affiliated with JFY?

SD: I have been working in Boston banks over the last 25 or 30 years. I had a colleague at one bank who was involved with JFY. He knew about my pre-banking background as a former high school teacher. There’s a sort of ethos in the banking industry that you try to give back, you find something that matters and you spend a little volunteer time and give something back to the community. He suggested to me that with my background JFY might be a good fit. Getting kids ready to step into the workforce, making sure they were prepared for it and could handle it, he thought that would fit. Seems he was right.

GK: Could you give us a little bit of a sense of your teaching background and how that connects?

SD: It’s a roundabout connection. I had a master’s degree in Germanic studies and was teaching in a high school. One of the things about teaching that really bothered me was that every year when school was over, particularly when the seniors left, that was the end of it. They were gone. I hated that, I really hated to see them go. So I thought that something where I can work but not be as emotionally and intensively involved as I was in teaching would make sense. Banking seemed to offer that. It combined empirical skills and the soft skills that you use as a teacher. I decided to try it and it has worked fairly well.

GK: That is really an interesting story, connecting your background in education to what has gone on at JFY. When you came on board, it was a different organization. Here we are, almost 20 years later. We’re not doing the same things we were doing then.

SD: But we are creating opportunities for students. We’re enhancing their possibilities, for further education or the workplace. That’s something that has mattered to me throughout my life. I grew up in a family where education was absolutely paramount. That was the most important thing you could do. I love telling the story of my brother. He was scouted by a couple of major league baseball teams and they wanted to sign him. They wanted to bring him into their farm system at age 18. My brother didn’t have his majority at the time so he couldn’t make the decision. He had to ask my dad. He said, Dad, can I go play baseball with the Mets or the Orioles or whoever it was. And Dad said, Yeah, as soon as you finish college. It was just that important. You have to get an education. My dad didn’t have the opportunity as a child of the Depression and World War Two. But he wanted his kids to enjoy that and understand that and be part of it. So between my brother and sister and me we have more post-secondary degrees than all of my sixty-two first cousins. Yes, I do have sixty-two first cousins. And that was my dad’s influence. Education was important. Creating opportunities was important. If you can get the education and play a role in developing those opportunities, that’s significant. That makes a difference. So I guess JFY fulfills my dad’s expectations.

GK: When you look into the future, what do you see happening with JFY?

SD: I see us expanding, convincing more and more people of the importance of how we do what we do. The ability to enhance educational opportunity, create opportunity for students, create more equality. It is an equal justice kind of thing, giving people the chance to succeed, to go beyond what they might otherwise have been able to do. We know that there are limitations in the school systems. Some school systems have greater limitations than others. And if we can make a difference there with technology, we can expand endlessly in ways could never do before. We have great opportunity to make a difference.

GK: One issue everybody has mentioned is scale. We were doing great things for 30 years. But holding classes in a building, even a large building, you could never get to real scale. Now, using technology, it is just about unlimited. We’re reaching numbers now that we never could have done before the age of technology. But there is that problem that you don’t get the direct connection with the student, as you had when you were a teacher. You don’t get that graduation ceremony. You don’t get to share the families’ celebration. I don’t know how to re-create or replace the emotional connection that we used to get out of actually meeting students and parents and seeing them walk across the stage and get their diplomas.

SD: Maybe we could have an annual get-together of former JFY participants to come and tell their stories after being out of school for a year or two or five. Maybe 10 or 15 students from various years would come to an event. Those graduations were absolutely over the top. They were the best. I think there’s probably a population out there who would be willing to do that.

GK: Perhaps we could create an event for teachers we work with. We could hold a symposium on using technology in education and bring in some speakers. It could be a recognition dinner for teachers and an opportunity to learn something about new directions in the trade. Many of the teachers we work with are highly skilled and creative.

SD: On the other side of the coin, I can tell you honestly that the JFY folks are a great gang to work with. The staff and the board, I just really enjoy working with you. It’s kept me interested and involved.

That’s on top of the fact that we show results, we have records of what we do. We’ve got very competent staff and we have the numbers to show that what we are doing works. Along with the energy and innovative confidence and your cheerful selves. It’s just been fun.


Other posts with the JFYNetWorks Board of Directors can be found here.

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